About 6 months into the covid-19 lockdown, around the time when we stopped disinfecting groceries and got used to wearing masks, I was getting ready to move out of my apartment in Brooklyn to a newly vacant room at my friend’s apartment just a few blocks North. I went there for a visit to check out the place and plan the move.
“Yours got a broiler too!” I said with my head inside his oven, “this means we can make really good pizza too! You know I do a lot of cooking, right?”
“Ah yes!” he clapped his hands — virtually rubbing his palms together. “I was actually looking forward to that! Are you gonna make that green stew thing you made that time?” He meant the Ghorme-Sabzi I made for my birthday last year, I even made some golden saffron Polow rice to serve it with; Those were better days.
“Absolutely!” I replied. “And you know what? I’ve been getting really good at making sandwiches these past few months since I made so many in quarantine.” Had to have something with the surplus of sliced bread and various patties I had stocked up in the freezer. “You’ll especially like this breakfast sandwich I’ve been making basically every morning.”
He shook his head, “Nah, that doesn’t count!”
“What do you mean?”
“Sandwich is not cooking man!” he argued. “It’s just layering things on top of other things!”
“I suppose…” he was right, I had no counter-argument. “…But don’t you believe in the whole notion of something becoming greater than the sum of its parts?” Clearly, I was scraping the bottom of the barrel of my reasoning!
“I understand that,” he replied. “But it still doesn’t count as cooking. Not like the stew you made — That was cooking!”
“Tell you what, I’ll make us breakfast the morning after I moved in and we’ll see if it counts as cooking or not, deal?”
“Deal, of course!” he said raising an eyebrow, “Why would I say no to that?”
The following week I woke up in my new room the morning after the move and went straight to the kitchen to take inventory for the promised sandwich, and found some shredded white cheddar in the fridge — of which I needed just a pinch — and the rest of the ingredients I had to go get from the bodega around the corner. Nothing special — just eggs, salted butter, mayo, and whatever whole grain sliced bread they had.
The rest of the essentials were stored and carried in my backpack in anticipation for today, which included my heavy-bottomed non-stick frying pan, a silicone spatula, and the only “special” condiment for this recipe — a small jar of red Yuzu Koshō: a salty chili-paste that is fermented with the zest and juice of the Japanese citrus called Yuzu.
I use the chili-paste in this recipe by diluting a teaspoon of it in a quarter cup of Mayonnaise before doing anything else. This will release and activate all the oil-soluble aromatic compounds contained in the zest which will open up throughout the fatty mother-sauce that is Mayo. The zesty freshness energy of this “red sulfur” is perfect for cutting through and balancing out the richness and to help lift up the heaviness of other ingredients.
Here’s the rest of the recipe if you’re interested in recreating it:
By the time I was cutting the sandwich in half, my new roommate was already awake and waiting, I just had to stack up the halves with the cross-sections facing out to him on a plate to show off the hard-earned runny center of it triumphantly oozing out! He took a bite, and looked impressed enough for me to put humility aside and grab the other half to try it out; and was delighted to find out that I was actually biting into my counter-argument:
“So you’re absolutely right about the sandwich, it IS at the end of the day a stack of things on top of things, and those things might even synergize and harmonize together to make new sensations they couldn’t make on their own — that’s the Chemistry of it.”
“But then…” I had another bite and continued, “But then the bite, that crunch, the freshness, the texture, that other crunch, and knowing the origins of all these elements and who we are and where we are, all of these together like the discrete opening notes of a melody arriving at the right moment after silence, in association with you — the human observer—manifest something in your psyche that just happens to be musical for no discernible reason.”
“And that,” I concluded, “is the Alchemy of it”.