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The spoon wars: Dish it up! March 26, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Longtime readers know that my favorite cooking magazine—the only one I’d actually be willing to pay for—is Cook’s Country. (Fortunately, I receive a subscription every year for Christmas. But I would pay for it. Really.) Cook’s Country is a spinoff of Cook’s Illustrated, which I also enjoy when I have the chance to see it. And both magazines contribute content to an e-mail of cooking tips and recipes that I receive (free) on a regular basis. Which brings me at last to the point of this post.

I expect that every serious (read: interested and enthusiastic, not humorless and clinical) cook has a favorite style of stirring spoon. These are the spoons you use to cook with when creating a dish, be it a pasta sauce or a curry, a stir-fry or refried beans. As seasoned cooks know, a good spoon can make or break a dish as easily as good ingredients can. The spoon is your partner, your assistant, your sous-chef, as it were, in perfect preparation, keeping ingredients moving, blending, and not burning or sticking as you prepare each dish.

A bad spoon can mean burned food, and if you cook from scratch and spend lots of time and money getting your ingredients just right and combining them just so, this is a culinary tragedy of, if not epic, at least depressing to enraging proportions, depending on your basic personality. I don’t know about you, but mine tends towards the enraged end of the spectrum; just ask our friend Ben. But I digress.

My own stirring spoons tend to fall into four basic categories:

* Historic. I own some truly gorgeous wooden spoons that have come down through five generations of my family. I love to look at them, but I wouldn’t dare use them. Somehow they’ve survived thus far, but God help them if I cooked with them.

* Wooden. My beloved Mama always used long-handled wooden spoons for stirring, be it batter or spaghetti sauce. I grew up assuming that wooden spoons were the way to go, and have bought many, from store models to gorgeous artisanal hand-crafted spoons. But now I don’t use them. Why? Because I’ve found that they crack, splinter, shred, and take on off-flavors. Eeeewww, I’d rather not eat wood shavings in my food, thank you, and I certainly don’t want my anise-mushroom pasta to reek of spaghetti sauce or curry.

* Silicone. I have a couple of big, deep silicone spoons. They’re great for serving, but not, in my view, for stirring. The bowls are simply too big. I’ll often use another spoon for stirring, then switch to a silicone spoon for serving.

And the winner is…

* Bamboo. Having stumbled on Joyce Chen bamboo spoons in a department store at a time when I desperately needed a new stirring spoon, I took a deep breath, paid the $3.99, and have never looked back. Bamboo spoons are just the right size and weight for stirring. Unlike wood, they don’t crack or pick up stains or off-flavors. (Though, as a precaution, I always keep my baking spoons separate from the ones used for savory dishes.) They wash up in a heartbeat. Mind you, nothing’s perfect. I used my original bamboo spoon every single day for about six years. I finally consigned it to the burn pile last week, since the edges had begun to fray a bit. But unfailing service for 365 days a year for six years for $3.99 still sounds like a bargain to me.

Anyway, I was just scrolling through my latest e-mail from Cook’s Illustrated when I saw that they’d done one of their famous tests comparing wooden spoons. Too bad they didn’t compare wooden to bamboo spoons, I thought, but clicked on the link to see what they’d found out.

Turns out, they did include one bamboo spoon in their test—the very Joyce Chen model I’d been using all these years. And guess what? It scored dead last in their ratings. What?! This is war!!!

Mind you, I’m not about to diss the winner, a Mario Batali-branded wooden spoon. Not only have I never had an opportunity to try it, but it’s so affordable, at $5.95, that I certainly think anyone with access to it should give it a try. The testers had lowered the ratings on many other wooden spoons for the same reason I’ve stopped using them—they cracked after a single use and (hand) washing. And they found, as I have, that wooden spoons tend to take up flavors and refuse to ever let them go.

