Friday, May 13, 2005

Any Way You Cut It, I've Probably Tried Cutting It That Way Too

Look, let me preface all this by saying that I'm perfectly aware I have worryingly borderline obsessive-compulsive tendencies. So while you're free to offer diagnoses, just note that you won't be telling me anything I don't already know.

Here's what I have to say: the shape of food matters. I'm not talking about bygone days when my mom used to enliven my lunchbox on special occasions with American cheese slices cunningly cut into heart shapes and little jigsaw puzzles. Although mmmm, those were good times...

No, I speak here as an adult, one with enough time on her hands to have noted through empirical trial that the way you cut up your food makes a palpable difference to how much you enjoy eating it.

Take bananas: I defy anyone to gainsay that a banana tastes and feels much better when eaten sliced than bitten off from the whole. That smooth, clean-cut, sticky-slippery banana plane provides an infinitely more satisfying oral experience than the anarchy of a chunk gnashed off any old way, leaving uneven jawprints in the violated fruit.

(Sidebar: what exactly is that extraordinary banana-glue that holds together the slices once you've cut them? I can't help thinking its unique physical properties could have wide commercial application, say as an environmentally-friendly industrial lubricant for ball-bearings and the like.)

Similarly grapes. Lately I've taken to slicing big red grapes in half crosswise and hucking them in my morning fruit salad with strawberries and the aforelauded banana slices, plus the occasional black plum if I'm feeling splashy. The other day, faced with particularly large strawberries, I decided to experiment daringly and slice the grapes lengthwise. Disaster. Believe me or not as you will, the grapes tasted different. They tasted worse. Much worse. My fruit salad was in shambles, and I just couldn't face it. A whole quid's worth of English strawberries tossed in the bin, all because of a moment's mise-en-place madness.

I don't, however, want to give the impression that formal innovation in food morphology is inevitably to be regretted, or avoided. On the contrary, a revolutionary change in cutting strategy can revitalize a tired foodstuff beyond recognition. Several weeks ago I was making a salad, and, having lost faith in the nutritive value of lettuce alone, planning to add a carrot along with some bell pepper. As I peeled the carrot with my user-friendly Oxo Good Grips peeler, thick, integral ribbons of peel gliding off on all sides, blinding inspiration struck.

The carrot once peeled, reader, I kept peeling, until the carrot was whittled to a slender nubbin in my hand and a lacy pile of carrot flounces in the salad bowl. The effect was electrifying! Instead of sinking to the bottom of the bowl and lurking in little dense flavor-bombs as the more traditional carrot coins do, these ribbons wove themselves gracefully through the salad, subtly sweetening and solidifying each bite without overstating their presence.

I've been attempting to replicate the effect with bell pepper, but the peeler won't work reliably on such an awkwardly shaped surface. I need to sharpen my (utterly lifechangingly brilliant 6" Global vegetable) knife, and I feel confident that with rigorous application, someday I will achieve translucently thin slices of pepper to match my carrots.

I'm just saying.

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