Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Tong-Is-Wrong Dynasty

I have to confess I've never been much of a tongs user in my cooking, though I understand they were fashionable in kitchens during the last decade or so.
Yeah, I even bought a couple of pairs of tongs; one for the backyard grill and one for the kitchen utensil drawer.
Still, didn't use them much.
When my mom and dad decided to drastically pare down most of their cooking tools, I helped myself to not one, but two or possibly three pairs of tongs. That's one of them in the photo. I thought they might kick-start me into the tong-using cognoscenti, but I failed to arrive.
I know that most trendy tong-using means those crab-claw type looking things, not the gentle one in the picture. The crab thing, that's the kind I bought, the bite-grip. Two pairs. Not sharp teeth, but kind of scalloped.
I understand their value. You get a little better hold on your food than you would with a mere pancake flipper. And if you're not a complete doofus, you probably will gouge neither your skillet nor your food.
Guess what.
Tongs, they are so yesterday.
In fact, just yesterday I was reading how tongs were actually so day-before-yesterday. Whoever it was I was reading (and if any astute visitors here can help me out — help me out) made the point that you don't want to use tongs on your food (I think it was fish) because, well, hey, you wouldn't want to have tongs used on you, would you? (But if I were dead and sizzling in oil, I really don't think I'd care one way or the other.)
The actual point being that you ought not to shred the food you're sauteeing by puncturing it with stainless-steel pincers, and dude, if that's the way you flip fish, keep away from my fluke.
So today my issue of Food & Wine arrives, with an article by Daniel Patterson (with whom I have issues, not necessarily issues of Food & Wine) on cooking with your hands. I couldn't agree more, except in the case of extreme heat or cold. I know, "cold" isn't "cooking," but relieving a refrigerated chicken of its biological integuments — i.e., finding the joints with your fingers so you can hack it into parts — is icy prep work, especially when you have skinny little fingers like mine.
Don't use tongs, Patterson advises. You get a closer connection to your food and damage it less. Your hands will tell you when it's done to your liking.
He tells a story of his wife (ex?) cutting into meat in the pan, once, twice, letting valuable juices run out and spatter, and carving unforgivable scars in the food — god, no wonder they're divorced. His point is you should pinch the meat to judge from its density how done it is.
For some reason, the story ends with a recipe for lemon-ricotta pudding. But thank god, no tongs were used.
OK. Flip forward several pages. Same issue. Ten tips on summer grilling. Tip number 8: "Use a pair of tongs... to turn meat or move it around on the grill. ... If you must cut and peek to check doneness, make a small slit with a knife."
Eek! Who wrote that? Mrs. Ex-Patterson?
No, it was Steven Raichlen, the television barbecue master and inventor of beer-can chicken.
Wow. I think I'm going to let my subscription to F&W run out.
I'll keep the tongs, though. They're good for fishing pickles out of jars.


Sam said...

he only got married in January, Cookiecrumb.

cookiecrumb said...

Christ, so already he hates his new wife? :P
(I'm just spoofing, Sam.)

Ed Bruske said...

Oh, so so so wrong. Spring-loaded tongs, indespensible. Advise everyone have at least one good pair of spring-loaded tongs and learn how to use them. The tongs in your picture, yes--very, very yesterday. No good. Get spring-loaded tongs.

cookiecrumb said...

Ed: Oh, gosh, those photo'ed tongs are prehistoric, but they do have their use.
It was, in fact, the spring-loaded tongs that have been declared forbidden.
The debate rages on! Isn't this fun?
Of course, I have no idea where my own spring-loaded tongs are, because we haven't fully unpacked from our move yet. (So how the hell did those archaic pincers emerge from the rubble? I could never guess. And I also happen to know where the six ukuleles are, but I can't find my pot holders.)

Kalyn said...

I have loads of tongs, but my subscription to Food and Wine ran out long ago. I am still hooked on Fine Cooking Magazine though. Have to check their stance on tongs. I'm betting they are pro-tong.

Moonbear said...

Tongs are wrong? Say it isn't so! I most especially the spring loaded variety are right for me. However, I agree completely that meat should not be cut into to test the doneness. No one in my household trusts that I can tell by pressing gently with the (closed) tongs if the meat is done. This is a matter of experience vs. doing what the cookbook or zine tells us.

Dr. Biggles said...

He's a fucking idiot. Probably the same lame butt that wrote for Cook's Illustrated and said that you shouldn't use a wood or coal fired grill because the lid imparts a bitter taste to your food.

Use your touch, smell and ears to know when your food is ready. Then remove them, stir them and prep them with tongs.

