Size Matters

On March 24, 2008, in Food and Drink, by psu

Tonight a simple tip: size matters, so make sure you give the food enough space. This tip comes with a story.

Back when I was younger, I used to actually ride my bike regularly in the summer. Wednesday nights. So one Wednesday I left to do my ride and I left my lovely wife with the task of prepping some aromatics for whatever we were making that night. The recipe called for her to cut up and saute off some celery. This should have gone well, but I forgot to give her tonight’s tip.

I got back from my ride to find a pan full of about 2 pounds of celery at various levels of doneness. She had not used the right size pan, or, if the right size pan did not exist, had not done the celery in batches.

So: give the food enough space. Make sure that when you put the food in the pan you still have enough room to swish it around, stir it, toss it in the air. For most saute purposes, you don’t want the pan to be much more than half full unless the food is going to shrink a lot, like greens do.

This doesn’t just apply to pans. I can’t count the number of kitchens I’ve been in where they expect you to cut up food on a board that is smaller than the screen on this laptop. Such a device leaves you no room to move the cut food out of the way. It barely leaves you enough room to even have the food and the knife on the board at the same time. Don’t let this happen to you. Get the biggest board you can possibly carry. Which brings me to a tangent about cutting boards. Leave those crappy glass and soft plastic boards in the store. They will ruin your life. The commercial style plastic boards are OK. Various synthetic/wood mixtures are OK. But for me, wood cutting boards are by far the best. Ok, end of tangent.

Finally, this tip applies to the dark arts of cooking pasta correctly. It’s taken more than 25 years, but I think I’m finally learning the basics. The most basic basic is: use a pot that lets you have enough water around the pasta. Then it won’t stick together and it won’t sit on the bottom of the pan and become a mess. A 6 quart stock pot with 3-4 quarts of water is the minimum you need for (say) around half a pound of pasta. For up to a pound, I use an 8 quart pot with 5-6 quarts of water in it. That’s pushing it though, bigger would be better.

So there you have it. A simple and obvious pointer that will save you time and aggravation. Give the food enough space.


2 Responses to “Size Matters”

  1. Adam says:

    For some reason this made me remember a story from many years ago, when I was younger and the web was young. I was trying to expand my drinking repertoire and found an online bartender’s guide.

    Unfortunately, whatever software they used to publish it had converted all the “½” characters to “12″. I thought something seemed fishy, but as I said, this was before I learned to distrust everything on the web. Sure, it seemed odd that I had to find a giant quart pitcher to mix those 12 parts of whiskey for each 1 part mixer. Perhaps it was a historical leftover from all those wacky English measurements.

    In any case, those were about the nastiest drinks every made. Never use twelve parts of anything.

  2. Doug says:

    hard rubber cutting boards are actually really nice. Too bad I can’t find a second one. I got it initially because it was the cheapest non-plastic non-glass cutting board I could find. It turned out to be soft enough to not ruin my knife edge, hard enough to not get cut to pieces, non-slip, heavy enough to not move, and never warp. I love it. It is simply a 3/4″ thick slab of hard rubber.