Gordon loves cooking and experimenting with food. He loves making new dishes, particularly with unusual or underused ingredients.
Fusion Food Meaning
Fusion cooking (like the seared sea scallops on BLT salad pictured above) is often a very much maligned and entirely misunderstood concept. The word, "fusion," is most commonly applied to the act of combining two substances or items together, very often by the application of heat. This can relate to anything from nuclear fusion—the process where two or more nuclei are fused to form one, larger nucleus—to the fusion of two metals to form an alloy, to the fusion of two ideas to form an entirely different principle. It is this third example of fusion to which fusion cooking relates—it is essentially the marriage of one or more cooking traditions, techniques or disciplines to form an altogether different approach or finished dish. It most definitely does not mean putting all the ingredients selected for a dish into one pot and turning the heat up as high as possible!
What Is the Point of Fusion Cooking?
Fusion cooking can be employed for a great many different reasons. It is a technique which may be used by chefs in order to expand their culinary repertoire and afford them a dish which is truly unique and distinct from those offered by their peers and competitors. Alternatively, fusion cooking may be practised by a chef or cook from more than one cultural background, looking to inject their own unique identity into their cuisine. Fusion cooking can even be employed as a means of subtly introducing new food concepts to the masses. One incredibly simple example of this is the Chinese takeaways in the UK attempting to target the "Fish and chip" traditionalists.
Although Asian fast food and the large, multi-national fast food chains have a significant presence in the UK, it says a lot about the UK food psyche that good, old-fashioned fish and chips remains the UK's number one fast food choice to this day. Recognising this, Chinese takeaways in particular have long since offered chips as an optional accompaniment to Chinese stir-fried dishes instead of the more traditional rice. This is fusion cooking in its simplest form: a marriage of east meets west, to offer consumers the comfort of their chips while at the same time, the opportunity to diversify and try something new.
Stir-Fried Chicken, Pineapple and Cashew Nuts With Chips
The Chinese stir-frying process is an extremely useful cooking technique for any and all who may be interested in fusion cooking. The technique has been applied to so many different ingredients around the world that there now very often exists considerable confusion as to which recipes are traditionally Chinese and which have been developed as the knowledge of the practice spread. This is a recipe for a very basic stir fry, accompanied by chips instead of the more traditional boiled or fried rice.
- 1 chicken breast fillet
- 1 small white onion (peeled and quartered)
- 2 pineapple rings (each cut into 6 equal-sized pieces)
- 1 tbsp unsalted cashew nuts
- 1 large or 2 medium potatoes
- 1 egg white
- 1 tsp cornflour (corn starch)
- Salt and feshly ground black pepper
- 2 torn basil leaves for garnish
- Sunflower oil for frying
- The first step in making the stir fry is to "velvet" the chicken. This is a very important procedure which essentially protects the delicate chicken breast meat from the intense heat of the stir-frying process. The egg white should be placed in a glass bowl and 1 tsp of cornflour/cornstarch and 1/2 tsp salt added. The chicken breast should be chopped into approximately 1" pieces and stirred well into the egg white mixture. The bowl should be covered with clingfilm and placed into the refrigerator for about half an hour.
- The chicken should be drained through a colander after chilling, to remove as much of the excess liquid as possible. A tbsp of sunflower oil should then be brought up to a moderately high heat only in the work and the chicken stir-fried until it turns opaque and almost white. It should then be removed from the wok to a plate.
- The wok should then be brought up to a very high heat and a little more sunflower oil added. The onions should be stir-fried for around thirty seconds, before the chicken is re-added, along with the cashew nuts and the pineapple. Seasoning should be added to taste and the dish stir-fried on maximum heat for up to a minute to ensure that the chicken is fully cooked.
- The stir fry should then be plated, garnished with the torn basil leaves and served immediately with the hot chips.
What Are the Dangers of Fusion Cooking?
Experimentation in any shape or form carries inherent dangers. There are many discoveries and inventions which we take for granted today and consider essential to our daily lives which came about only through the hard work and/or sacrifice of others. This makes experimentation not only an integral part of the human psyche but an essential factor in improving the world in which we live and the lives which we lead.
The dangers of experimentation in any context, however, very much include the possibility of the experiment going horribly wrong. Regardless of the amount of research which is conducted beforehand and the preparations which are made, it is regrettably the case that the results will not always turn out as favourably as was expected. This is the principal reason why many top chefs ridicule fusion cooking and claim that all it serves to do is take the best of two or more cooking techniques and marry them into a wholly unpalatable witches' brew of a new culinary creation.
