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Tongs


BadRabbit
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I use tongs every day. I prefer them for chicken, pork chops, and beef in a pan or on the grill.

Today, I noticed that in Ad Hoc at Home Keller makes a big deal (there's a big picture with tongs being crossed out) out of not using tongs. He claims tongs crush and tear food. I have not had this experience and the only time to me I can even imagine this happening is with fish or something else very delicate (where I wouldn't even think of using tongs).

Anybody else think there's a good reason to never use tongs for cooking?

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I saw somebody (I don't think it was Keller) making the same point awhile back. As I recall, he was making the point that tongs not only aren't gentle, they create distance (kinesthetic, psychological, spiritual) between the cook and the food. I understand the point -- it's why I almost always knead doughs by hand rather than machine . . . my hands are able to transfer so much information to me about hydration, readiness, etc. I prefer using hands for salad tossing, plating, etc, but when it coomes to turning searing pieces of meat...I'll stick with the tongs.

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I saw somebody (I don't think it was Keller) making the same point awhile back. As I recall, he was making the point that tongs not only aren't gentle, they create distance (kinesthetic, psychological, spiritual) between the cook and the food. I understand the point -- it's why I almost always knead doughs by hand rather than machine . . . my hands are able to transfer so much information to me about hydration, readiness, etc. I prefer using hands for salad tossing, plating, etc, but when it coomes to turning searing pieces of meat...I'll stick with the tongs.

I think that tongs transfer more information than instruments that lift and turn. I can tell pretty well how done meat is by the resistance I can feel through the tongs. I would get very little of that feedback from a spatula. I'm still going to poke the meat with my finger to tell exactly when it's done but the tongs tell me when it's time to start checking.

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What is he using, his fingers?

In my opinion, tongs do less "damage" to food than forks during the cooking process. I've noticed that when I use forks on meat, the interior juices well out after piercing.

I think the idea is spurious.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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What is he using, his fingers?

In my opinion, tongs do less "damage" to food than forks during the cooking process. I've noticed that when I use forks on meat, the interior juices well out after piercing.

I think the idea is spurious.

If I recall, in his kitchens they use fish or pastry spatulas. Which means they don't cook stuff with too much heft, I guess.

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What is he using, his fingers?

In my opinion, tongs do less "damage" to food than forks during the cooking process. I've noticed that when I use forks on meat, the interior juices well out after piercing.

I think the idea is spurious.

He suggests always using something that "lifts and turns."

Here is the google books sample. The part in question is on page 8.

http://books.google.com/books?id=yMZn936MHLcC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_atb#v=onepage&q&f=false

As an aside, if the tongs pictured are the ones he's been using, I'd say his problem is the quality of tongs and not tongs in general. I hate the kind pictured.

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I happen to think tongs are great and always have a clean set at the ready. Like any other tool in the kitchen, they are not suited for every application. If you are a butcher, you can manage to destroy things with other kitchen tools as well. I think that not allowing them in the kitchen sidesteps the real issue.

HC

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I think Keller's prejudice is the result of two things: the sort of food he usually handles, and watching amateurs (including cooks right out of school) misuse an otherwise valuable tool. Keller directs the reader to a photo of him using a palette knife to turn scallops. That makes sense to me; if you use tongs, you might be more likely to tear an insufficiently seared scallop. With the knife, you really have to wait for proper browning before you can turn. But what works for a two-ounce bivalve won't work for a two-inch-thick ribeye (or, I suspect, the 2-1/2 pound short rib he calls for on page 41 of Ad Hoc; I wonder how he manages that).

Having just spent three days teaching a "kitchen basics" class, I can say that many folks approach tongs in a manner very similar to the way they handle their first really sharp knife. They're uncomfortable with them; they treat such implements the way other people might handle a gun or a very fast car for the first time. As a result, they tear the skin off of chicken thighs while searing and they crush sauteed zucchini. But nearly every one of them leaves class with a pair of tongs, convinced of their ultimate utility, and the need for practice.

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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Banning tongs (or most any piece of equipment you might find useful) from the kitchen bar-none is ridiculous. I guess Keller doesn't grill with a rack over an open flame? What does he use to toss and plate long pasta?

I use tongs all the time. In fact, I use tongs just like the ones that are in that picture. That said, I prefer to toss salad with my hands so as not to bruise my tomatoes. Plus, I think its easier to get the leafs evenly coated with dressing. I also use a pastry spatula to turn fish. I use the best tool for the job. That can often be the hands, but it can be tongs too.

