Posted on April 26, 2011 - by

Cooking with Your Hands


Photo: Vincent Ma/Creative Commons

I am an impatient cook. I would rather be enjoying my dinner than preparing it, so my kitchen often resembles the inside of a nearly empty salad bowl, with bits of lettuce and carrot and stray droplets of dressing strewn about here and there. This is the result of my haphazard knife technique, which tends to launch choppings of my vegetable victims far from the cutting board where they belong.

I envy cooks whose respect for the raw materials of their craft manifests itself in a physical tenderness in the kitchen. They caress their ingredients, hand-washing each leaf of lettuce separately and drying them carefully with a soft towel, or arranging perfectly even apple slices in a slowly expanding spiral for an elegant tarte tatin.

Most of us don’t have time to massage our fruits and vegetables every night before dinner, but acquainting your hands with the texture, weight, and give of raw (and sometimes cooked) ingredients will help you learn to judge freshness, ripeness, and doneness as much by touch as by appearance. Just as it often happens with people, getting up close and personal with your produce can also lead you to discover and appreciate certain inherent qualities that you may never have noticed before. These are qualities you’ll want to bring out in a finished dish.

The portobello mushroom illustrates this principle perfectly. It may look stumpy and unappetizing at first, but try closing your eyes and tenderly rinsing one under a gentle stream of cool water. The smooth, fleshy curve of the cap, its subtle give into your fingertips, the soft crevasses of the gills underneath: fungus has never felt so sexy.

We hear so much about how no one has time to cook anymore, how after a long day at the office, people just want to come home and relax over a meal they didn’t have to prepare themselves. I often feel this way myself. But on those nights I do cook something from scratch, I realize that there is plenty of relaxation to be found in the act of preparation itself: the unctuous ooze of a healthy drizzle of olive oil, the firm, audible twists of a pepper grinder, the tantalizing aroma slowly emanating from roasting garlic and crackling pork. I’m learning to let these triggers loosen my shoulders and focus my mind, temporarily letting go of the many mental “notes to self” that clutter my head at other times. It feels good, and it tastes even better.

E-mail me at jenny@freshthemovie.com.

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