The Difficulties of Loving Food
I adore food. I swoon over carbs, I fantasize about a Heaven filled with cheese, and I have a not-so-secret love affair with chocolate.
I don’t want a messy, ugly battle when I eat, but there are some foods that are more troublesome than a preschool full of three-year-olds. Slippery pasta, obstinate oysters, contrary crustaceans, tenacious tacos—there are some foods that are nearly impossible to eat. Here’s how to win the battle of the food and the fork.
Unless you actually are five years old, please don't approach a plate of spaghetti like the little guy in the above photo. I love pasta (actually, it's more of a swooning reverence), and I've visited Italy several times, so this topic is near and dear to my little Carb Diva heart. The rules:
- Don't stab down into the center of the plate. You will end up with a much larger amount of pasta on your fork than you can possibly manage.
- Please put away the spoon, ditch the bib, and for the love of all that is holy, put down that knife. You can eat spaghetti without any of those tools, and you can eat a plate of pasta without pushing it to the edge of the plate and shoveling it into your gaping mouth.
Here's how to eat it properly:
- Pick up your fork with your dominant hand (for 9 out of 10 of you, that will be your right hand).
- Gather a few (2 or 3 or 4, but no more) strands of spaghetti with the tines of your fork. Give the fork a quick (but gentle) jerk upward to separate these strands from the rest.
- Use your fingers to twirl the fork around and around in circles. The spaghetti strands caught in the tines will start wrapping around the fork and form a bundle. Keep winding until you have a tight, tidy little package of wrapped-up spaghetti. If it fails, pull your fork out and start over.
If you are more of a visual learner, I have found a video that will show you what to do.
On the topic of raw oysters, I stand alone. One daughter is a vegetarian, the other shuns all seafood, and my husband cannot stomach the thought of consuming raw protein of any kind. Nevertheless, I must confess that I have eaten raw oysters, and I loved the experience.
It was my second business trip to the San Francisco area, and my co-workers and I found ourselves at an oyster bar at Fisherman's Wharf. Thankfully we didn't have to shuck the oysters (this was an oyster bar), but if you are ever faced with an ice-filled tray of oysters still in the shell, here's what to do.
Eating (actually slurping) oysters isn't rocket science, but there are a few rules:
- Don't stab the oyster with your cocktail fork, and for goodness sake, don't cut it up into pieces!
- Don't swallow it whole. Chew a little bit to fully appreciate the flavors.
- Unadorned is best, but if you must, a spritz of lemon juice or mignonette is OK. If you have to drown the oyster in Tabasco sauce or horseradish, why bother eating the oyster at all? Leave it for someone who will truly appreciate the experience.
- Don't discard the liquor at the bottom of the shell. That is part of the flavor.
3. Steamed Artichokes
Let's assume that the artichoke in question has been properly prepared; it was trimmed to remove the tough bottom leaves, and the sharp tips have been cut away (unlike the one in the above photo). The flower (yes, it is a flower) was then steamed or boiled, or roasted until it was perfectly tender.
- Starting at the base (the flat end, not the pointy one), peel off one petal. Grasp it by the tip and place the bottom end of the petal (the part that was attached to the flower) between your front teeth to scrape away the soft fleshy portion. When you're done, discard the rest of the leaf.
- Repeat, repeat, repeat.
- As you delve deeper into the artichoke, the leaves will be smaller, but the amount of soft flesh available to eat will increase. Eventually, you will reach the center of the flower.
- Do you see that fuzzy part? Don't attempt to eat it. You will choke (is that why it is so named?), and you will die. This is not an old wives' tale. The choke is the portion that you slice off and discard (with the remainder of the leaves you have already stripped of their flesh).
- What is left will be the bottom of the artichoke, the heart, and this is what you really have been working for. This is artichoke nirvana. Cut it into bite-size portions and enjoy.
4. Hard-Shell Tacos
In a July 2017 article for The Skillet, Patrick Allen wrote the exposé on hard-shell taco eating. I used his diagram to create one of my own and will do my best to convey his knowledge to you in my own words.
- Begin by grasping the taco in the middle of the shell, not too close to the top lest you break the edge and not too near the bottom fold or the contents will spill out of the top.
- Lean over your plate and take a bite from the end (No. 1 in the diagram).
- Chew, chew, chew (Mom doesn't want you to stuff your mouth).
- Lean in again and take a second bite from Section 2.
- You're pretty smart; I'll bet you have already figured out what happens next—yes, take your next bite at No. 3, then No. 4, and so on.
5. Crabs, Lobsters, and other Crustaceans
Don't let crustaceans make you crabby. Mammals (that's us) have internal skeletons; shellfish wear their skeletons on the outside of their bodies—think of it as a suit of armor. They are hard but not impenetrable. I'll explain how to crack and extract those succulent morsels.
