Selection of appropriate vegetables is critical for preparing high quality meals. You should avoid items that are bruised, misshapen or generally lacking aesthetic appeal at all costs. That requires a careful consideration of where to source them and how to select them.
The mere concept of choosing vegetables in a supermarket or grocery store sends shivers down my spine. I’d recommend going straight to the source – by visiting the regional farmers that you trust the most. Or, better yet, have them come to you. Organizing a private viewing day allows you to remain in comfortable surroundings while letting the farmers do all of the work.
Now, I realize that some of you out there don’t have the time, or indeed the staff, to choose your vegetables in this way. Indeed visiting an actual store may be the only option available to you. If that is the case then I urge you to at least visit one with an ample supply of organic produce, heirloom varietals and precision irradiation equipment on site.
Once you’re in front of the vegetables there are three key things to look for – freshness, purity and potential.
- Freshness is critically important. Ask for a detailed log of the vegetables’ transit from field to table. Ideally you’re looking for a total time of less than one day, with a route that avoids major weather incidents or rough roads.
- Purity is something that is often overlooked – even from some of my so-called peers in the restaurant industry. Heirloom varietals are ideal – but make sure you have a good sense of their provenance. Don’t be afraid to ask the difficult questions of the staff, no matter how dumbfounded or senseless they may appear. In my experience you can always escalate up through the management chain to the CEO if necessary.
- Lastly we should consider potential. Here a bit of research on your part (or the part of your staff) comes in handy. You should be looking for varietals that have established a good pedigree for cooking, but have not become clichés in their own right. For example, I avoid Marris Piper and Yukon Gold potatoes like the plague, and instead gravitate towards more noteworthy strains such as the Yarrington Rose. The Low Counties varietals have always been unfairly repressed in my opinion.
Finally I should say a few words about choosing each individual vegetable. I tend to use a fairly scientific approach for maintaining uniformity in my recipes. Usually a highly trained eye is sufficient, though it’s always good to carry a screw-gauge micrometer just in case. Be prepared to measure each vegetable in at least two dimensions for a representative data set.
If you follow these simple, straight forward steps then you’ll be well on your way to preparing a delicious meal.