Thursday, June 25, 2015

Too Many Hands

Do you wash your hands a lot?  Like after (and maybe before) you go to the bathroom?  After you shake a bunch of hands over a brief amount of time?  When you know there is something going around?  How about when you are working in the kitchen, especially after handling meat or chicken?  Are you obsessive about washing your hands like that one character in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest?

I kind of hope so.

Because these days, everywhere you look, on every menu in every restaurant (of a certain caliber, I realize), in so many areas of a grocery store, and on the labels of the products contained therein, there are hands at work.  Too many hands, I'd say.

Hand pies.  Hand-helds.  Hand-pulled.  Hand-dipped.  Hand-harvested.  Hand-peeled. Hand-choked (kidding).

You get the picture.  It's like every utensil and modern convenience of food preparation has become so gauche, so inessential that we need little more than the 10 digits God blessed us with.

Part of it is just pure, annoying pretension.  Hand pies, which are appearing on all kinds of menus and in cooking magazines, used to be called "fry pies" or "fried pies."  Hand helds, I'm pretty sure, were known back in the unenlightened world as things like "sandwiches" or "tacos."  On the Bonefish Grill menu, for example, there is an entire section devoted to "Hand Helds," which includes everything from a burger to a taco to a fish sandwich to fish and chips (which you might want to hand hold if they've just come out of the fryer!).

So what's it all about?  A use of wording, I suppose, to suggest that foods are more rustic, more casual, more comfortable, and, often, more natural.  For the food that eschews modern appliances for the simple, human tools of the past must be more authentic, right?

It's just that hands are kind of gross.  Take 15 minutes and watch what someone does with their hands during that time--scratching, sniffing, rumaging through a purse, touching doorknobs, rubbing, licking, exploring, handling money, picking up things off the ground, picking.  And how are those fingernails?  Clean?  Neatly-trimmed?

You know, I've "hand-pulled" my fair share of pork barbecue, and it isn't all that fun.  And I didn't wear gloves.  What I did do was to get rid of all of the excess fat I could find before I served it to my guests, but that doesn't mean that my hands didn't bathe in those warm shreds and slick oils in doing so.

Hand-dipped?  Well, you usually see that term with ricotta cheese or some such thing these days.  Hand-dipped? What does that even mean?  Did someone press three fingers together to form a kind of spoon and scoop the cheese out with that before it came to you?  Why?  Why not "spooned, but held by a hand, ricotta"?

Once in New Orleans, where restaurant bathrooms can be in the strangest places, I came out of the bathroom, which happened to be right by the waiters' station, to observe a waitress pressing her finger into a piece of microwaved bread pudding, presumably to see if it had been heated enough.

What is next?  Finger-tested?  Finger-stirred?  Is the finger perhaps the best tool to gauge both the temperature of, say, a soup, and then it can double as a taster when lifted into the mouth?

I know people cook with their hands.  I do.  Kneading dough, stretching it for pizza, spreading the ingredients over the cheese--these are all necessary, pleasurable activities, activities that will culminate in that pie going into a 515 degree oven.

But I don't brag about it.  I don't feature it in conversation when I serve the food.  "I just want you all to know that for quality control, my fingers have been on every inch of this pizza" or "How is that salad?  I tore each of the leaves by hand."  Some things are better left unsaid, and I hope that I washed my hands first.

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