Cooks on video show you how, not how much

YOU LOSE some get-up-and-go when you are sick. You have to gear down, take a seat, watch the world from the sidelines. While you are recuperating, you sometimes do things you are too busy to do when you are charging around town.

For instance, a few days ago when I was sidelined with the flu, I stretched out on the sofa with a box of tissues and a pile of cough drops, pushed tapes into the videocassette player and watched other people cook.


On a video called "BBQ Fixing Ribs," I watched four good ole boys -- Jerry Roach, Rodney Cheshire, Kenny Calhoun and Andy Wilson -- cook ribs. This 1996 video was produced by the Southern School of Barbeque, an enterprise based in Dewitt, Ark. The school holds weekend cooking classes around the country, including one in June in conjunction with Andy Nelson's barbecue stand on the grounds of Valley View Farms in Cockeysville.

I also watched four New Orleans chefs -- Susan Spicer, Emeril Lagasse, Michael Uddo and Jamie Shannon -- grill elaborate dishes such as spinach-stuffed steak, glazed pork chops, snapper with the skin on, and a mushroom salad. Yes, a salad. This 1995 video, "Great Chefs Grill Out New Orleans," is a production of Weber-Stephens Products Co., a company that makes backyard grills.


And I watched Julia Child make crepes, pastry dough and some classic desserts in "The Way to Cook, First Courses & Desserts," a 1985 Knopf Video Books production.

It took me awhile to get comfortable with the video format. At first, I watched the videos as if I were reading a cookbook. With pencil and paper in hand, I tried to keep up with the cooking instructions.

It was frustrating. Most of these video cooks worked entirely too fast and took too many shortcuts for me to follow precisely what they were doing. For example, a chef told me to "season the fish," and then proceeded to cover the fish with many more seasonings than salt and pepper. I wanted to know exactly what he was putting on the fish. Another time, a cook announced the ingredients that were going into a barbecue sauce, but didn't tell the proportions. "How much vinegar?" I found myself asking the screen.

But after a while, I adjusted to the milieu of video food. I became more interested in the big picture, the cinematic sweep, than in the little details. By the time I got to the ever-exact Julia, who told me precisely how many cups of flour to use in mixing the crepe batter, I had stopped taking notes.

I didn't want to scribble, I wanted to see Julia perform. Flip that crepe! We'll worry about the details later. Veteran personalities of the video world have long known that this is the way most of the audience behaves. They use their video appearances to spur the sales of their cookbooks. The videos have the "sizzle," the cookbooks have the recipe.

I also figured out that rather than providing new recipes, cooking videos are more likely to teach new cooking tricks.

While watching "BBQ Fixing Ribs," for instance, I discovered I could use either an oyster knife or a screwdriver to skin ribs. You skin the ribs and remove the membrane on the bone side of ribs to let the spices in your cooking sauce penetrate the meat.

I had been using a pair of needle-nose pliers, with mixed results, to skin my ribs. But after seeing chef Roach push an oyster knife under the ribs and easily peel off the skin, I vowed to try his method. His buddy, Calhoun, used the point of a Phillips screwdriver to get the job done. Calhoun claimed that down in his neck of the woods -- Vienna, Ga. -- screwdrivers were easier to come by than oyster knives.


I picked up another tip watching Cheshire cook ribs.Before putting the meat on the grill, he mopped them with a sauce made by mixing a bottle of Italian salad dressing with a liberal shot -- it looked like 1/4 cup -- of Worcestershire sauce. Then he sprinkled the ribs with something called Hot Shot -- a mixture of red and black peppers. It looked like a rib treatment worth trying.

From Child I learned to avoid a puny rolling pin. As she rolled out some pastry dough, she explained that you need a substantial rolling pin, one that can "beat the dough into submission." She displayed a 6-inch rolling pin and scoffingly called it a "silly" little pin.

Watching the New Orleans chefs inspired me to be more daring. Those guys and that gal down there cook virtually everything on a grill, even salad. But they didn't show me what I regarded as a crucial step -- how to remove the shredded salad from the grill without feeding the gods of fire the entire dish.

Shannon, the chef at Commander's Palace restaurant, demonstrated a new way to grill a snapper fillet. He kept both the skin and scales on the fillet. When you cook the fish with the scales still on and with the skin side facing the fire, the fish remains moist, he said. Again, that looked like something worth trying.

Lagasse grilled a thick pork chop and covered it with a complicated glaze made of molasses, ketchup, garlic and something called tamarind paste. Tamarind paste, it turns out, can be purchased at Latin American, Indian and Indonesian specialty stores. I found that out when I looked up the recipe, in good old printed form, in one of Lagasse's cookbooks.

Pub Date: 2/16/97