Friday, October 15, 2010

Let's talk sense !

                                               Pic from web source
Author: Hephzi
Edited by : Molly rodrigues

Did you ever wonder how new born babies recognise their mom; how animals sense their prey? It's the sense of smell. Well, I’m sure we all know about a dog’s powerful sniff; senses play a vital role in cooking and in making our food choices.

Every time my mom cooks, the dish turns out to be perfect, exactly the same way as it was done before. She never had a thermometer to check the internal temp of meat, never had a timer or a smoke detector or any measuring tools. She uses her God-given kitchen tools, i.e. her senses. She developed them and used them as tools. Her eyes are the measuring tools, her nose is a smoke detector, her hand is a thermometer, to check the tenderness of meat; her ears, can detect if a liquid has reached its boiling point. How does she do it?? With complete concentration and without having her attention diverted or scattered.

Are we using our senses while cooking? I don’t think so, because we are over powered and over influenced by the technology available today. While cooking, we are either listening to our ipods, MP3 players, CDs, Radios; we talk on the phone or watch TV or handle the kids. Maybe, we are even doing all at the same time, or maybe we depend too much on the technology. A timer for baking, a thermometer for meat temperature; only the smoke detector alerts us if food is still cooking on the stove. I mastered the art of cooking using senses but only after encountering several ordeals, making several mistakes and recipe failures. It's all in the learning process.

Very often, we don't pay our full attention while cooking and end up having a burnt pie, undercooked meat or overcooked rice, too much salt or too much chilli powder. Several times, we are negligent, paying the least attention to cooking. Cooking is like any other art; unless an artist gives his full attention to his work, a masterpiece cannot be produced. Cooking is like doing worship, involving yourself totally, body and mind. Some people never seem to monitor food at every stage of cooking; they never seem to use their senses while cooking.

How can we use the senses to bring out the best in our cooking?
Sight: Sight is precious for many reasons. We use sight to read, watch, paint, etc. A colourful and well presented food can stimulate the brain. We can use this sense for differentiating if the food is done to the required consistency, if the food is moist, dry, over cooked or undercooked; we can also differentiate the appearance of the fruits and vegetables; whether rotten, bruised or ripe. Most of the times, we make judgements and food choices by their appearance.

Smell: Everyday, our house was filled with delicious aromas; on returning home from school, I would smell and sniff, and ask my mom, “did you make chicken today??”. Today when I cook, the entire corridor fills with aromas, and my kids and hub ask me the same question. Without the sense of smell, it would be difficult to differentiate between anything. Smell can have effect on your brain; the aromatic flavours of the food stimulate the brain and enzymes are released into the digestive system. Imagine your life if you can't smell the beautiful aromas of fresh herbs or a freshly baked apple pie.

Touch: With the sense of touch we can group foods according to textures, temperatures, etc. The mere touch of a single grain of rice can tell if the entire bowl is cooked. While blending a batter for some recipes, I have to touch it to test the smoothness. A simple touch can tell if food is hot or cold, wet or dry, coarse or smooth. Japanese enjoy their traditional tea ceremony, by holding the warm tea cup in their hands, feeling the warmth and texture of the porcelein, awakening their senses; help them to translate their feelings in appreciation.

Taste: Imagine your life if you lose the ability to savour the four main flavours of the food: sweet, sour, salty and bitter. Everything would taste bland. Here, the tongue plays an important role . Some people never seem to even taste their food in the process of cooking. How would you know if the food is done right, with the right amount of ingredients? My friend's mom could tell by the smell, if the amount of salt in the soup was sufficient or not; well, that’s an exception.

Hearing: Hearing gives us immense pleasure through music, sounds of the nature etc. We can decide which fruit to pick by the sounds they make; knock a melon to hear the sound, shake a coconut and hear the sound of the water inside, grilling, sizzling, boiling, everything can be heard.

Experienced cooks like my mom never needed any kitchen tools. Yet, she managed to host big  family dinners, enough for 50 people, at a time. SENSES, the great God-given kitchen tools cannot be purchased in any store; let's make the best use of it.

Happy cooking!

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