While creativity and artistry are wonderful concepts, it is important that they be tempered to suit the particular circumstances. The biggest danger of all with fusion cooking is that the chef's imagination runs riot. It is a fact that certain ingredients require to be cooked in certain ways, at certain temperatures and for certain lengths of time, if they are not to be spoiled or perhaps dangerously undercooked. This means that although fusion cooking is a form of expression, logic and common sense must prevail at all times.
NB: The above is not to say that stir-fried haggis pasta or the like is inherently wrong—it would merely be a good idea to cook it only for oneself in the first instance, rather than serve it up to one's important dinner guests...
Curried Spaghetti and Meatballs
Spaghetti and meatballs—and even spaghetti bolognese itself—are actually already examples of fusion cooking. In Bologna, Italy, where the dish originates, the sauce— ragu—is meant only to complement the taste of the spaghetti and not to feature so prominently as it does in other countries. This recipe takes the concept a little further by currying the sauce and infusing a little something extra into the dish.
Ingredients (Serves Two)
- 1/2lb minced/ground beef
- 2 14oz cans chopped Italian tomatoes in tomato juice
- 1 egg
- 1 slice of bread (grated into fresh breadcrumbs)
- 2 cloves of garlic (peeled and grated)
- 1 red chilli (seeds removed and finely chopped)
- 1/2 tsp freshly grated ginger root
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp ground coriander seed
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Olive oil
- 6oz dried spaghetti
- Put the beef, egg, breadcrumbs, garlic and ginger into a large bowl or basin and season with salt and pepper. Mix extremely well by hand, ensuring that the ingredients are actually squeezed together, rather than simply mixed.
- Put about a tbsp of olive oil into a large frying pan and bring it up to a moderate heat. Divide the meatball mixture into eight equal portions and roll into balls, each about the size of a golf ball. Fry in the olive oil to seal the meatballs only. Remove to a plate.
- Add the turmeric, coriander seed and chilli to the oil and stir fry for about twenty seconds. Add the tomatoes and bay leaf and bring to a simmer. Re-add the meatballs and simmer gently for half an hour, stirring gently only occasionally.
- When the sauce has around ten minutes of cooking time remaining, the spaghetti should be added to a large pan of lightly salted, boiling water and simmered for ten minutes until al dente. Please note: adding olive oil to the water to prevent pasta from sticking together is a popular but total myth. It doesn't work because it defies the laws of physics: oil and water don't mix. All that will happen is that the oil (less dense than water) will float on top of the water. It will not waste your pasta but it is a total waste of good olive oil.
- The spaghetti should be drained through a colander and plated before the delicious curried meatballs are carefully spooned on top, after the bay leaf has been removed and discarded.
Although fusion cooking became fashionable and ostensibly popular during the 1970s, the simple reality is that fusion cooking has been around for millennia. Ever since the earliest migrations of human beings, who carried their cooking knowledge and techniques with them to far-off lands, cooking has been subjected to an amalgamation of techniques and adapted to suit the availability of ingredients in those new lands. This means that almost every dish which we can conceive of is the result of the principles of fusion cooking at some stage in human development and that the practice is by no means a 20th-century invention.
When we are contemplating fusion cooking, there are some top tips which should always be borne in mind:
- Know your ingredients. Be aware of how each ingredient requires to be cooked and how its taste is likely to complement or otherwise that of the other ingredients to be incorporated in the dish.
- Know intimately the procedures required to be applied to the chosen cooking method. Do not attempt elaborate, stir-fried fusion cooking where you are unfamiliar with the stir-frying process.
- Know a little bit of restraint. Cooking is an art form in many respects but this does not mean that a chef has quite the same level of freedom as an artist has with his brush. "That sounds like a novel idea!" does not necessarily mean that it will be a good idea. "Sauteed Garlic Mushrooms with Passion Fruit Syllabub," certainly sounds extremely exotic - would you actually like to eat it? The first and most important step in fusion cooking - or any form of speculative cooking - is rational thought and planning.
- Do not attempt a new form of fusion cooking when hosting an important dinner party. Fusion cooking recipes should be prepared in the first instance only for one's own consumption - or perhaps that of one's extremely patient, close family!
Be creative and open your mind to the possibilities, but don't forget to take note of the tips above. Your venture into the world of fusion cooking can be enlightening, exciting and thoroughly enjoyable.