Tools You Might Need:
- Bowl for empty shells
- Lobster scissors or poultry shears
- Nut pick, skewer, or chopstick
- Mallet or meat tenderizer
- I am assuming that you are working with a crab that has already been cooked and cleaned (lungs, guts, and nasty things already removed).
- Separate the legs from the body; simply twisting the legs where they join the body should do the trick. If not, use your trusty nutcracker.
- Use the nutcracker or mallet to break up the outer shell on each leg, but resist the urge to whack the dickens out of it. If the shell shatters, you will spend too much time extracting shell shards from that delicious meat.
- Some types of crabs (stone, blue) don't have much body meat. But Dungeness crab, for example, has a wealth of succulent sweet meat in the body cavity. After you have dealt with the claws and legs, you should be able to remove the meat with the aid of a pokey skewer.
The following instructions are from the website Maine Lobster Now:
- Remove the claws by separating them from the body and then pull the lobster’s “thumb” off. Use a lobster cracker to break the shell, and pull out the meat with a lobster pick. The claw meat should be about the size of the shell around it.
- There’s meat in the head and body cavity that’s sometimes overlooked. Peel off the outer shell and split the body down the middle with your thumbs, and pick out the thin shells separating the rib meat. You’ll end up with about half a cup to three-fourths of a cup of lobster rib meat.
- If the tail you’re eating is attached to a whole lobster, pinch near the top of the tail and twist to pull it from the body. To crack open the tail, split it down the center with a knife or squeeze the edges of the tail shell together and then pull them apart. Push the tail meat out of the shell in one piece by sticking your finger in the base of the tail at the smallest opening. Cut the meat in the center of the tail about halfway through — if you have the tail facing forward with the fins facing you. Cut it top to bottom about halfway into the tail, depth-wise. Then pull off the sections of the tail fan at the tip for small pieces of meat.
Shrimp and Prawns (Raw)
Of all shellfish, shrimp and prawns are the easiest to clean.
- If the head is still intact, twist and remove it from the body (and discard it).
- Grasp the legs and pull them off.
- Lift up the shell that surrounds the tail and pull it off.
- Use a small, sharp knife to slice open the back of the shrimp or prawn from the head top to bottom. You are looking for a black line. Slip the tip of the knife under one end of the black line and lift it out.
- Everything you need to know to cook and clean is right here.
The mango—sweet, floral, juicy and totally frustrating. How do you open them? Peel them, and you are left with a slippery hockey puck that shoots across the kitchen counter and onto the floor. And where is that darned pit?
To understand how to deal with these lovely little pests, you first need to know the anatomy of a mango.
- They are not perfectly round. Notice that they are oval in form, shapely in the middle and tapered at the ends.
- The mango is a type of fruit known as a drupe. A drupe is a fruit in which a single pit is contained by an outer edible flesh.
- Now you have three pieces, two "cheeks," and the center pit surrounded still by some flesh (don't throw it away!).
- You can scoop the flesh from each cheek with a spoon. Another method is to gently score the inside of each cheek with your knife (don't cut through the peel), make a diamond pattern (see the above photo), and then scoop out the resulting cubes with a spoon.
- Remember that pit? Remove the outer peel with your knife and then whittle the remaining flesh from the pit (or as we do in our house, simply eat it off of the pit when you think no one is looking).
7. Escargot, Whelks, and Periwinkles
Do you remember this scene in the movie Pretty Woman?
Your platter of escargot should arrive with specially-created snail tongs, a two-tined seafood fork, and (if you're lucky) one or several sturdy toothpicks. Sometimes the snail is tucked deep back into the shell beyond where the fork can reach. This is when the hefty toothpick comes to the rescue. Stab, wiggle, and withdraw the perfectly roasted morsel, dip it into the pan of garlic butter, and eat.
8. Wine That Doesn't Come With a Screw Cap
Technically, the food isn't the problem here; it's the container, or to be specific, how the container is sealed. I don't intend to laugh at the misery of others, but this video from Epicurious is entertaining, and in the end, they are successful (oh, happy day!).
Are There More?
Do you have other foods to add to this list? I'd love to hear about your food dilemmas. If I receive enough suggestions, I will create part two.
Questions & Answers
Question: Where does cooking stop and alchemy begin? For example, what is an "herbal "cooked" recipe for a toothache, cooking or alchemy?
Answer: Without going to the dictionary, I would say that cooking is for nourishment (although there are healing properties in many of our foods). A tincture or poultice or medicinal tea is not cooking. I hope that helps (and I hope your tooth is feeling better soon).
© 2019 Linda Lum