The final flourish
Words by James Hansen | Illustration by Reena Makwana
In this column, we ask our favourite writers what they always reach for in the kitchen drawer. James Hansen makes the case for the microplane grater.
The microplane grater in our house is annoyingly difficult to find. Its slim profile is often lost in the commotion of kitchenware that overruns a shared space – creviced between chopping boards or drowned in seemingly multiplying spoons. Thankfully, the handle is a deep red – the colour of a cartoon tomato on one of those picture-perfect DOP tins – distinct against various grubby silvers. While the inevitable rummaging quickly frustrates, especially if an errant knife lies in wait, the sight of the microplane always prompts a small smile. Something delicious is coming.
Despite its importance, it’s often the last utensil to be used. After the flurry of chopping and stirring, it signals the final ingredient before the dish goes in the oven, under the grill, or in a corner to marinate. It promises readiness too. To pick it up, primed for one last addition, is to change the mood in the kitchen. Food is mere moments away, appetites are soon to be sated, the generosity inherent in the cooking of a meal diffuses through the room in the steam that wafts from the plates.
It need not be generous though: it can be selfish – a heap of cheddar over a baked potato for one; shards of chocolate spiking ice cream hoarded in the depths of the freezer.
Turned upside down, softly curving upwards for best purchase, the microplane becomes a welcoming cradle for carrying a hunk of cheese to the table. It’s become habit to sit the lemon, destined for zesting over pasta, in its metal palm.
A microplane sits apart from the normal grater – boxy, inelegant, difficult to clean. No awkward fumbling with a spoon to coax the remnants of zest, cheese or vegetables clinging to the inside, no wrangling with the ergonomic silliness of the top-facing handle. Then there’s the motion: there’s something faintly ugly in the up-down oscillation it demands. In contrast, a microplane demands flourish and fluidity – swiping a citrus across its surface or dispatching a hunk of parmesan with finesse. There’s a quiet dialogue between precision and excess, the control entirely in the palm of the user.
When I last put ours to use, having rummaged through the kitchen drawer, pulling out the bright red handle, I overdid it with a careless swipe, knuckles joining the bright yellow peel, tiny crimson beads welling up. After a moment’s pause, a final flutter of zest. Dinner was ready.