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Saturday, 18 December 2010

Smelly foods, clean hands

Not a recipe here, but a very quick and useful trick.  Have you noticed that after handling certain foods, such as fish, onion, garlic etc, the smell lingers on your hands, however many times you wash them?

Here’s a tip from a chef friend who spent a long time on the fish section of a restaurant while doing his apprenticeship: wash your hands with COLD water.  This closes the pores in your skin, and prevents the smelly oils from penetrating.

Obviously, you still use soap or handwash, and you would still use hot water for good hygiene during the rest of your cooking session; before you start, and whenever changing tasks to avoid cross-contamination.  But the cold-water trick really works.

On the subject of hygiene, cross-contamination is such an important issue that it’s worth a few words here.  In a pro kitchen, chefs use colour-coded chopping boards, and sometimes even colour-coded knives to avoid cross-contamination, however fast and furiously they are working.  Yellow for cooked meats, red for raw meat, blue for fish, white for dairy etc.  And they (should) wash their hands thoroughly between each task, and whenever they’ve touched something that could cross-contaminate.  It becomes such an ingrained habit that your fingers can feel “tingly” after doing something as routine as scratching your nose: an unconscious signal to wash and scrub.

When viewers complained how television chefs seem to continually touch foods with their bare hands, the great chef Michel Roux Jr was quoted as saying, in support, something along the lines of “I touch the food all the time in my kitchen…  But I have exceptionally clean hands.”  I haven’t managed to track down the quote, so it may be apocryphal, but the principal remains.

We are unlikely to use colour-coded boards in the home kitchen, but it is still important to clean hands and equipment thoroughly in between preparing different types of foods.  I hope you would scrub down between prepping raw chicken and slicing a tomato, but get into the habit EVERY time, particularly before handling foods that will be served raw, or that will get no further cooking, as there would be nothing to kill any potentially harmful bacteria.  Which is why, to digress slightly, raw foods should always be stored below cooked or ready-to-serve foods, in the fridge or elsewhere; if anything drips, it won’t do any harm.

Believe it or not, there is a correct method for handwashing: this may seem patronising, but read on.

Turn on tap, and wet hands.  Apply soap, making sure your hands are thoroughly covered, especially between your fingers.  Lather up, and rinse, leaving the tap running.  Dry hands on paper towels,  and use the paper towel to turn off the tap.  This way, there is no possibility that any contamination from your dirty hands can transfer to your freshly-scrubbed paws.

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