So why did poor Joyce Chen’s spoon land in last place? The handle apparently snapped when the tester applied pressure. Based on my experience, I respectfully beg to take exception to this. As noted, I had used a single Joyce Chen bamboo spoon every single day for six years. From frittatas to apple butters, from chutneys to chilaquiles, from black bean soup to mushroom-cashew Stroganoff, this spoon accompanied me in my culinary endeavors, without complaint or cracking. I was far more likely to snap on any given day than my trusty bamboo spoon.

I stand by my spoon. I defy anyone to produce a better spoon. Dammit, show me that spoon! Let’s see how it holds up after 2190 continuous days of use. As our current president said of a recent challenge to his health-care program, bring it on! I double-dog dare you. (And our black German shepherd Shiloh is prepared to back me up on this.) Let the spoon wars commence!



1. Lzyjo - March 26, 2010

Holy cow, six years! I too picked up an assortment of those Joyce Chen bamboo spoons. I’m surely a convert. I love all those different shapes they offer. Really smart and handy. Of course, I still wouldn’t give up my trusty long handled western wooden spoons. DH and I recently did a utensil overhaul. Threw out all the old serving spoons that bend like crazy, the good for nothing spatula that can’t cut a casserole and on and on. We’re much happier with our expensive replacements and I have a feeling they will last for a long, long time. Utensils are totally a hot button issue in the kitchen!

Glad you like them too, Lzyjo! And glad you cleaned out your drawers. It’s amazing the stuff that can pile up in there!

2. Gail - March 27, 2010

I hope you sent an email right away letting them know that your experience with the spoon is way different! I will check the spoons out…I use long handled wooden spoons and have a dozen or so of them~I have been given wonderful artisan wooden spoons, but never use them! What we need in our utensil drawer is a decent scraping spatula… Now I must clean out the drawers they are crowded with useless stuff! gail How’s the weather up there?

Ha! No, I didn’t, Gail. I figure they’ve made their pronouncement, and now I’ve made mine. I know what you mean about the artisan spoons—I have the most gorgeous bird’s-eye maple cutting board, but of course I can’t bring myself to use it. I sure enjoy looking at it, though! Btw, one of the reasons the Mario Batali spoon ranked so high was that the Cook’s Illustrated folks thought it made a superior scraper, so if you’re looking for a good scraping spatula, you should definitely give it a try. It’s beautiful but suddenly cold again here. Brrr!!! We’re in daffodil/forsythia/Siberian squill season now, as the snowdrops and crocuses decline but before the tulips, grape hyacinths, and bleeding-hearts come on. I’ll bet Nashville’s just gorgeous right now—you all must be in high spring!

3. Jen - March 28, 2010

LOL – The Joyce Chen spoon all the way! How dare they? I will be looking for some. These are the same folks who did the chocolate tasting I told you about where Bakers won, (due to nostalgia factor) so you have to take it all with a grain of salt, I guess. Do you have their “Lost Suppers” cookbook – one you’d love, I’ll bet.

We’ll take just about anything with a grain (or spoonful) of salt, Jen! And no, I don’t have “Lost Suppers,” but I do have all their Cook’s Country annuals. Love them!!!

4. Becca - March 31, 2010

I love all wooden spoons–and even have a wooden whisk that is very handy for use. My spoons stay in fairly good shape AND I give them a merciless scrubbing after every use. That seems to keep them from developing “off” flavors. I like to think I am cleaning them the way old fashioned wood floors were kept clean and neat–scrubbing the dickens out of them!! 🙂

True! Do you ever oil your wooden spoons, Becca? Mine tend to get awfully dried out, but I’ve never dared to oil them for fear of the oil going rancid or something. Obviously, I don’t oil my poor wooden cutting boards, either, and talk about taking a beating! Fortunately, the one I use constantly is walnut, so it’s held up well to the abuse.

Becca - April 1, 2010

I think I have oiled them before–but no,–I haven’t even thought of oiling them recently. I might do that!

Thanks, Becca! I know I have a bottle of food-grade oil somewhere that I bought from a craftsman for just that purpose. Now, if I could just remember where it was…

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