I would most certainly expect the same person to respond to my use of chopsticks in the same manner along the lines of, "ching chang chong ching chong". (Meant to be a bad reproduction of Rosie).

Toss the publication to the curb, spit on it and write a letter. That's what I did. CI's mag can bite my shiny metal ass.

xo, Biggles

ps - I'm on my 3rd try at getting my damned captcha right.

Dagny said...

I find my spring-loaded tongs to be quite handy at times, like when frying up cod. Because I'm not going to stick my hand in the hot peanut oil. Sometimes I use them when broiling meat but I usually just use my fingers.

Hmmm. That reminds me. Gonna have to take that cod out of the freezer this weekend I think.

Dagny said...

Oh, and I let my subscription to Food and Wine run out last year.

tammy said...

Gotta have my tongs. I've never been fashionable.

Stacie said...

i have to come down on the side of tong usage... how else can a fashionista like myself prepare a great meal without an apron, wearing my favorite dress? tongs... that's how, baby..

Tea said...

I'll be nerdy enough to say that the no tongs on fish line was Shuna quoting Thomas Keller as reported by Anita to Sean's Eatsdropper column on Hedonia.

I really need to get a life--or let my scary acurate memory have the day off at least.

I'm a late in life convert to tongs, but I love them. Don't use them all the time, but for fishing out canning jars from a boiling hot water bath my hands just aren't up to the job. Yeah, spring loaded with the little locking mechanism.

kudzu said...

If this counts: I was at a luncheon at someone's house where all the guests are connected in some way to food (chefs, caterets, writers) and someone raised the question about which style of tongs we preferred and every single person voted for the scallop-shell long jobs. I find them necessary for large lifting but they can be used for delicate maneuvers if I pay attention....As for the discrepencies in the magazine articles, get used to it. Editorial content is going downhill fast as travel ads take over the glossy food press...Love Tea's comment! Whooooosh.

ChrisB said...

CC oh dear I certainly had a pair of these pre-historic tongues not sure if they're still about- but I certainly use tongs so I've been breaking all the rules and I don't care what the expert says I'll go on in my own sweet way and not get burnt finger!!

Kevin said...

The article also pointed out that using your fingers to flip hot meat means you need a high pain threshold -- and I so don't have one. I'll keep my tongs, thank you.

Sean said...

Tea wins the prize -- doubly so for knowing that the tipster was Anita, since I did not specifically name her in the quote.

That said, I, too, am a tongster, though not so much with meat. I find them indispensable for use with loose things, and mostly for plating. Never on fish, heavens.

Greg said...

I thought you said thongs..nevermind!

Pam said...

I have those exact tongs and a bunch of others I've tried over the years. I think I just like gadgets in general, even when I don't use them much.

cookiecrumb said...

Kalyn: I wonder why your subscription to F&W was "allowed" to run out!! ;D

Moonbear: Wow, you can tell by pressing with the tongs? I like to pinch with my thumb and forefinger.

Dr. Biggles: There are unoriginal food trends that float among the publications. Right now it's anti-tongs. A few years ago, every food writer was saying to salt your cooking water "until it tastes of the sea." Same exact wording, every damn plagiarist.
(Lids give flavor? Yikes!!!)

Dagny: Well, as soon as my tongs find their way into the house, I'll give them another try. I guess I'm more of a "big spoon" cook. Spatulas, too.
And... Aha! On your F&W subscription.

Tammy: I coulda sworn I saw you in the Prada Tongs store.

Stacie: Are you saying they increase your reach? Cool.

Tea: Ding, ding, ding! (Little Groucho birdie drops down.) You did it! I knew somebody would know what I was talking about. God, we're such nerds. Thank you. Heh.
And. Of course you want tongs for the canning bath. Or have you tried those arm-length silicon gloves? I think they'd be clumsy on my small hands.

Kudzu: I would think you'd have less control with longer tongs. I am such a kindergartener.

ChrisB: We should do a post about our oldest tools! Not the oldest ones we've inherited or bought as antiques, but the old ones we bought for ourselves and keep using.

Kevin: I'm a wimp too, but I think I could flip hot meat with my hands. (Oh, I'm not sure my grandmother would like how that sentence came out.)

Sean: Aren't we a bunch? Gah.
I'm intrigued to hear you use tongs for plating. I'll have to experiment.

Greg: Leave it to you and your pantyhose fantasies... (When did this all get so naughty?)

Pam: I will never part with my gadgets, even the ones I haven't used in 17 years. OR! We could all get together and have a gadget swapathon!!

Pam said...

