I was blessed to grow up around a grandmother who cooked every meal like she was feeding a dozen famished farmhands. She never spelled out all her various tricks and short cuts … let’s not call them hacks. She just did what she did, and I picked it up by osmosis, using a juice glass for a biscuit cutter and watching for pockmarks in the pancake batter. Endless hours in her kitchen made me a confident chef long before I was in a position to buy my own groceries.
Not everyone is so fortunate, I know.
They get their information from Julia Child, Martha Stewart, some pseudonymous food blogger or possibly my friend, Jesse, whose expertise as a builder extends to things culinary. He once insisted on showing me a more efficient way to cut up mango. My grandmother’s tropical fruit experience maxed out at oranges, so I was on my own in the separating mango flesh from mango bone department. I tried it his way a couple of times, before reverting to my non-way.
There’s undeniable competitiveness amongst those of us who pride ourselves on our cooking abilities. Our skills are our honor. So help me if I went on Top Chef, and some guest judge decreed I was doing something wrong!
For the record, The New York Times endorses Jesse’s mango technique above, in their short instructional video series, Cooking Techniques. There are 53 videos in total.
I can see how such a collection would come in handy for those who didn’t grow up around my grandmother, Jesse, or me.
And speaking of handy, all fledgling chefs are advised to get a firm handle on knife techniques before picking up a notoriously slippery-fleshed fruit and cutting toward their own fingers! Such recklessness would never have passed muster with the editors of the Betty Crocker New Boys and Girls Cookbook. The Times is living on the edge!
Some of the content has a dopey wash-rinse-repeat vibe, abetted by an oddly flavorless narrative voice. (Not everyone has Thug Kitchen’s narrative sparkle. I should be grateful for the personality shining through other Times videos, notably Bill Cunningham’s "On The Street.")
I’ll eat those words should I ever need to shuck an oyster, another one of those culinary duties that had no place on my Midwestern grandmother’s agenda. Not to say that my kitchen abilities are limned by the culinary standards of 1970s Indiana. I fling around fish sauce and coconuts with Siamese abandon, but oysters always seem so damn daunting. Could owe to early readings of Lewis Carroll.
I don’t know what I was so afraid of. Apparently all it takes is 30 seconds and a dishtowel. (And an oyster knife, but we’ve got drawerfuls of those, the trickle down effect of my husband’s Cape Cod boyhood.)
Ultimately, it’s solid stuff, but though with apologies to our vegetarian readers, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. You can poach eggs a la the Times, or do it my way by adding a tablespoon of vinegar to the poaching water. No fussy pre-poach. Boom! Done!
Similarly stemming greens. My way, gleaned, not from my gran, but a handwritten, illustrated zine earlier this millennium, doesn’t even require a knife! Hold that kale stem side up, using your other hand as an ersatz prong, tearing the leaf from stem to stern.