Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Ten Ingredients I Couldn't Live Without

Picture Tom Hanks in the movie 'Castaway' except I, Tom Zac, play the lead, and it's real life.

It is highly unlikely that I'd be stranded on a deserted island in my short lifetime. Considering the irratic climatic changes and economic hurdles that plague the world today, the chances of drastic food shortage in the near future appear to be much greater. But let's imagine that I do get marooned somehow.

I'm a lot fatter than Tom was at the start of the movie but I hopefully will go through the same weight loss program he did. I wake up not remembering how I got washed ashore this rather strange looking land. All I know is that I'm alone, I see no signs of civilization anywhere around, and my iPhone doesn't work. Uh oh.

First things first. "Do not lose hope", I keep telling myself. I'm going to need food, water, and shelter. The last two though easy to manage are terribly crucial to my survival. Without clean drinking water, I could die of dehydration in a matter of days. But a desalination still can solve that problem in no time.

I build a small tent near the shore with some Y-shaped branches, leaves, and fronds. So shelter's taken care of too. But what about food?

All the years of professional cooking using the best ingredients and working under the greatest chefs seem futile at this time of dire need. What good is a three star michelin restaurant stint on my resume when I have no ingredients or equipment to cook with, or for that matter, no kitchen to cook in either. It quickly becomes evident that I should have spent more time watching Bear Grylls on Man vs Wild rather than Padma Lakshmi on Top Chef.

If only one of those hypothetical questions were applicable now.  If you were stranded on a remote island and could have any ten ingredients with you, which would they be and why?

Salt would definitely be on my list. What good would any of the other nine ingredients be if I didn't have any salt to season them with. Besides, I hear salt maintains balance in the body as well.

Milk and eggs are crucial too. They're both excellent sources of complete proteins along with a whole bunch of other good stuff. I also like waking up to an omelet breakfast, and maybe I could even make my own cheese if I found some nice cozy caves around.

For starch, I'd pick rice. I could probably get more variety with wheat but rice is what I grew up eating all my life and rice is what it shall be.

Thinking like a true cook, I'd get in all the four basic tastes to make the food more satiating. Salt is taken care of, so sweet, sour, and bitter are left.

For the sweetness part, I'd stick with basic sugar-- an extremely versatile ingredient both in sweet and savory cooking. Lemons would do well to give me the zing I need to make sure the food doesn't taste bland. Mix these two with water and I can have delicious lemonade as well. Ingenius! For the occasional bitter taste, I would cleverly rely on an extensive application of  heat a.k.a burning (think dark caramel).

It would be nice to have a cooking medium other than water. Good ol' vegetable oil would do the trick just fine. It allows for frying, sauteeing, grilling, and even confiting.

As much as we take it for granted, the onion family provides much of the flavor for most of the food we consume. My eighth pick is the grand master himself, the onion.

Beautiful, isn't she?
I would also want some kind of meat, and I'd have to go with pork as my choice. There is no animal that is more versatile for cooking than the pig.  I can make many more different preparations with pork than I can with chicken or beef or fish, and every part of the animal can be used. Moreover, if I'm going to die on this island, I want to die a happy man with a smile on my face and bacon in my belly.

And last but not the least, considering the fact that I'm stranded and I'm going to be depressed or devastated most of the time, I think chocolate would help easing the pain a little. 

So there you go. That was my top ten list in no particular order. The irony is that I'm as unlikely to have the option of picking ten ingredients if I was stranded on an island as I am to actually being stranded on an island. But those were some smart choices, wouldn't you say? What would you pick?

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