In Michael Pollan’s recent Times piece on how we Americans have stopped cooking for ourselves and now just watch people cook on TV, he mentions Julia Child, the cooking-show pioneer. It was one line in particular that caught my attention: his mention of Child’s “deep sensual delight” in the “fondling and affectionate slapping of ingredients in their raw state.”
I have affectionately slapped ingredients and witnessed other cooks doing the same on many occasions, though almost always meat. (I apologize in advance for what, at least to my immature mind, are unavoidable, snicker-inducing descriptions of meat rubbing.)
When I was turning a pork belly into bacon, I spent an inordinate amount to time flipping and massaging the 12-pound hunk of pork.
When I hung out with the Lincoln Café crew as they broke down whole pig, I noticed both Matt Steigerwald and Andy Schumacher rub the pig lovingly and absentmindedly.
And there was the serrano ham hanging in a Barcelona market that I felt compelled to smack, leaving a stench that was nearly impossible to wash off my hand. (I assume because of the hindquarter’s age or cheapness or both.)
What is it about ingredient slapping that is so pleasurable?
Perhaps it’s because cooking and food are, by their natures, sensual experiences, even though there is clear science to it. Cooking well means recognizing fine differences. A good sense of touch can be difference between perfect and overcooked steak. Or under-kneaded and perfect dough. Or a perfect or broken emulsion.
Touching seems, at least to me, one way a cook reinforce the art in the science that is cooking.