Ooooh, cool idea about the gadget swap-a-thon! - the comments to this post prove that one person's gadget is another's anathema! We could all save some money and get cool gadgets. Sort of like those funny holiday parties where you bring the present you hated and give it away to someone else.

Deborah Dowd said...

My son who is a sous chef uses tongs all the time. I think it must be an aquired taste!

Tea said...

Thank you, thank you! Occasionally the nerdiness pays off:-)

Do I get a prize? (or at least a snuggle from Bean Sprout) Can I collect next week?

Oh, and I hate gloves or all sorts (unless it's cold outside). I pass on gardening gloves and dishwashing gloves. Like to be able to feel things.

Alice Q said...

Tongs are great! They can be used to flip things that are grilling, sauteing (unless they have a crust!) or to remove hot veggies from a steamer. They're also good for pulling sheet pans out of a hot oven so you can grab them with a towel, and for picking hot baked goods up off of a baking sheet - biscuits, rolls, etc.

kayenne said...

Function over fashion, I'd say, when it comes to the kitchen. Except where it concerns my pristine white KA heavy-duty mixer, there I have both. Or maybe I should save for an artisan series... hmmm...

ChrisB said...

Now that's an idea !

cookiecrumb said...

Pam: I might just try to do a swapathon. At my new house, where the driveway is useful. I gather you live in the vicinity!

Deborah: Guessing that you don't use them much yourself... Me too. Sigh.

Tea: Prize for you -- some snuggles and some lunch.

Alice Q: I am so glad you mentioned pulling hot things out of the oven with tongs. I've seen funny archaic tools for that, but it makes so much sense just to leave the tongs on the counter by the oven. Merci. It will keep out potholders so much cleaner. (I have issues with Cranky on food-smeared potholders.)

Kayenne: How dare those magazine writers attempt to belittle us? How could tongs go "out"? (Not that I was ever in.)

ChrisB: I'll try to start that one up. Thanks for liking it. Or. Well. Maybe you suggested it. :D

Pam said...

Yes, we live about 15 minutes from you in Point Richmond. I'll await the date of the gadget swap-a-thon on your new driveway! Have fun unpacking - as a fellow Navy junior (my Dad was an aviator, too)I know just what you are going through now!

cookiecrumb said...

Pam: OMG. Naval aviator. And I totally believe you --because you didn't say "Navy brat," you said "Navy junior." We were not brats! I remember meeting some old guy who said (and it was the first time I'd heard it) "So, are you a Navy brat?"
"No sir," I said. "I'm not a brat."
(I always just said "Navy kid.)
Looking forward to our first meeting.
I'll be at the Marin market tomorrow, earlyish (8 or later). Me and Cranky. Just in case. No pressure. We will hang out at the coffee bar end of the joint for half an hour; you can look for a couple of old hippies at one of the tables.

Glenna said...

You make me laugh. Okay, here's the deal. If you ever come to my house for dinner you're not allowed to watch me in the kitchen. Tongs are like 11th and 12th fingers to me, I don't know why...

Pam said...

Oh, Cookiecrumb, sorry I didn't read your invitation to meet you and Cranky at the Marin Market until much later than you were there. Oh, well, perhaps another time. You're right, we never were brats - my mother wouldn't have allowed it! :-) So, how many places did you live before leaving the Navy? My count is 12, including Canada (Newfoundland), France and Japan.

cookiecrumb said...

Glenna: Honest! I've got nothing against tongs. I think it's funny that certain chefs have decreed them off-limits. I've simply never acquired the habit. (Can I still come to your kitchen?)

Pam: I don't know the exact count, but I do know of 11 places for certain (including Japan!).
Next time you want to meet at the market, it can be your call. cookiecrumb1 AT sbcglobal DOT net.
Sorry to have missed you.

PerpetualCarouse said...

'Round my house, I'm known as something of a tong whore. I can't even count how many I've gone through in my neverending quest for the perfect tongs.

Ironically enough, every set of tongs I've ever bought has been outlasted by tongs nearly identical to the ones in the photo, which I was given by my parents when I moved into my first apartment. They're older than I am, and still going strong.

cookiecrumb said...

PC: That's a good enough endorsement for me. I'm gettin' them out and trying my chops. (I like the fact that they're not spring-loaded; we can just use our kindergarten scissor skills!)

Maya said...

The anti fork movement: "Forks are so yesterday! Bare hands, or for the international set flat bread is so much more in touch with your food! Caress that food!"

Pffft. Silliness for the sake of it. Sneetches, the lot of them.

cookiecrumb said...

Good one.
Sneetches, AND bandicoots, too.