Sunday, 20 January 2013
I was making some flapjacks the other day when my husband found me sitting on the kitchen floor with my left ear turned towards the open oven door. When he asked me what I was doing I explained that I was "listening to see if they were ready". He was amazed that I judge the readiness of food by what it sounds like; I was amazed that it has taken him 10 years to notice my way of cooking.
When I was a child I was scared of cooking. I was forever being told to take care of sharp knives and hot ovens by my understandably over-protective mother. And at school I remember being given a D- for Cookery because my efforts never looked as presentable as my peers' and my workspace always looked like a bomb had hit it.
Perhaps I would have been a more confident cook if my teachers had privileged the non-visual elements of cookery. Who cares what the food looks like as long as it tastes good? My cakes never look perfect but they are (almost) always delicious. And as someone who spends her life arguing against myths of beauty and symmetry, surely I should be the first to celebrate the 'different' appearance of my culinary creations.
Recently I have realised that despite cookery books' tendency to emphasise the visual nature of cooking through references to the desired colour and consistency, smell, touch, taste and hearing are in fact all I really need. I can tell whether a sauce is thickening by the way the spoon feels, and if a cake is ready by how springy it is. I listen for the sound of bubbling on the hob, under the grill and in the oven and always know if I've misjudged things when the smoke alarm goes off. Since I've started wearing glasses, they steam up horribly whenever I am leaning over a hot stove and my eyes water terribly whenever I peel an onion. I've tried all the old remedies, but have decided that chopping onions glasses-less and with my eyes closed is the only way to go. This is much easier and safer than it sounds: touch is all you need to feel the difference between skin and onion; in fact working out which layers to peel off with my fingers makes cooking a much more sensual experience. I've been chopping blind for a few months now and still have all my fingers intact.
Cakes and pasta are all very well, but meat is a different matter. I haven't yet worked out how to tell if a chicken is safely roasted without sighted help. And I'd worry about serving my children any kind of meat that I wasn't sure had been properly cooked. Much as I like to check the progress of my meals by having a quick nibble, food hygiene dictates that I shouldn't really snack on half-raw pork. So when I do cook with meat I tend to go for mince or well chopped pieces which I can be sure have been thoroughly cooked. I think I'll leave the more inventive meat cooking to others. After all, isn't that what restaurants are for?