Sweating it Out

Here is a great perspective on a cooking technique that is applicable to the classroom thanks to Stephan Hurley at Teaching Outloud. He tells us don’t sweat the small stuff. I thought it was a great analogy. What about you?

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…Or Maybe We Should

By on December 24, 2012in Perspectives

I saved up all of my Chapters/Indigo gift cards and recently purchased On Cooking: A Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals. Over the years, I’ve developed a passion for cooking and, although I’ve become quite adept at following recipes, I’ve also developed a strong desire to understand why what other experienced cooks and chefs have advised me to do actually works. This has led me away from simple recipe collections to books and cable programs that delve into the science and art of food and cooking. A relative who teaches budding young chefs (I love that it’s an art) at a Toronto-area college told me that the required text that he uses for his course could very well be the last resource that I buy in a very long time.

It arrived two weeks ago and, needless to say, I’ve spent a great deal of time in the kitchen: chopping, slicing, puréeing, clarifying, simmering and poaching. And discovering why each method works the way it does. According to my guests (and my family), the meals have been some of the best that I’ve prepared and I’m gaining more confidence in my understanding of what I’m doing.

Besides the calories that I’ve gained in the process, the experience has also increased the metaphorical connections that I’ve been able to make with the other passion in my life: the world of schooling.

Here’s one that has held my attention for the past couple of days.

For most of us, except in the most obvious contexts, sweating is something that we tend to avoid. Slogans and catchphrases like, “Never Let Them See You Sweat” and “Don’t Sweat It!” or, at least, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” help to weave the story that we’re at our best when we’re calm, cool and collected—or when we appear to be!

But there is a culinary technique called sweating that, I’m learning, is most desirable. A definition from my new textbook:

sweat—to cook a food in a pan (usually covered) without browning, over low heat until the item softens and releases moisture; seating allows the food to release its flovor more quickly when cooked with other foods.

Hmmm…interesting. The process stands in direct contrast to, say, sautéeing or even searing, techniques where flavorful juices tend to be locked in through the application of high (and quick) heat. In a sense, sweating allows the unique character of each item to be added to the whole, instead of being held inside for later enjoyment.

Many of you have already jumped ahead and are thinking about how the sweating metaphor might be applied to the modern (and not-so-modern) schoolhouse, and there are likely many rich connections to be made. The one that began to emerge in my own mind, however, has to do with our conversations about differentiation.

Although I believe that there are instances when we’ve attempted to fit our recognition of difference into a rather locked-down view of classroom life, I’m wondering how thinking more about sweating might help us towards a deeper appreciation of the importance of individuality.

First, sweating is based on the belief that culinary ingredients possess unique and special properties and, when allowed to make themselves known, can add to the overall quality of the what is being created. Do I really believe that about our children? Does my vision of the classroom allow for this belief to take flight?

Second, for sweating to successfully reveal the goodness of the individual ingredients, a low, patient heat is required. Not only does this allow the juices of separate items to be released, but it also permits these individual qualities to combine into a community of flavor! Is this what happens in my school, or is my environment more like a hot grill or even a pressure cooker?

Finally (for now), once the flavors of individual ingredients are released, things are never the same. When added to a soup, a stew or a stock, what was once a pot of individually constituted ingredients are now a rich new creation with a character and set of qualities that didn’t exist before (and may never exist in the same way again). (This actually puts me in mind of a recent CEA post by B.C.’s Bryan Jackson.) Does my vision of teaching and learning recognize and allow for the social nature of knowledge building or, in the end, am I still focused on individual progress and success?

So, a toast to the art of cooking and, in particular, to the technique of sweating. A new approach to add to my culinary repertoire. I wonder how it might affect the way I look at my teaching practice!

~ by Omaira on January 2, 2013.

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