Thursday, January 10, 2002
By Marlene Parrish
Instructor to student: "Concentrate on what you are about to do, and visualize the result of your effort. First, take your stance. Stand erect with the feet slightly apart and the knees flexed. Feel relaxed as you approach the ball."
No, not a golf ball. A ball of dough. Or a pot or skillet.
Good posture and disciplined form play as much a role in good cooking as they do in golf, tennis or skiing. Teaching pros in sports make good money chiding students to shift weight here, follow through there, step into the shot, use the whole body. If they follow those directions, golfers don't flail at the ball, tennis players don't step away from the shot and skiers don't simply aim their feet straight downhill.
I bet some home cooks who complain that they don't feel comfortable in the kitchen or don't like to cook might find that things go easier with some coaching. As my dancer friend Perry always says, "It ain't whatcha do, it's the way hotcha do it."
So here's a foodless cooking lesson, with emphasis on efficient body motion. You solo cooks can benefit from your time alone in the kitchen to think about some of these things. Couldn't hurt, could it?
Because architects design kitchens for the nonexistent average person, the rest of us have to make do with counters that are too high or too low. Short people -- and I think we're the majority -- can save strain on the shoulders and elbows by keeping a small kick-stool in the kitchen. When I have to peer into that stew pot on a back burner, I gain a few inches from that stool. The stool also adjusts your height when you need arm pressure to roll out pastry on a high counter.
Do you stir overhand or underhand? Say you're making risotto, a 30-minute stirring process in a deep saucepan. If you stir overhand, thumb pointing south, with your elbow in the air and your arm at right angles to your body, your arm will get mighty tired. But if you stir underhand, thumb pointing north and the upper arm parallel to the body, the arm works efficiently and won't tire quickly. Compare over- and underhand stirring and beating of cookie dough, too.
Prissy wrist-stirring in a small circular motion won't always cut it. Stirring pancake batter with a flippy, wristy motion is one thing, but if you're stirring cream puff dough or other heavy batter, you have to get your whole, almost straightened arm into the process. Do that by "lowering the counter." Put the bowl of dough on a stool, on a chair or even in the sink. Then originate the stir from your shoulder using your whole arm and see how much easier it is.
Kneading bread dough isn't about wrist and arm motion; the whole body needs to get into the act. Try this: Face the counter and place one foot slightly ahead of the other. As you knead, your whole body should rock back and forth, your weight shifting forward and back from one foot to the other. The secondary motion is the kneading and pushing motions of the hands.
Move the food, not the cook. When you flute a pie crust, keep the hands between 2 o'clock and 4 o'clock to make the decorative pinching. Then give the pie a twist and continue fluting. Don't try to cut things, such as potatoes and apples, in midair; cut on a board. When flipping pancakes, flip from the outside in -- that is, a right-handed person will lift and flip the pancake towards the left, not palm up towards the right as if she were thumbing a ride.
There are sports-like hints for good form in the kitchen. Improve your knife skills with a shortened grip. Wear the right shoes. As in sports, the key to a good game is knowing what to do. Practice, practice, practice. And watch your posture.
- Desiderius Erasmus
- Desiderius Erasmus