Keller's advice seems perhaps more suited to a high-end restaurant (or more like his particular style of restaurant) than for the homecook. If I were plating one herb-leaf or one caviar egg at a time, I would probably not have a use for tongs either. (I know this is hyperbole, but the idea stands).

nunc est bibendum...

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Achatz, a Keller disciple, is another chef who denounces tongs. However, like Alcuin said, this is suited for their kitchens where everything must be precisely placed. They use hemostats - no lie.

I suspect most use a mixture of their fingers, spoons, plating tweezers and small off-set spatulas. Hemostats don't offer the same level of control.

Andrew Vaserfirer aka avaserfi

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It would be easy to destroy quite a variety of things with hemostats. Likewise tongs. But you don't have to use a death grip just because you're using a metal tool.

Even before this, from watching an interview with Keller I felt that if I were qualified and fortunate enough to work with him, it would only be a brief period of time before I would have to exclaim "Oh, come on..."

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I could understand the need for precision if the page in the book was talking about plating with micro-basil. I don't think that's the point he's making though. The passage is clearly talking about turning meat and other items while cooking. Surely he's not turning fried chicken with hemostats.

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I think we need a special episode of Gordon Ramsay's F Word where seared scallops, prepared by equally expert line cooks, are served to 100 diners - 50 of which are gently turned with tongs, while the other 50 are coaxed onto their backs with kind words.

I suspect the results would be 50-50, with no preference detected.

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This is not un-common in Fine dining. You just learn to use a variety of spoons (including 2 spoon technique), moribashi, spatulas ect and of course your hands.

Ad Hoc at Home purports to be a book for home cooking. You'd think Keller would be aware enough to realize that certain things that don't make sense in fine dining make lots of sense at home. Or hell, you'd think Ruhlman would have stepped in and said "Tom, maybe this doesn't need to be a blanket proclamation."

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Each tool, be it tongs, hemostats, tweezers or backhoe has its set of appropriate and inappropriate uses. Maybe Keller was trying to make that point? Note, I'm pretty sure that the set of appropriate culinary uses of tongs is much much larger than that of the backhoe. ;-)

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Tongs have teeth.

Teeth chew.

For me, for occasions when I can't use a spoon, I find offset pallet knives work great, even on a grill or broiler.

Though, they are handy when you need to open a beer bottle.

Or for grabbing that mussel which foolishly leapt out of your pan, is now literally on fire, but wedged in the gas burner. :)

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Tongs have teeth.

Teeth chew.

For me, for occasions when I can't use a spoon, I find offset pallet knives work great, even on a grill or broiler.

Though, they are handy when you need to open a beer bottle.

Or for grabbing that mussel which foolishly leapt out of your pan, is now literally on fire, but wedged in the gas burner. :)

The tongs I use do not have teeth.

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it's one of the things where I don't fully agree with Keller either. I use tongs all the time (I do not like thongs though, but that's for a different board). I can handle and flip very delicate things with them w/o damage, but it does take a bit of control. I just like them. I have spatulas and spoons too of course, but 80 or more % of the time I use my tongs.

Now, he's writing from a different perspective, and while Ad Hock is for the home cook, he still applies his Ad Hoc restaurant standards. That book is not for quick mid-week dinners, it's for when you want to make something special, with maybe some ingredients that you usually would not buy - or go for more general supermarket quality. Maybe it's just me, but when I cook from that book I don't use frozen this or that from Trader Joe's or meat from Safeway, I go to a butcher, fish market or at least whole foods, and a try to make it "pretty". And I can see where he'd be figuring that a "general" home cook might just squeeze a bit too hard and damage the nice food. It'll taste the same of course, but....

He'd probably faint walking into my kitchen, where 3 nylon or plastic or what it is tipped tongs hang on the magnet strip right next to my knives, but I'd probably faint first if he'd walk into my kitchen, so it doesn't matter.

In fine dining, you simply can not damage the food, it has to look like the food porn we're used to. Or better. That's where spatulas, tweezers, and who knows what else comes into play.

And in his books, he's just trying to make that point for a special meal.

Of course you can cook from that book using yard clippers and a hatchet and you'll still end up with great food :-)

"And don't forget music - music in the kitchen is an essential ingredient!"

- Thomas Keller

Diablo Kitchen, my food blog

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