Monday, 11 February 2008
Les Mutilés de la Cuisine.......
Cooking is a dangerous business!
Today, I'm reminded of this fact every time I wince as I press inadvertently against the blister on the end of my left index finger - and wonder what breakdown in synapse activity precluded the brain from recognising yesterday afternoon that liquid caramel is a very hot substance, and that to wipe it with my finger from the edge of the ramekin into which it was being poured was a deeply stupid thing to do. Brain caught up reasonably quickly, but only as the direct result of the pain registering in a different part of the frontal cortex. Fortunately, the wound had no significant effect on my enjoyment later in the day of the cointreau-infused Panna Cotta, served with blackberries macerated in Amaretto, which had been the reason for the caramel in the first place.....
But it did get me musing, in a resigned fashion, on various of the battle scars - self-inflicted, needless to say - that have been appropriated over the years in the name of Dinner. It's impossible to count the small ones: insignificant burns from reaching into a furnace-hot oven to test the done-ness of a roast, for example, or the myriad grazes from over-enthusiastic graters, or nicks from a slice-too-far with the Sabatier. And, in any event, these are the stuff of ephemera; forgotten and gone without trace within a matter of days. But there are some more memorable ones in there, too ....the recollection of some of which can cause a wince even now. The time I managed to stab myself in the left hand whilst struggling to de-stone an Avocado with a paring knife, was one such occasion, and although the scar eventually healed and disappeared, the general area of the wound used to ache rather, from time to time, for ages afterwards.
More theatrical was the occasion in the Larzac with the Tarte Tatin, which somehow managed to send a wave of hot caramel face-wards as the tarte was unmoulded onto its serving plate, giving rise to a muffled exclamation followed by a ghastly silence - all of which caused some consternation in the dining room next door. Medical treatment on that occasion was deemed advisable, in the shape of immediate bed-rest for the cook, in the company of a soothing bottle of armagnac. Whilst everybody else got on with demolishing the Tarte Tatin, before you ask. And in fact the medicinal effects of armagnac are close to miraculous, since there was no need for any remedial plastic surgery, after all.
Most dramatic of all, though was the time in Greece when preparing a Chinese dinner, and the largest knife in the set slid gently off the marble counter, just slowly enough to be seen and for the reflexes to kick in and to try to catch it. Bad idea. Blade pointing downwards against unprotected fingers. Which drew back in the realisation that they'd just been cut, leaving the knife to continue its fall, directly onto the bare foot below. (NB: even in Mediterranean climes in the middle of a hot summer, cooking whilst barefoot is not advisable; one learns these things by empirical method.)
Old Greek houses in the Cyclades tend to have lots of uneven , whitewashed walls, and by the time the first dinner guests arrived, the sight of said walls generously marked with bloodied handprints caused an outcry - well, you try standing on one foot to bandage the other one without leaning on the wall for balance, with a hand which also happens to be wounded, whilst bleeding generously over every surface in sight! Amidst the scenes of carnage, the house was otherwise deserted, apart from a large knife in the middle of a pool of blood on the kitchen floor, left there as the walking wounded had limped in the direction of the local doctor. It was only when he looked worried and started muttering about the advisability of going by boat to Syros to consult the 'specialist' there, that the true seriousness of the situation kicked in: a mercy flight to London followed pronto, straight to an operating table in St Stephen's, followed by four months in plaster as the severed tendons knitted themselves back together!
I'd like to be able to say one lives and learns, but I'm afraid my blister from yesterday's caramel suggests otherwise. Oh, well.....at least I can say one lives.....the learning will have to take place in its own time.
And that large knife, by the way, is still excellent for chopping herbs!
Cold Beef Salad, in Horseradish Cream
Lamb 'Bitoks', with a Paprika Sauce; Leeks sautéed in Butter.