Beat to the beat
The most important appliance in the modern kitchen is the stereo
Sunday 22 November 1998
It has nothing to do with bringing your egg whites to room temperature, or using clinically clean copper bowls, or antique egg whisks crafted from Provencal fences. Not once is it mentioned in Elizabeth David. And no, the trick is not in the wrist.
The answer is the Rolling Stones' rendition of "Under the Boardwalk". The original Drifters version is almost as effective, but the Stones are somehow more whisk-friendly.
Once you get the whisk going along with the slow, steady rhythm of the song, with a gentle "whisk, whisk-whisk, whisk-whisk-whisk-whisk, whisk- whisk, whisk-whisk " (feel free to hum along), suddenly you're in another time and space. Arms don't ache any more. Backs don't twinge. Minds don't crumble with boredom. Now that you have the hang of it, start swaying, then let your body move around the kitchen, whisk-whisking away. Bingo, the egg white peaks long before you do.
For today's enlightened cook, the most crucial kitchen appliance is not the food processor, the microwave, or the electric yoghurt maker, but the stereo.
Music in the kitchen is the very soul of the cooking experience. Like gas, electricity or long-burning hardwood, it is a basic and necessary fuel. It is especially important when making your own pasta.
Without a little opera in the background, pasta- making is a dull and lonely business. But turn on a little Pav or Placido, and you turn on the flour and eggs as well. The technical explanation for this is quite simple: the music goes into the ears, down through the shoulders, into the arms and finally through the fingertips into the pasta itself. Pasta that has been made with opera is pasta that sings.
Start by tipping a pound of durum wheat or pasta flour onto the bench, and make a crater in the middle. Break four large eggs into the hole, and add a dash of extra virgin olive oil. Put on something a little pensive and stirring such as "Una furtiva lagrima" from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore, especially if sung by Giuseppe di Stefano. Use your fingers to beat the eggs, then draw in a little flour from the rim of the crater, then more flour, and more, until you have a sort of unholy mess of dough that you can push around. It's time to change the tempo.
Move on to something with a little more movement and purpose, such as "Bella figlia dell' amore" from Verdi's Rigoletto, and start kneading, gathering the dough into a ball, then pushing it away from you with the heels of your palms, gathering, pushing, turning the ball each time. You'll fall into the rhythm soon enough, and the dough will just became an extension of your hands.
Finally, when you're kneading and pounding with all your might in the final stages of finishing the pasta, you will need the driving rhythm of the Anvil Chorus from Il Trovatore. It's as if the entire might of the strong-armed gypsies is behind you, as the dough miraculously turns into a smooth and glossy ball.
In just the same way as we serve the same wine at table as we used in the cooking, we should play in the dining-room the same music that went into the making of the dinner. There are traps, however, in cooking with music. kd lang is too laid back for a quick sizzle on the grill. The Spice Girls could wilt a rocket salad, and those breathy French love songs actually interfere with the pragmatic cooking of a pate or mousse. All Saints should probably be reserved for any sweet and syrupy chocolate work, while a jungle excursionist like Goldie could be a bit too drum'n'bass for family meals. Nor should the Chemical Brothers be allowed in the normal domestic kitchen - try something nice, safe, fresh and acoustic such as Belle and Sebastian instead.
Then, when the cooking's all done, there's even a band for taking out the rubbish to. It's called Garbage.
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