Leave It The Fuck Alone

Leave It The Fuck Alone

Life lessons and cooking lessons are often one and the same.  After all, cooking is but a reflection of our instinct to nurture or at least our hope to nurture.  Aside from physical affection, cooking is our most direct form of communication — what comes from our hands goes straight into the belly.

One of the most valuable cooking lessons I have ever learned is the most simple: Leave It The Fuck Alone.  While leaving something the fuck alone sounds simple, it really isn’t.  We have deep-seeded instincts that cause us to fuss, to fuck around, to take a spatula to a hamburger and squish it while it is cooking.  Bad idea.  It took me a really, really, really long time to learn to put a hamburger on the grill and just let it sit and cook and properly develop a crust. I would get nervous, want something to do with my hands; I would fear that the burger was burning.  And so, I would flip it and of course, with the crust not yet there, my burger would stick to the grill.  The same would happen with fish and chicken.  The urge to do something defeated the entire purpose of putting something on the grill — crusty goodness, crispy smokiness.

I thought of this as I fried up some chicken thighs in olive oil.  Olive oil has a low burning point and can turn bitter if it scorches.  But, it adds deep flavors and an earthiness to fried food if managed properly.  In any case, I laid my thighs, skin-side down, into hot olive oil, cooking flames set to about medium.  I watched the skin duck under the oil and stick to the bottom of the pan.  My instinct was to reach for the spatula, to try to intervene, to un-do the perceived damage.  I wrestled with myself internally. My impatience tickled my muscles. But, I remained still.  Gradually, the chicken skin turned golden and crispy, ready to be turned without sticking to the pan. I left it the fuck alone.

The same goes for cooking steaks, pork chops, fish.  Leave them the fuck alone and let them cook properly.  The lesson can also be applied to stews, soups, braises.  Let the process work.  Have patience.  Let the flavors develop and avoid the urge to over-season, to add too many spices.  As the great Marcella Hazan always said, never fear adding water to a sauce as it neither adds flavor nor takes any away and worse comes to worst, it will eventually bubble away while aiding in development of the natural flavors and consistency.  Those tough cuts of meat — short ribs, veal shanks, ox tails, pot roast, beef chuck — will try to mess with your mind.  They will seemingly become springy and elastic in those first hours of slow cooking and you will agonize, you will fear that you have totally messed up.  But, if you leave it the fuck alone, a magic moment will occur — the collagen, the muscle fibers, will suddenly relax and that gristly bit of elastic meat will suddenly become mouth-wateringly tender.

Yes. Leave It The Fuck Alone.  Apply it to life.  Don’t answer that email that drives you to the point of craziness.  Forget having the last word.  Don’t try to make it better (whatever “it” is).  Don’t check your girlfriend’s phone; don’t look at her emails. Let things settle.  Rage, jealousy and anxiety are not your friends — they are expressions of panic.  If one thing that 50 years (almost!) on this planet has taught me is that the energy expended with rage, jealousy and anxiety is an absolute waste — it does nothing to change the circumstances and will only destroy the very outcome that you desire.

Leave It The Fuck Alone. In life and in food.  You will be better for it.

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