Ask Peter: Spoons
Some of my baking recipes specify using a metal spoon, others say to use a wooden one. Does it matter? And how do silicone spatulas stack up in place of either? Rose
I have so many spoons and stirrers that I do get angry with myself when I realise I’ve bought another one from a market stall or kitchen shop. I’m a sucker for a good looking utensil. I’d say Turkey produces the best wooden spoons and my kitchen is testament to that.
I have around 12 and they are all similar but different. They tend to be slightly yellow in colour from the wood they use — I don’t know what it is — they have good deep hollows and a tactile handle that makes them a joy to hold, and it’s always a pleasure to make risotto, soups and stews with them.
I did once buy 12 smaller spoons, more like soup spoons, and it was only when I got them back home that I realised eating food from a wooden spoon isn’t nice. There’s something odd that happens as your lips brush the wood. I wouldn’t recommend using them to eat with.
I also have a good collection of silicon spatulas from cooking shops around the world. They’re in many colours, all have wooden handles and these are great for cooking at high temperatures as silicon copes with heat really well.
The silicon head won’t be as firm as a wooden spoon, so you could find yourself pushing a wobbly thing around a roasting dish as you try to scrape up caramelised meats when making your gravy, but I like them as well.
Metal spoons remind me too much of my restaurant kitchens (where we use them mostly because they’re durable, although we use wood and silicon as well) and I only ever use these at home for certain things.
The reasons I would choose to use a metal spoon over a wooden one are these: Metal doesn’t absorb smells — if you’ve used a wooden spoon to stir a rich Indian fish stew full of cardamom and ginger, and you then use it (even after washing) to stir raspberries into a muffin mixture the aroma of garlic or spices may linger to taint your muffins.
Likewise, if after making a turmeric-rich soup you use your wooden spoon to stir freeze-dried raspberries into a meringue, you’ll likely pass on both taint and colour. Metal will do neither.
Silicon behaves more like metal and is less likely to taint another dish. The other thing to be aware of is that wood absorbs moisture, and the other materials don’t. This means if you were to make a sugar syrup or caramel and wanted to mix it with a spoon, using a wooden one might trigger a reaction that could cause the sugar to crystallise, so you’d be best to use metal or silicon.
Other than those points, just use whatever spoon works best for you. If you only have wooden spoons at home and are worried that some recipes won’t work, all I can suggest is that you make sure they are bone dry before any sugar work, and that you give them a wee sniff to make sure they aren't carrying flavours you may not want.
Many years ago I made a boysenberry ripple ice cream in a restaurant and used a spoon straight from the dishwasher. It had been used previously in a large pot of confit garlic. The ice cream was tainted enough to be unpleasant. So just check each time to be sure.
And finally, a handy hint if you are making a caramel or sugar syrup, and your sugar thermometer or spoon (no matter what it’s made from) does get a sugary or even a toffee coating on it, is to place it in a jug with boiling water covering the level of sugar and leave it to soak. The sugar will dissolve and make for easier cleaning. If this doesn’t work and you have a toffee covered spoon, simmer gently in a saucepan until you can wipe it away.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.