What? Where are they going with this?
If you’re just starting your cooking journey, or even if you’ve been on the path for a while, you may have noticed a thing or two about the sheer physicality of cooking. Unless you’ve limited yourself to cooking for one, or heat-n-eat type foods, pans filled with chicken breasts and their accoutrements are a bit weighty. Throw in a Le Crucet-type enamel-coated cast iron skillet, and you’ve got yourself the makings of a full-on resistance training workout.
Many recipes, mine included, require the use of heavy-bottomed pans and skillets. They hold and distribute the heat more evenly giving you more consistent results the pan over. Fill that bad boy with food and/or liquid, and you’re hefting around 15 pounds of potential hot misery. On Thanksgiving morning you have a huge stuffed turkey that has to go in the oven. Putting the entire thing on the rack while leaning over an open oven without falling in requires balance and upper body strength, and how!
You see where I’m going? Even the simple act of draining a 4-quart (or larger) saucepan of boiled potatoes can be a problem. Unless, of course, you don’t mind steam burning your hands and face while pouring the hot ingredients into a colander, and then burning yourself again getting the drained hot potatoes back in the pan. I accomplish the whole thing with the use of a large mesh sieve, with the bottom pressed into the pan of water and potatoes, holding everything together with the handles and draining the boiling water into the sink. The potatoes stay in the pan and the water doesn’t. But it takes a measure of both arm and wrist strength to accomplish.
You’re trying to impress someone by “flipping” the ingredients in your 14-inch skillet rather than using a spoon or spatula to turn them over. Quickly you realize why the designers of the pan included an “assist” handle. It’s heavy! But with some weight training, that heavy pan, and all that is in it, become a manageable weight, and you’re flipping the whole thing like a pro in no time.
“Okay, okay. You’ve convinced me. What should I do?” I’m not gonna mince words here. Pushups. Lots and lots of pushups. A proper pushup, where you’re arms make a perfect 90º angle at the bottom of the exercise, strengthens more than just your arms. Your entire upper body and core get the benefits and all you need is a flat surface. You don’t even need to change your clothes. Aside from arm strength, core strength helps stabilize you when you are lifting heavy, hot foods away from your body.
So lets get cracking on strength training. And to provide you a little motivation, here is a simple buttermilk mashed potatoes recipe that needs a bit of muscle to accomplish.
Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes
- 4-5 large russet potatoes, peeled and cubed into 1-inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 4 tablespoons lightly salted butter
- 1-1½ cups warmed buttermilk, fat-free, low fat, or whole
- kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
Gently, boil the potatoes and the 2 tablespoons of salt in a large saucepan with enough water to cover them by an inch or more. The potatoes are done when you can pierce them all the way through with a fork. Under-boiled potatoes will produce hard, lumpy mashed potatoes. Over-boiled potatoes will fall apart when you drain them, so take care to cook them properly. Turn off the heat.
Drain the potatoes using a sieve inverted in the saucepan (figs. 1-3) and return the pan and potatoes to the hot, but unlit burner to allow the potatoes to steam for a few minutes. Drying them produces a creamier result. Add the butter and allow it to melt. Using a hand masher, mash the potatoes until most of them are broken up(fig. 4). Add a cup of the buttermilk and mash to the consistency you like. Personally, I like mine a bit under-mashed. I grew up with perfectly smooth mashed potatoes, and I like mine with a bit more character. Add more buttermilk if the potatoes are too dry. Season with salt and pepper to your taste. I start with about a half teaspoon each of kosher salt and black pepper.