Sunday, June 22, 2008

My Special Sauce and a lesson from the Kung Fu Panda!

In a recent article Alex Simpson wrote about a lesson taught/learned from the movie Kung Fu Panda! Well that made me hungry with all the talk of recipes and "secret ingredients."

Okay - down to the lesson! There’s a point in the movie where Jack Black, sorry, PO Panda, opens the mysterious Dragon Scroll only to find out it is completely blank! He’s then told “There is no secret ingredient in the secret ingredient soup” And i though - BINGO! that’s marketing summed up - there’s no secret ingredient! Its all about trying ingredients to make the recipe that works best for you, and more over, that of your client. There is no magic bean, no special sauce, no “brand X” to make marketing strategy work without fail!

But it also reminded me of:

My Special Sauce:
My family loves my special spaghetti sauce. It's really not that special and as Alex suggests above it’s the combination of many things. Here is the first time written never to be duplicated recipe:

Start Here:
5-7 Large onions, sliced, diced, cubed or all of those.
6 Sweet Peppers, I prefer 3 green, an orange/yellow and 2 reds. Again sliced, diced, etc. No seeds, of course.
2 Long Italian Frying peppers sliced into circles or half moons.
A Tablespoon or two of Olive Oil
Saute' all that over medium heat in wok or large pan (Teflon helps) until everything is no longer crisp. Use a strainer to drain the oil for re-use. Put aside in a bowl.

Mushrooms, regular fresh white mushrooms, or canned if necessary about 1 Lb. fresh and/or 3-4 cans.
Red wine vinegar about 1/4 cup
Garlic, Garlic and maybe more Garlic! 2-3 heads about 12-20 cloves each, peeled, sliced, juicy. Or the jarred kind already diced fine, about 4 Tablespoons.
Add the oil saved above back to pan/wok add the garlic simmer carefully until garlic is browned but not blackened.
Add the red wine vinegar stir for a minute or so at high heat, reduce add the mushrooms. Saute until fresh mushrooms are shrunken appropriately. or until canned mushrooms seem to be fully cooked, they are to begin with that's what makes them tricky. You get the idea!
Time to strain this again saving the oil/juice. just add to the bowl with onions etc.

Now for the true flavors,
2 Lbs of Ground Beef
1 Lb of Ground Pork
1 Lb of Ground Veal
Into the wok/pan add about half your saved oil/juice. Break the meats up as you stir, reducing them to just crumbles. Along the way add in Pepper, I use both black, coarse grind and fine white ground pepper. Add some salt too, a pinch is too little a cup too much. Here's where I spice it up a bit, Basil, Rosemary, Thyme, maybe a little celery salt, oregano, naturally, and whatever else catches my eye.
When nicely browned, strain again hold in wok and add in all the previous ingredients. You should now have about 7-8 lbs of materials.

Onto making the sauce.
I use a 20 Qt pot as this is a big lot.
I like the Classico brand they have many varieties, I mix and match about 8-12 jars plus a big #10 can of stewed plum tomatoes, heat for a bit adding 5-8 whole bay leaves, maybe a 1/4 to 1/2 bottle of red wine, something that got opened and stayed open too long, not a good bottle. Then in goes all the veggies and meat. This should have brought that 20 Qt. pot up to about an inch below the top. If it didn't then maybe it's time for a few more jars of Classico, or a quart of regular V8 or more tomatoes of some kind. After you've go this heated up to a very slow boil, just a bubble now and then.

It's time to taste, I like to get a Tablespoon and try to capture a mushroom, pepper and some meat, let cool and sample. This will not be the final taste but should give you an idea where you're going. Most likely if you were shy, Salt is first addition. Maybe more pepper, maybe some garlic or onion salt, maybe more red wine.

Tricky Part I
Here comes a very tricky part, I like to add sugar, but unless done very carefully or in the form of simple sugar(sugar in water until it's all liquid, ratio about 5:1 ) it will drop to the bottom of the pot and burn. There's nothing you can do, if you feel that something is stuck to the bottom of the pot, it is. Stir gently and just don't go all the way down when re-canning. By the way that's where we're headed. We're going to use the Classico jars to put our sauce into when we're done. Plus some other containers, 1Qt Baggies about half full are good for 2-3 person dinners.

Sounds fairly easy, but here's what makes it really work. Making sure the temperature is less than a boil, allow the mix to simmer/cook with a lid on but not sealing for 8-12 hours. Stirring as often as you can, usually I do this overnite so that means either the wife or I getting up several times each during the night, stirring and tasting. A trick I use with a gas stove is taking one of the burner rings not in use and putting it atop the one I'm cooking on. This raises the pot away from the direct heat, which reduces the chance of sticking. Tasting all night long is a bonus, and allows to get a feel for making adjustments.

Tricky Part II
I like to add Cheese to my sauce, usually 3-4 kinds, Romano, Parmesan, Fontina, and Gruyere, being the best. These have to be added slowly and near the end of the cooking as they will definitely stick, not only to the bottom but also to the sides of your pot. Total mix is about 2/3 cup but ratio is to taste/availability.

Usually this recipe makes us sauce for a month or 2 depending of course
how often we have pasta.

But in My Special Sauce there is a hidden secret ingredient:

The Time it takes Chopping, Slicing, Stirring adds up to between 6-8 hours.

The Time Slow cooking until everything blends perfectly, 8-12 hours.

The Time we enjoy that sauce over almost 2 dozen meals over 2 months.

The Time I took to write that up and post it, and share it here.

The Time I get to hear from those who love it or hate it.

PRICELESS!! Of course

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