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Uneasy eats


Is the food on the menu leaving you stumped? We’ve got you covered with simple rules for eating tricky dishes while staying within the boundaries of etiquette.

Carol Smaglinski March 2nd, 2011

We’ve all had it happen at least once in our lives. You try to cut in half a garnet red beet, but instead send the firm root vegetable dancing off the plate onto the spotless white tablecloth or the floor.

Or an artichoke suddenly appears on the table and quickly separates a diner from his or her dignity because they have no idea how to cope with the green globe.

A little coaching, plus a dose of daring, can transform intimidating situations into a pleasant experience.

Take that artichoke, for instance.

Artichokes, although delicious, do have a couple of drawbacks, but nothing a diner can’t handle.

An artichoke is the flower bud of the thistle family, and part of it is a finger food. An entire leaf is never eaten; instead, break off an individual leaf and, holding the pointed tip, draw it through your teeth to the base of the leaf to remove the soft, meaty portion. Just don’t chew on the leaves.

But beware: Since the leaves are broken off one by one and often dipped in a lemony butter sauce, there is a good chance that on the way to the mouth, the butter can drip onto the front of that new silk blouse or a favorite tie.

When all the leaves have been pulled away, diners can get to the tender base of the artichoke, called the heart. Scrape away the prickly, inedible choke. Cut the delicious heart into pieces and eat it with a fork.

Slippery noodles can be perplexing.

When dining on Italian cuisine, the correct way to eat noodles is to wind them clockwise around a fork.

Edmond’s Elisabetta Grow, a native of Italy, has her own business selling San Damiano imported extra virgin olive oil. When dining out, she said she sees a common mistake in the presentation of pasta: a plate of spaghetti accompanied by a large spoon.

For just such an occasion, she said she has a stock comment: “Did somebody order soup?” That’s right: No spoon needed, just use your fork. And above all, never, ever, cut your spaghetti! Grow said she simply swirls the pasta strings around her fork, and makes sure to never put more on her twirling fork than her mouth can hold.

If there is trouble during twirling, break off a piece of bread and use it as a holder to keep the pasta in shape.

What about down-home favorites?

Can one dine exquisitely on ribs or neatly on fried chicken?

I was surprised to hear people, such as florist Art Peters, who thought fried chicken in itself was hard to maneuver. It’s true that fried foods and dripping ribs can be messy. To keep the grease from dribbling all over, throw your tie over your shoulder or tuck a huge napkin into your collar. Use two forks to pry the meat from the bones.

At least fried chicken is not as treacherous and tricky as a Cornish game hen or quail. Those birds are full of so many little bones, you practically need a surgeon’s help to finish.

And then there’s the debate of what is finger food and what is fork food.

Fingers are acceptable when eating dime-sized sushi. Although many people use chopsticks, it is completely acceptable — even preferred — to eat sushi with your fingers. And a tip: maki, or rolls, should be eaten in one bite unless they are really fat.

“Technically, sushi is a finger food, but there is another variety called futomaki, which are larger,” said Hai Luong of Super Cao Nguyen, 2668 N. Military. “I’ve heard that sushi started because people playing cards wanted a snack and the rice kept sticking to the cards, so they wrapped the rice in seaweed.”

Luong also mentioned pomegranates, which are nature’s most labor-intensive fruits, with a leathery skin and pulpy compartments inside that make it difficult to get to the edible seeds. Trying to break into one, it’s easy to understand how Persephone could eat only six of the tiny seeds. To eat a pomegranate, just cut it in half and pry each seed out with a spoon, leaving the yellow membrane behind.

When it comes down to it, there are many foods that have the potential to put someone in a rather embarrassing situation.

John Howell, co-owner of Blu Fine Wine & Food, 201 S. Crawford in Norman, is wary of any kind of spinach dip.

“There’s a good one that is just delicious at The Library (another Norman restaurant in which Howell is involved). I always watch customers who order it and then have bits of spinach stuck in their teeth,” he said. “When my wife and I go out, we make sure that we always smile at each other to check before we leave the table.”

With a little confidence and knowledge — and a pocket mirror — you’ll be able to tackle any food that shows up on the dinner table.

Crack the case

No clue how to crack a lobster? Follow these simple directions to fulfill your crustacean cravings.

Begin with the claws, which are also called chelipeds. With a nutcracker, break them at the joints and remove the meat with a fork. Next, snap off the joints from the body and remove the meat.

Separate the tail piece from the body, either by breaking it off with the crackers or holding the lobster with one hand and the tail with the other and twisting until the tail is broken off. Use a sharp knife and cut down the middle along the length of the tail. Slit it open and remove the meat.

Check for especially tasty meat in the other parts of the crustacean, but do not eat the head or gills.

With crab claws, it can be as bad as cracking a safe. But just tap the dull side of your knife with the wooden mallet until the shell breaks. Pull the exposed meat off with your fingers or a fork. —Carol Smaglinski

 
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