I like gadgets as much as the next guy, but the vast majority of my cooking-tool use revolves around a couple of wooden spoons and my trusty tongs. The spoons are great because they don’t scratch anything, and their edges conform to the corners of most pots and pans. And don’t minimize their insulating properties. I am very good at burning myself on pretty much anything, and those wooden spoons have prevented many “Shit! I burned myself! Get me some damned ice!” dances. Tongs are great, because they seem like an extension of my hand, and I can manipulate not just the food, but the pots and pans, minimizing the aforementioned dances.
I had a few spatulas made from generic white rubber, or rubberized plastic, or plasticized rubber, or whatever abomination it was. And they too were great, as long as I kept them far, far away from heat. Actually, they weren’t great; they were…not bad. And eventually the edges melted and contorted because someone with poor attention to detail used them in a hot pan a few too many times. And whatever they were made of hardened into a not-very-useful tool. So into the garbage they went, and off to the store I went. I grabbed a bundle of four silicone spatulas of the generic brand, mostly because I am curiously unwilling to pay a 300% premium for a “Rachel Ray” or “Emeril” stamp on my kitchen gadgets. And speaking of silicone, there are lots and lots of silicone products made for the home cook, but most of them seem a bit contrived for my taste. I see very little utility in a silicone muffin form, or a loaf pan that is flexible. What is the point? What is the advantage?
You think you know me? You are expecting a critical rant about what a stupid and wasteful idea the whole silicone mania is? You would be very, very wrong. I will cheerfully admit that some uses of silicone are just silly (sorry, I am not going to link to anything). But it is obvious that the silicone spatula is the pinnacle of the art. Is it a more important contribution to our society than, say, the integrated circuit? Absolutely. I use these things for pretty much everything that requires manipulation of food. They are incredibly flexible, so they easy conform to whatever pot or pan I am using, they are impervious to high heat, they are easy to clean, and they come in pretty colors! What more can you ask? I made a stew last night that required a few hours of simmering. Of course the rim of the pot was quickly splattered with the braising liquid. A few swipes with my trusty silicone wonders and the pot looked like it had just been washed. And because they are so flexible, they don’t rip up the food, so I could mix the stew without worrying about making it look like pulled pork. And flipping an omelet is a breeze!
I am uncomfortable with change for the sake of change, but this is a significant improvement in the quality of a common tool. So go out and spend a few bucks on some new silicone spatulas; you’ll be helping yourself, and the economy!
And no, I haven’t forgotten why I mentioned chimpanzees in the title of this bloviating post. I took Anthropology 1 from a professor who, in addition to being a first rate lecturer, was quite famous in his field. If anyone knows who Lucy is, he was one of the principle researchers involved with the work on her. Anyway, he was speaking one day about tool use, and mentioned a troop of chimpanzees that had been discovered to use long sticks, from which they had plucked the leaves and stems, to extract yummy tasting termites from mounds that they couldn’t penetrate any other way. He illustrated this with a photo of a cute chimp poking a stick into a termite mound. His only comment was, “that’s not tool use. This is tool use,” whereupon he changed the slide to a photo of the space shuttle. I’m not sure if my nifty new silicone spatulas are just glorified sticks, or if they are brilliant and technologically complex tools, but judging by the way my wife looks at me when I cook, I suspect that it’s the former.