Size Matters

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.