The second most useful tool in my kitchen are my tongs (knives are first). I have 3 pairs: long metal, short metal and short plastic tipped (for use in non-stick pans). I use them to lift and replace food in the pan, remove hot pot lids, adjust hot oven racks, retrieve food bits that have fallen out of the pan and into the flame of the stove, toss salads, serve food at the table, etc., etc. They are multi-purpose and, much like my knives, work perfectly as a heat-resistant extension of my own arm.
There are times when my plastic tongs are covered in Caesar dressing from recently tossing a salad, the short metal tongs covered in coddled egg (from when the dressing was made) and the long tongs covered in grease splatter from the stove top because I left them too close to the pan. When these situations arise and I need a delicate touch to, say, flip croûtons on a baking sheet, I reach for my tong substitute: chopsticks.
We have many pairs of plastic chopsticks. While great for feeding oneself, they are poor tong substitutes. I have exquisite chopstick technique (so I’m told) and have eaten fancy business dinners in Asia without embarrassing myself, but I am thoroughly convinced that Asian people conceived plastic chopsticks specifically to confund Westerners. There is no reason that a device that depends on friction should be made from the slipperiest material available. I presume glass was too expensive for common chopstick manufacturing? Second, plastic melts. It is ill designed to fetch morsels that have fallen below the pan next to the flame. I’m not sure wood would be better in this case, although it does remedy my first gripe. Lastly, chopsticks are not strong enough to lift pot-lids or adjust hot oven-racks. That, or I am not a strong enough chopstick user. (Sidebar: cool idea for a new world’s-strongest-man event – who can lift the heaviest item with chopsticks? Someone call ESPN. This idea is ™TFB.) So, despite the flair with which Ming Tsai uses them in the kitchen, I’ll say, for me, chopsticks are a poor substitute for tongs. But, alas, I have found a new substitute: spoons.
Sometimes the strangest things intrigue me. Virginia and I had a really nice meal at Daniel for our anniversary a while back and I noticed the waiter using spoons as tongs to serve the bread. I had seen this many times before and each time I thought is was a cool technique, but this time something struck me that I’d be able to leverage this in the kitchen. I was particularly interested when I noticed a chef on Top Chef using the spoons-as-tongs technique to flip a protein in a frying pan. Immediately I went to google and searched “spoons as tongs”. No instructions. There was one link that mentioned its a good idea when camping (so you dont need to pack the tongs) but no advice as to how to do it. Naturally, I refined the search: “spoon as tongs” “how to”. Again, no results save for the one that said fancy restaurants should serve bread using spoons as tongs. I continued for a while, trying more generic searches “spoons” “tongs” “how to” (which at least yields an interesting article about how to spoon feed a baby parrot). No instructions anywhere on the Internet. Surely, the all-knowing all-powerful Internet couldn’t be so uninformed. Google had failed me for the first time in a long while (the net-neutrality thing hadn’t happened yet). Really though, let’s face it, if Google can’t find it, it doesn’t exist on the Internet.
Months of agony passed, I labored in the kitchen dropping slippery foods from my no-friction chopsticks, until Virginia’s birthday rolled around and we found ourselves at Daniel once again. The opportunity presented itself and, with prodding from my mother who had just listened to a rant not unlike the one you’re reading now, I asked the waiter to show me. Ironically, his name was Bing (j/k). So, without further ado, I present to you, TFB reader, the only known (to me and Google) set of instructions on the entirety of the Internet:
How To Use Spoons As Tongs
Take your hand, palm side facing you, with your fingers spread.
Weave a spoon, concave side towards you, through your pinky, ring, and middle fingers. Pinky and middle fingers underneath, as so:
Grasp a spoon between your thumb and pointer finger so that when making a fist, the two spoons meet (concave to concave or concave to convex depending on how tight of a grip you need). If it’s more comfortable, rest the handle in your palm.
To use, move ONLY one spoon. Just like chopsticks. I find it easier to move the woven spoon from step 2.
Use to grasp, capture, lift, adjust, retreive, serve anything youre strong enough to lift. Once I had this technique down I started using spoons to pick up everything in the apartment. I can get our smaller cat by the scruff. Just kidding, although I smell another world’s-strongest-man event in the making (™TFB).