Of all the cuisines of the world the Onken Family cuisine is arguably the most subtle and most difficult to master, a fact that is proven by the near nonexistence of Onken Family restaurants in even the food capitals of the world. While French, Asian and Latin American restaurants flourish, hungry people in search of true Onken Family dining must often go hungry. The reasons are many. Although the insensitivity of the modern American palate may be somewhat to blame, the bulk of the problem must be laid at the feet of chefs. In this instant gratification world, the discipline of cooking has all but disappeared. Chefs go to five or six years of formal schooling, a few years of apprenticeship, and call themselves cooks. That's fine for French foods where all you need is a few egg yolks and some heavy cream, or Chinese food, where a hot wok and a handful of celery makes you a master, but learning to produce an authentic Onken meal requires a lifetime. It is the purpose of this book to present the essentials of the Onken style. For many the true Onken meal will be a goal never reached, but the journey itself will enrich not only the palate, but the cook as well.
The training of the Onken family cook begins when a young man or woman reaches puberty. Then, with guidance from more experienced Onken cooks, he begins his culinary journey. The first stage is to educate his palate. This requires a cycle of dining which includes periods of indulgence followed by equally long periods of deprivation. In the teen years he ingests only authentic products from establishments such as Taco Bell, Burger King, MacDonalds and Denny's. Just as the Zen master wears the scars of his early training throughout his life, the Onken cook wears proudly the acne marks from his early culinary regimin. When the Onken cook passes out of his teens he is sent out into the world alone to learn the foods and the ways of the world. More often than not these are years of destitution, in which he must learn to survive on endless variations of tuna casserole. The scars left by these lean years are not as apparent as the acne pocks from puberty, but they run just as deep. The mature Onken cook never again uses Campbell condensed soups in any food intended for humans.
Once the Onken cook abandons his vow of poverty and never touches another tuna casserole, he learns some important lessons about his art. He learns that eating well is delightful revenge against the gods for not making him rich, for he has discovered that with even a modest income he can eat the same food as the wealthy. He learns never to rub his eyes after cutting up jalepeno peppers. And finally, he learns that cooking is much more that simply an undercard to eating.
The Onken family kitchen is a spiritual place. It is designed and equipped with the tools that make cooking a spiritual journey. The lights are kept low, not only enhance the aura of kitchen but also to hide that fact that Onken cooks very seldom clean their kitchens. In your own home, you can accomplish this by failing to replace light bulbs as they burn out, thus following an Onken tradition of never getting rid of anything that will eventually go away on its own. Once a few lights have burned out, you will find your clean up time vastly reduced.
Cooks in many parts of the world can produce excellent dishes with only the simplest of tools, however, Onken family cuisine, being one of the most complex of all cooking styles, requires a well equipped kitchen. The motto of the Onken chef is there is nothing he can do that something electric cannot do better. Therefore, if you aspire to mastery of Onken cooking you should make every attempt to obtain a kitchen that has electrical outlets every foot or so along the counters. There is nothing more devastating than being at the culmination of a meal and finding that you have suddenly run out of electrical outlets.
At first glance, acquiring the devices for even a basic Onken kitchen may seem financially prohibitive, however, it need not be. To be authentic, at least seventy percent of the equipment must be purchased at garage sales, flea markets, or the Salvation Army Thrift Store. The remainder should be obtained at large wholesale style retailers such as K-Mart or Cosco. In a pinch, an aspiring cook may resort to the Home Shopping Network, but this should be avoided if the other outlets are available. Products from high end specialty retailers such as Williams-Sonoma will not operate correctly in an Onken kitchen.
The Onken cook needs a refrigerator, a range, an oven, and at least one microwave oven. This, however, is just the beginning. The basic Onken cook will also need other electrical devices, cast iron pans, stainless steel pans, knives, cutting boards, choppers, slicers and dicers. The list is truly too long to explain in detail, but for the beginner, a few notes on some of the important items will save a lot of trouble later on.
A staple in any Onken kitchen is a FOOD PROCESSOR. This amazing little device blends, chops, slices, makes dough and does the work of ten other kitchen machines. The food processor occupies a prominent place in any Onken kitchen. It is important to remember, though, that the food processor should always remain in that prominent place. The Onken cook never moves it, uses it, or ever lets food touch it. Disassembling and cleaning the food processor takes several hours, thus, as a time saving technique, you should never get it dirty. Even it you are religious about not using it, stray food bits will collect under it. You should purchase a special brush for sweeping that debris onto the floor every month or so.
Next to the food processor the Onken cook will usually have a BLENDER. This is kept next to the food processor so that if you need something pureed, you will not be tempted to actually use the food processor. The blender takes an hour or so to disassemble and wash, but Onken cooks normally just throw some soapy water in it, turn it on, and rinse it out. After a few months of this, the blender won't disassemble at all any more, making the machine much more durable for the long run.
Somewhere on the wall close the food processor the Onken cook keeps his or her HAND BLENDER. This device is a sort of blender-on- a-stick. You plug it in, stick the blade in any container and blend away. When finished blending, stab the whirling blade in some old dishwasher and throw it back on the wall. If this device is not available in your local store check out the infomercial channel on your cable system.
