My New Best Friend
I'm sure that I'm extremely late to the party on this one. And not a few hours late, either; more like when you get an invitation for a party on November 6, 2004, and you show up on April 11, 2006 with a nice bottle of wine in your hands, saying "I thought it was unusual to get an invitation two years before the party, but I figure it must be worth it, after all that wait," and the people are looking at you funny because your friends, who were a bit miffed with you after you'd RSVP'd and then hadn't shown up, actually moved back in 2005 and didn't tell you where they'd gone to. True, they'd called you at the time and asked if you could give them a hand, and you'd come over and helped them pack and then load the truck, but you'd just figured that they were simplifying their lives and donating the excess goods to charity. After all, it would mean there would be more room to dance at the party.
That sort of thing does happen to you, too, doesn't it?
Anyway, the microplane grater is not exactly a new gadget. I've seen them in various places for at least a couple of years, and I think that I even saw Martha Stewart talking about hers with her mother on one of her pre-incarceration shows, so it's been around for a while. And, if memory serves, Martha said that what she used was actually a wood planing tool from the hardware store, so not long after I saw that, I dropped by the local home depot and tried to find the same thing in their tools area, but I was unsuccessful and dropped the idea. It amuses me greatly to find my cooking gear in hardware stores, and I have long wanted to have all manner of fun with PVC pipes, but I'm told that the sort of pipe cutter that my Dad used on copper pipes (and, let me tell you, that was the coolest tool ever) doesn't work on PVC tubing, and you have to just do your best with a hacksaw. My best with a hacksaw is really not all that good, so I'm still waiting to either come up with a better way of cutting the PVC tubing or to get one of those cool European can openers that completely removes the top of the can and an assortment of cans of various sizes. Or maybe both.
Anyway, the wood plane didn't pan out, and I didn't really pursue it, though I'm sure I could order all manner of woodworking tools online if I took the trouble to do so, and I just let the idea sit on a back shelf in one of the many dark warehouses of my mind, kind of like what they did with the Ark of the Covenant in the first Indiana Jones movie.
After all, I had a pretty decent grater for removing citrus zest. It was, in some ways, similar to a microplane grater. I bought it maybe twenty years ago from the Crate and Barrel in Cambridge, Mass. I don't know whether that store is even still there near Harvard Square, but back in the day, it was a fairly large multi-level store with lots and lots of expensive goods. It's where we registered for our wedding. We weren't nearly wealthy enough to be part of their target demographic (think stereotypical '80s yuppie two-income professional couples), but people will more or less happily spend way too much on you for your wedding. Wedding presents aside, I only ever shopped in the gadget section, because in those days, you could usually find something pretty sweet for under two bucks, though I was once absolutely crushed to find that the heavy duty potato ricer that was in a $1.95 bin was actually going for $15.95, which was just way, way out of my budget in those days.
Anyway, I think the grater I got there set me back about a buck, and it's a terrific little grater. It's compact with small, sharp holes, and a black handle, and back in the day, I could zest a lemon with it in nothing flat. Over time, it has lost some of its sharpness, and while I would, until very recently, still use it to remove citrus zest, it wasn't doing the job that it once did.
And the job that it once did, which seemed miles ahead of my other graters, was still miles behind the microplane.
I don't remember the specific impetus that made me finally decide that I needed a microplane. I suspect, however, that I was feeling somewhat abused by tax season, and, spending a little money on a book or a gadget seems to help with that. No doubt it shouldn't, but it does.
I'm sure that it's easy enough to find this sort of grater in a decent housewares store, but I ordered mine online, and it arrived one day in a long, thin box. I didn't have a chance to use it right away, but early this past week, when I was making the bread pudding for Lindy's Something out of Nothing event, I finally got around to using it to zest a blood orange.
There is no going back. When I first started zesting the orange, I thought that perhaps nothing was happening. On any other grater, you feel a significant amount of resistance when you zest citrus. On the microplane, it just felt like I was rubbing the surface of the orange along a smooth piece of metal, but when I held the orange up, I could see that a very thin layer of zest had been perfectly removed. Best of all, what was left on the orange was still slightly orange, meaning that the grater had stopped a tiny bit short of the white part. With other graters, you have to be careful not to pick up any of the bitter pith. With the microplane, you get thin, beautiful, tiny strands of zest, that do not cling to the grater when you go to remove them. It really was a sort of culinary epiphany. It made me want to go somewhere and find bushels of citrus to zest.
I also used the microplane to grate/puree the garlic for the grits I made for my grit cakes (or whatever I called them), and it did a superb job on that, too, though my other little grater handles that task pretty well, too.
I haven't had time to try it on anything else yet, but if it's half as good with chocolate as it was on the orange, I will be a very happy man. Heck, even if it's only this good on citrus, it's well worth having. I zest a lot of citrus over the course of a year.
If you want one of these graters (or, heck, a dozen for gift purposes), they're pretty easy to find on the Internet. I got mine here (but mine has the red handle; and, in case you're wondering, I don't get any sort of kickback from you clicking that link or buying at that site; if, however, you don't already have a microplane, and you're overcome with gratitude because I told you about it, feel free to send me a duck press). I think that the cost of the grater itself was a buck less at Amazon, but when I factored in shipping, the microplane site was a better deal by about a dollar. It took them a little over a week to ship my grater, but they didn't actually charge me for the shipping, perhaps because of the delay. They didn't really say. In any case, I wasn't really looking at heavy grating use at this time of the year, so saving five dollars or so because of a week's delay was a pretty good deal for me, though you obviously shouldn't expect to get the same deal. But they're probably available for the before-shipping cost at Bed Bath and Beyond and other similar stores, so if you have time to get one that way, you're probably better off.