Tuesday, August 20, 2013

(Legal) Use of the Hands


             (Legal) Use of the Hands
                   I was taught to cook using my hands. Hands were referred to as “your best tools.” Not using the hands was seen as a sign of cowardice. For instance, using kitchen mitts or even having them was a sin against the precept that a cook handled hot utensils with two dry towels or bare – handed if possible. In other practices, sauces were tasted frequently, with the fingers, of course. Sandwiches were also made with bare hands instead of gloves.  

 In those days equipment and temperatures could be measured by feel. Hot equipment was checked by the palm of the hand method. If you held your hand over a pancake griddle and your palm felt hot enough to move it after about 15 seconds it was hot enough to use for cooking and around 350 degrees. So if the cook’s palm got hot over the pan it tells them that you were good to go. The same can be done with sauté pans and deep fryers. Remember that 350 degrees is an acceptable cooking temperature for most fried, baked, sautéed, or grilled items. In other words 350 degrees is the correct answer to many questions. 
Nowadays it might be felt that cooking batteries: Fryers, stoves, etc are carefully calibrated , making hand sensing something of of the stone age but consider whether it is more accurate to calibrate the temperature of a cooking utensil and then to forget about calibration while assuming that all is well. Better to calibrate by the palm of the hand method say on a daily basis. The wiser course would be the palm of the hand method which can be done frequently and without special equipment. The idea here is to prevent disasters caused by overheated equipment which can happen very fast and usually occurs when the people operating them assume that everything is running O.K. The palm of the hand method also assists the sauté cook. Sauté pans are used dry. The old time protocol was to never wash the pan but to wipe it out with a dry towel. When a sautéed item is ordered, the cook puts the pan on the stove dry, does a palm of the hand test on the dry pan then adds his oil. If the pan is hot enough the oil will heat immediately to where the sauté can begin. This heat transfer occurs so instantaneously that people who have never seen the technique used before are amazed at how fast it goes. 

   1.   Crank the heat under the dry sauté pan.
   2.   Hold the palm of the hand about 4 inches above the surface of the pan and if you can’t feel any heat the pan is not hot enough. Also, if you have to move your hand immediately, the pan is too hot and you will need to turn the burner off to let it cool a bit.
  3.   Once your pan is hot enough but not too hot you can now add your oil to the pan and then put the food that you are sautéing in the pan not long after the oil.  

Sometimes the old ways make sense.


  1. Love it. Reminds me of how I learned how to cook.

    1. Thanks...glad you enjoyed the article.

  2. Keep writing Joe, you've got lots to share!
    Michele P