The power of three

Last updated 11:51 24/05/2013

At Christmas-time, I gave my folks a cookbook that I would actually have rather liked to keep for myself - the last Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall book (how did none of his books make it into Wednesday's top 5 cookbooks?!), Three Good Things On A Plate.

I just thought it looked good; useful. It suggests combinations of three things that will go together well, and taste good. Sometimes he cheats a bit - it's more like "three things, plus a few other things...", but essentially, it is about the complementary relationship between three core flavours.

It's actually a bit like how three used to be the smallest unit you could have for a band: power trios, like Blue Cheer, or Husker Du - vocals and guitar, bass and drums. This of course was back before the White Stripes, Black Keys etc, but I reckon bands without bass are a bit pointless, really - like a meal with no carbs...

On top of this, Plus One has just gotten two books from the library of recipes featuring just four ingredients. Sure, you know, why not?

Many of us actually probably cook a lot along these lines without even realising it - tomatoes, cheese and pasta; chicken, lemon and garlic; potatoes, butter, parsley (salt and pepper are not included in the three, naturally!). If you basically consider three as the number of things in any food equation, I don't reckon you can go too far wrong. Any fewer and things are going to be a little monochromatic, any more and they may start to get a little convoluted. And, while two things may work together well, three may often take it to another level entirely. I reckon, also, that the "three" thing works in a few different ways. Let me elaborate...

Asian food, in particular, often involves that delicate balance between sweet, salty, spicy and sour. So, if we cheat a bit and regard spicy and sour as being sort of the same thing (I know it's a stretch, but bear with me), we have the basis of the balance thing. It also won't necessarily mean just balancing three (or four) flavours - it will also mean balancing textures. The most delicious foods or meals, often involves the delicate textural balancing of crunch, ooze and succulence. AND the balancing of flavours. Bugger - this is getting a bit more complicated than I thought.

But here, nevertheless, are some flavour combos of three (or thereabouts) I have enjoyed lately:

-fresh apricots, ricotta, good balsamic vinegar (at Riverstone, just out of Oamaru)

-chicken, tarragon, butter

-hot chips, salt, vinegar

-corn, feta, lime juice (and plenty of pepper!)

-cucumber, tomato, olives (bugger it - and feta, and lemon juice - a Greek salad, basically...)

-gherkins, strong cheddar, water crackers

-grated carrot, coriander, raisins

-bacon, eggs, grilled tomato (go on, a nice bit of buttery toast too!)

-peas, mint, lemon (mashed, on bruschetta - glorious)

See what I mean? Three ingredients actually give you a bit more scope than what you might think - so much more than just two. I reckon he knows a thing or two, old Hugh. And I reckon if nothing else it is excellent discipline for making you think with a bit more clarity about what you are cooking - something to guide you and stop you just madly slinging ingredients together, which is reasonably likely to happen if I am left to my own devices.

So - what have you got for me? What are your favourite triads of taste? A combination of just three (okay, or four) flavours that, when combined, will sing - greater than the sum of their parts. And, anyone else got the Hugh FW book - you like it?

PS: Am in Auckland for the weekend - where shall I go eat this time?!

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