Six things to do with water
A question for you: what single thing do you think this year will be best remembered for? Anyone? Anyone?
You’re right, of course: when the dust eventually settles, 2020 will forever be known as the year of the listicle.
For the blissfully uninitiated, a listicle is not, as you might imagine, a gonad that hangs appreciably lower than it’s counterpart, but a ghastly portmanteau of ‘list’ and ‘article’. Nor is it an entirely new phenomenon: listicles have been lurking in the clickbait section of web pages for years, alongside such gems as, You won’t BELIEVE what Huw Edwards looks like now!
However, with lockdown bringing an abrupt halt to journalism on every topic except one, desperate editors have scrambled to fill page after empty page with listicles galore:
20 things you didn’t know about taxidermy! The Fall’s 75 greatest bassists – ranked! And 40 things to do with a mushroom! (The 40th of which, incidentally, is distinctly NSFW.)
Heavyweight newspapers have been as guilty as anyone, though the Guardian, never far from the cutting edge of innovation, has set itself apart from the crowd by eschewing traditional round numbers and settling on 17 as its preferred number of things per listicle.
(That must have been an entertaining editorial meeting: “Guys, I just want to assure you we won’t be jumping on the ‘ten things’ bandwagon.” “Great – so does that signal a return to serious long-form investigative journalism, at a time when speaking truth to power has never been more important?” “Well, not exactly...”)
But regardless of my cynicism, there seems no prospect of the format waning in popularity in the foreseeable future, so I’ve decided to adopt a time-honoured journalistic principle: ‘If you can’t beat them, join them’.
And, as I’ve yet to see a listicle about my own favourite ingredient, I’m only slightly ashamed to present...Six things to do with water!
1Drink it! Fun fact: water is a cheap and healthy mixer for the colossal quantities of whisky you’re currently guzzling to take your mind off the unspeakable horror of everything! Why not give it a try?
2Put out fires with it! If the majority of your attempts at cooking end with something or someone catching fire, you probably need more help than a single magazine column can realistically provide.
But if everything in your saucepan or wok seems to be happening more rapidly and smokily than intended, a good glug of cold water will arrest the process more swiftly than turning the hob down or taking the pan off the heat. Better still, if you get to it before the burning smells become too acrid and give it a good scrape with a wooden spoon, all the caramelised goodness from the base of the pan will dissolve into your sauce and enhance it no end.
3. Evaporate it! As the only truly neutral ingredient in existence, you can generally add and remove water with something approaching abandon. If you’ve gone to the trouble of making a delicious stock, it’s worth going a step further by reducing it to a fraction of its volume and freezing it in ice cube trays. These home made stock cubes can then be dropped casually into almost any soup or sauce for an instant double hit of flavour and smugness.
4Add it! Here’s the easiest way to make a stew. Put your ingredients in a saucepan and cover with plenty of water. Bring to a simmer and leave it until everything is cooked. Then strain the liquid into a clean pan, turn up the heat and evaporate until it looks suitably saucy. (If that process goes too far – yes, you guessed it – just add more water.) Taste, season then return the solid ingredients to the pan to warm through. Before you know it you’ll be concentrating and diluting with all the skill and confidence of Ribena’s employee of the month.
5. Thicken it! If the sauce stubbornly refuses to reach your desired consistency, there are thickening options aplenty: remove and blend some of the vegetable/pulse content of the stew; add sugar and/or gelatine for some syrupy body; or add starch (cornflour, dissolved in yet more lovely water, is much the easiest to work with).
6. Expel it! Even in these divisive times, one thing that reliably brings British people together is the pursuit of disappointing food. This is epitomised by the shared instinct to add water to foods that are full of it in the first place – an instinct that has helped produce some of the most abysmally cooked vegetables in modern civilisation.
Sprouts, cauliflower and courgettes are all enhanced by the expulsion rather than addition of water. Cut them thinly to maximise the surface area then apply a high heat, ideally in the company of some tasty oil and seasonings, to drive out some of the water and intensify the flavours.
The list could easily go on – I haven’t even touched on poaching, blanching, yachting or enemas, which is when I realised I was only 11 things away from something I could pitch to the Guardian. So I’d better go. Wish me luck!