Teabagging Theory


Posted by to The Blog on May 6th

Tom Wheeler The No Recipe Man

Talking about topical issues in a monthly(ish) column can be a dangerous business. Observations that might be vaguely on point at the time of writing can be spectacularly out of date by the time the magazine goes to print, and still more so when you thumb through the last dog-eared copy in the pub a few weeks after that. But Brexit feels different. At the time of writing, it’s a chaotic shitshow being cynically mismanaged by charlatans with little motivation beyond narrow self-interest. And if that doesn’t still apply by the time you read this, I’ll be as astonished as I will be delighted.

The best Brexit analogy I’ve heard to date comes from the splendid James Acaster – currently only fractionally less ubiquitous than Jacob Rees-Mogg, but infinitely less likely to prompt you to take a cricket bat to your TV screen. He describes his flatmate making him a peppermint tea and asking whether he wants the bag left in or taken out. “If you leave the bag in, the cup of tea as a whole gets stronger. It might appear that the bag is getting weaker, but it’s now part of a stronger cup of tea. But if you take the bag out, the tea is now quite weak – and the bag itself goes directly in the bin.”

As well as being funny – and depressingly accurate – the comparison shows an impressive grasp of food science from a man whose performance in Celebrity Bake Off was widely hailed as the most heroically inept ever to grace the hallowed tent. Whenever we use hot water as a cooking medium – for anything from a few dried peppermint leaves to a massive gammon, to take an entirely random example – it really is all about the deal. And even if our illustrious leaders in Westminster are unwilling or unable to agree a deal that works for all sides, there’s no reason why we can’t show them how it’s done.

One limitation of the Acaster Teabagging Theorem, as nobody seems to be calling it, is that ultimately the bag will indeed end up in the bin, whether that’s before or after the tea has been drunk. But with most things you might cook in hot water, you’d probably prefer to eat them instead.  And as the water will inevitably take on valuable flavour from the food as it cooks, it would be sensible to make use of that as well. This will involve good judgement, compromise and common sense – none of which feel like particularly widespread traits at present. So we’d better get our top negotiators on the case.

Initially, both main parties are in something of a sorry state (this also has a certain familiarity to it). On one side, you have a raw chicken: full of tasty potential, but in its current form, liable to have much the same effect on the stomach as a Mark Francois interview. On the other, some cold water: an essential thing to have, but not enough in itself to keep you alive for long. Like it or not, the two factions are going to have to work together.

The best Brexit analogy I’ve heard to date comes from the splendid James Acaster, currently only fractionally less ubiquitous than Jacob Rees-Mogg

As you cover the chicken in water and begin to heat the pot – as ever, a gentle simmer is greatly preferable to a spluttering, Faragean boil – the necessary exchange begins to take place. The water takes flavour from the chicken, which in turn begins its journey towards edibility. But the longer it cooks, the more of its flavour leaches into the water. After several hours, the water has turned into a rich, sumptuous stock; but the chicken is mushy and tasteless, bound for the same fate as the peppermint teabag. Hardline pro-water activists are naturally jubilant; apoplectic Chickenites demand to know why you didn’t just roast the bloody thing instead and leave the stupid water out of it altogether.

But if instead you take the chicken out at the optimal moment – when it’s cooked through, but only just – the potential for a mutually agreeable deal begins to present itself. The meat is moist and tender, its flavour only slightly diluted by an hour or so in a hot bath. With judicious seasoning, it will hold its own in whatever dish you choose to make, and the stock, while somewhat thin, could be the basis for a tasty enough soup. But it would be wasteful to call off negotiations at this stage – much better to bring the two factions together in a more meaningful way. Having picked off the lean meat for later use, return the skin and bones to the water and resume simmering for roughly as long as you like – as with the peppermint teabag, they’ll contribute to a better, stronger stock. Strain and reduce that into a rich sauce, return the picked chicken meat to the pot to warm through, and you’ll be left with a meal that will make both Waterists and Chickeneteers appreciate the benefits of true partnership.

Alternatively, you could abandon the entire meal, let the chicken rot and the water drain away, then shoot yourself in both feet. It’s your democratic right, after all.  n

Twitter: @norecipeman

Info: The excellent James Acaster
is currently touring forever
www.jamesacaster.com


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