Some things are just plain hard to eat. They are too messy, are too big to bite, easily fall apart, or require intense concentration. Before you forgo tastiness out of apathy or aggravation, try these tips.
Too messy—You don’t have to fork out your taco filling, and it won’t drop on your lap. Simply grip the ends of your tortilla together, and lift the taco by those pressed-together ends. Angle it over your plate to divert any leakage there. Eat from the upward end and work your way down. Here’s the important part: Halfway through, squeeze the back end shut with your free hand to keep the filling from slopping out.
Too big—If you follow the one-bite rule of sushi etiquette, an oversized roll might violate another dictum: Don’t take such big bites that your cheeks puff out. Sushi chef Hiro Kirita, of Seattle’s popular Kisaku restaurant, explains that sushi rolls in Japan are smaller, making the single-bite rule easier to follow. In the U.S., however, do what you’ve got to. Carefully bite the sushi in two.
Too armored— Artichokes are finger food. Pluck each leaf, dip it in any sauce you’re using, and slide it, base-first, between your teeth to scrape off the sweetish flesh. Discard what’s left. The leaves will get smaller and more tender as you go. When you get close to the heart, you’ll have to switch tactics. Pull off the dinky inner leaves (you can eat them whole if you want) to reveal the hairy, light-colored “choke.” Scooping out the sticky fibers with a spoon or knife blade will let you get to the edible, flavorful heart.
Too high—Although you probably won’t encounter a precariously stacked composed salad at the diner down the street, they’re de rigueur in many high-end restaurants. Do you snatch up the pieces with your fingers, one at a time, to keep the sculpture intact? No—better knock the thing down all at once. After all, this is dinner, not Jenga.
Too elusive—Peas have been dodging diners for years. Do as the British do, and spear a few with your fork. When you scoop up more, the pronged peas will keep the others from falling off. You can also corral them with your spoon or glue them onto your fork with mashed potatoes. If you really want to impress, carefully push them onto your fork with the blade of your knife.
Too delicate—The classic mille feuille (napoleon) pastry is a beautiful challenge—how do you carve off forkfuls without destroying the structure? Hold the point of a sharp knife vertically over the pastry and use a firm, quick motion to jab it straight down. Remove the knife and continue piercing the pastry until you’ve marked off the section you want. If you make the perforations close together, you’ll be able to break off the piece with your fork while keeping the layers intact.
Too complicated—If assembling Peking duck makes your head spin, try this: Use the square ends of your chopsticks to serve yourself slivers of green onions and the sweet buns. It’s more authentic to leave the layer of fat on your duck, but if you use your chopsticks like knitting needles and push in opposite directions, you can separate the fat from the meat. You’ll have to eat the assembled buns with your hands, though.
Too many bones—Calcium is good for you, but there are better ways to get it than swallowing fish bones. Pai Gallo, the chef-owner of San Francisco Thai restaurant Jitlada, has a good de-boning trick for her trout in banana leaf. After wrapping and grilling the trout whole, Gallo firmly lifts the tail. The meat separates, making the skeleton easy to slip out. Alternatively, use fork tines to strip the meat with the grain. When you reach the bone layer, simply lift the skeleton away.
Too little reward—Most people don’t eat lobster leg knuckle meat, because of the excavation it requires. If you’re at home, a good way to get the goods is to smash the legs with a rolling pin until the meat pops out. At a restaurant, try pushing (not pulling) out the meat with the stem of a cocktail fork, advises chef Rebecca Charles of New York’s Pearl Oyster Bar.
Photographs by Brooke Russell.