Andrea Burgener explains why
Freshly made. Always best, right? Coupled with the fetish-level foodism and green orthodoxy of the last decades, where fresh turmeric scores higher marks than dried, fresh wasabi root is worth cutting your arm off for, and rustling up home-made fresh pasta makes you a demigod, fresh seems to be where it’s at.
But sometimes it shouldn’t be. And I’m not talking about wine, salami or smelly cheese. Take the fresh pasta example. Food snobs would have you think this is the hallmark of any great pasta dish, but that’s just not true.
While broad, velvety, fresh parpadelle might be like heaven with a game ragout, dishes such as cacio e pepe, carbonara and vongole are infinitely better with skinny strands of the good dried stuff. In fact, they are downright weird made with fresh pasta.
Saying that fresh is better than dried is like saying meat stew is better than biltong. There’s no competition: they’re two different things.
Shiitake mushrooms are another example. You’ll see them sold for fortunes in posh supermarkets, but please don’t touch them with a barge pole. They have absolutely no flavour – they’re just brown spongy shapes – yet they’re as expensive as their dried counterparts.
Dried shiitakes soaked in hot water until fleshy and soft (just cut off the stems) not only have the advantage of being intensely flavourful, but leave you with an incredible umami-rich stock from the soaking water, which comes alive with some soy and ginger, and makes a great soup with the slivered mushrooms floating about in it.
Plus, you can keep dried shiitakes in the cupboard just about forever.
•Then, too, there’s the question of peas. Fresh peas – unless you bought them mere hours after being harvested – are usually crap. That’s because the sugar in the peas starts turning into starch from the minute they’re plucked, so all too often they’re mealy and tough. Quite okay for pea soup, but not what you want with the trout and baby potatoes.
Frozen peas win pretty much every time (though the carbon cost of freezing food might put you off from an ecological point of view).
And canned often gives fresh a run for its money, too. Guavas, if you’re planning to cook them into a cobbler, or crumble, or similar pudding, are not merely as good in canned form as when fresh, but are often better.
I can never seem to find enough guavas of a uniform ripeness to make anything like a pie, but those plump smooth canned babies always deliver (yes I know, aided by 1,500kg of sugar).
The one item I will agree should never be anything but fresh is asparagus. Canned ones? Ban those flaccid, watery spikes forever.
• This article was originally published in The Times.