Affable (and fish-loving) nomad Rick Stein has built a career on travelling the globe to learn how the world lives by understanding its food traditions, both new and old. The British chef and author, who now has close to 20 restaurants, three hotels in New South Wales and a string of TV shows, has for decades taken armchair travellers to Europe, Mexico, India, Australia and beyond, revealing the culinary secrets of cities and countries through what they eat for breakfast, what dishes they use for celebrations, or what fish is being caught by its fishmongers.
He tells Broadsheet he was in the capital of Sicily, Palermo, for his 2016 series Rick Stein’s Long Weekends, when he picked up an invaluable tip he says elevates every dish.
He was visiting the home of a Sicilian family and when he sat down to a dinner of their favourite dish, pasta al forno, or baked pasta, he was told one Italian word: esagerare.
“You just hit people with flavour, you turn the volume up, you ‘exaggerate’,” says Stein.
“The lady was making a dish like lasagne, a layered dish but without béchamel. It’s just tomato sauce, meat, pasta and fontina cheese in the middle. She said the real essential thing to Italian cooking is ‘exaggerate, exaggerate’. In other words, you cook things down, you put more tomato in than what the recipe says, you put more salt in, and you add more sugar to round out those flavours.”
Sydney-based chef Neil Perry would agree, in particular the bit about salt. In the inaugural Broadsheet “Kitchen Hacks” series, he told us something similar. “The difference between a home cook and a professional cook, 99 per cent of the time, is the amount of salt we use.”
For more of Broadsheet’s “Kitchen Hacks”, head this way.