October 11, 2011
A proper illustration of “tender crisp” food is a perfect French fry, i.e. a crispy, thin outer layer protecting a fluffy, tender inside. One could also make a case for fresh, hot, delicious tortilla chips qualifying…those at El Fenix leap to mind…as they are firm to the touch yet immediately shatter upon being munched.
A steamed or boiled green bean or asparagus stalk or broccoli is deucedly difficult to serve “tender crisp,” though restaurants make extravagant promises about them.
Mostly they’re just plain undercooked. An undercooked green bean is not “tender crisp,” it is tough and chewy. No one boasts of “tough and chewy” vegetables, but a depressingly large number of them are dished up. Every now and again I will chance upon a vegetable that was pulled from the water or steamer within the tiny window of opportunity (about 15 seconds, based upon my experience in the kitchen) and by golly, it is as advertised: fork-tender, yet with a slight resistance on the outside, while not mushy on the inside. A delight to the tooth, tongue, and taste buds!
Unfortunately, this is unusual, and one needs both a fork and a knife to have any hope of cutting the vegetable to a bite-sized proportion. Considering how knives are made of sterner stuff than teeth, it is obvious that much effort is required to chew the vegetable to the point of swallowability. I just made that word up, BTW.
Personally, I wish the cooks would err on the side of leaving the vegetables in their cooking environment a little longer. Not that I am fond of mushy veggies, but I prefer a slightly-overcooked vegetable to a newly-picked-from-the-garden degree of doneness (unless, naturally, it is supposed to be raw).
If the tines of my fork cannot easily pierce the vegetable’s skin, it’s for sure my tooth isn’t going to.