Another often used electrical device in the Onken kitchen is the RICE MAKER. This sucker cooks any kind of rice, perfect every time, and keeps it hot and ready to eat for several hours after it is finished cooking. Every Asian restaurant in the world uses one. So should you.
An indispensable tool in the Onken arsenal is the SALAD SHOOTER. This thing has a spinning grater and a mouth like the blow up rubber dolls in porno shops. Turn it on and it grates huge amounts of cheese, vegetables or anything else with nary a sprained wrist or scraped knuckle in a batch. Like the blender, it is a pain to clean, so don't. Just keep on using it.
For a full list of Onken electrical cooking tools you may refer to the upcoming six volume hardback edition of this book, however, in addition to what was listed above you should also have the following: TOASTER, COFFEE MAKER, COFFEE GRINDER, JUICER, ELECTRIC CAN OPENER, HAND MIXER, STANDING MIXER, POPCORN POPPER, and CROCK POT.
The Onken cook uses many tools that are not electric, but they will be discussed as they appear in the recipe section. For the novice, simply go to the housewares section of your local K-Mart and buy one of everything. Take the items home and put them randomly in drawers and cupboards throughout your kitchen. Avoid remembering where you put particular ones. Once finished you should have a close approximation of the Onken gourmet kitchen.
Once the novice has equipped his kitchen it is time to stock the pantry with some of the items that will be used over and over again. In doing this you should keep in mind that the Onken clan came originally from the cold climes on Norther Europe. The weather was severe, the food scarce and bland. The family came to America seeking better weather, economic opportunity, and the kind of religious intolerance that was then illegal in its homeland. Escaping the bitter cold of Northern Europe, they settled in Minnesota, expanding gradually until the family stretched from sunny North Dakota to the balmy shores of Lake Michigan. Over the years, the expansion continued and now Onken cooking can be found in households throughout the country, if not the world. There are many theories about the Onken emigration, but scholars of the cuisine now generally agree that the movement was spurred by a search for food that contained PEPPER.
Pepper is the most important ingredient in any modern Onken pantry. You must have black pepper, white pepper, cayenne pepper, lemon pepper and lots of dried chili pepper. In addition to the dried peppers you will need a regular source for fresh peppers, including green bell peppers, red bell peppers, yellow bell peppers, mild chili peppers, jalapeno peppers, serrano peppers, and habenero peppers. Jars of jalapenos and habaeros should be kept in the refrigerator at all times, in case you run out of the fresh. The hotter ones, the jalapenos for example, are fiery little tastes of heaven that can make or break an Onken dish. Have them ready and use them with gusto.
The second most important ingredient of Onken cooking is garlic. The Onkens use garlic in everything except oatmeal. If you are new to garlic, buy twenty or thirty heads and practice smashing the cloves with the side of a knife and then shooting the peeled meat out of the husk and across the kitchen. When you can peel a head of garlic in less than a minute you are ready. The Onken's measure garlic by the head, not the clove. Despite the reputation, garlic does not give people bad breath. Garlic powder and garlic salt give people bad breath. If you have either of these powders in you kitchen throw them out and flog yourself for ever having them in the first place. If your neighbors own these items, move to a different neighborhood.
Once you have garlic you will need dry vermouth. Vermouth goes with garlic, and nearly everything else. As any Onken knows, if you saute garlic in the oil before a stir fry and then splash in vermouth to slightly steam the vegetables at the end, broccoli goes from being a boring side dish to a glimpse of Nirvana. Vermouth makes stews taste like you really know how to cook with wine when all you really did was stir some in a stew or sauce near the end of the cooking. It is everything to everybody. To people who like salt it tastes like salt, to drinkers it tastes like wine. The Onken pantry is never without it.
If your kitchen is short on sauces you will need to stock up. Go out and buy soy sauce, hoi sin sauce, bean sauce, worcestershire sauce, dry sherry (or rice wine), fish sauce, pickapepper sauce, habanero sauce, tabasco sauce, asian chili sauce with garlic, and ketchup. While there check your oils. You will need vegetable oil, peanut oil, olive oil, sesame oil and hot oil. In the dried spice section, buy one of everything. For herbs, wait until you cook and buy them fresh.
When buying the tools and pantry items, never go in gourmet shops or even to the gourmet section of Safeway. For the ethnic items go to the ethnic stores. The prices are lower because the customers are poorer. You may feel uncomfortable going in these places at first. Most of them look like an Onken kitchen, which can be intimidating to someone who feels that cleanliness is next to Godliness. Carry on, and trust your instincts. If, when you go in these stores (especially the Asian ones), you get the feeling that everyone is watching you, you are right. They think you are either going to steal something or throw up on the floor. Just hold your head high and say to yourself, "I'm honkey and proud." Your money is just as good as anyone's.
Once you are comfortable with your kitchen and pantry, it is time to start cooking Onken style. Throw on an apron and let's go.
Most folks start with breakfast, but you can choose from