Is This How My Students Feel When I Teach Them How to Do Something?

Recently I made the decision to add some non-vegan items to my diet, as a sort of trial. I thought I’d start with eggs and salmon, and give myself about 90 days to see if I notice any differences in my health and general well-being. It may not seem like much, but I’ve been a vegan for 15 years, so to me, it is a big change.

So imagine my excitement when I saw this headline in the Wall Street Journal this week:

How You’ll Cook Salmon From Now On

It seems like it was meant to be.

The recipe included other items besides the salmon, but I was only interested in how the chef recommended preparing the salmon.

Here were the two steps that mention the salmon:

  1. Season salmon’s flesh side with salt and pepper. Set a large non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons oil to coat pan. Once oil is shimmering, season with salt. Tilt pan away from you and lay in salmon, skin-side down. Gently press on fish and cook until skin evenly browns, 2-3 minutes.
  2. Reduce heat to medium and add butter, garlic and half the thyme. With a large spoon, baste salmon with hot fat and aromatics from pan. Continue to baste quickly and continuously until flesh turns opaque, about 3 minutes. Turn off heat, add a squeeze of lemon juice to pan and continue basting fish 1 minute more.

Now to many, perhaps most, people, these two steps may seem quite simple.

As I read it, I thought – this is why I don’t like to cook.

Here are the issues I had:

  • I don’t know which side of the salmon is the flesh side.
  • What is medium-high heat? Give me a temperature…
  • How do I know when the oil is shimmering?
  • It seems like if I tilt the pan away from me; there could be a problem. Won’t the oil spill out onto the medium-high heat burner, staining the burner and smelling up the kitchen? Plus, if that did happen, do I add more oil again?
  • is the skin side the opposite of the flesh side, or just another name for it?

and that’s just with the first step. The problems continue with step two:

  • do I add the butter, garlic, and thyme directly on top of the salmon, or do I pour it into the pan and swish it around?
  • I can look up what baste means, but isn’t there an easier word for someone like me?
  • What is the hot fat they mention, and what are aromatics?
  • the recipe says to continue to baste quickly. The word continue suggests I should have already been basting quickly, but that was never mentioned prior to this.
  • I would have no idea how to tell if the flesh has turned opaque, even after I looked up what opaque meant: “not able to be seen through”. Does that mean I was able to see through the flesh before I started cooking?
  • it seems pretty clear that the squeeze of lemon juice goes on the pan, not the salmon. Do I slide the salmon around on the lemon juice once it is on the pan to soak it up?

Like I said, many people likely view this as a simple recipe.

Me? I see trouble every step along the way.

And so I wondered, is that how my students feel when I teach something?

It may seem simple to me, yet it may sound like a foreign language to them.

I’ll continue to do my best to explain things as clearly as I can, but I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them are thinking that they will never have to do this, so what’s the point.

After all, that’s what I was thinking.

If I want salmon, I can just go out to a restaurant and let somebody else worry about things like basting and flesh-side vs. skin-side and opaque and shimmering oil.

Accounting never seemed so easy…

*image from the WSJ

88 thoughts on “Is This How My Students Feel When I Teach Them How to Do Something?

      1. I am looking forward too to your results. I have gone down this trail and discovered what works for me to get rid of all you mention. It sure is a process – but definitely worth doing! Good luck!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Cracking up! I can give you a very simple salmon recipe and its tasty. 🙂 We all like salmon and for us all to like the same food is rare!

    But you make a good point. My art teacher used to yell at me for not paying attention. For in her mind my art project would have looked like hers if I would have followed her simple instructions. The problem is they were as clear as mud to me! I am Not an artist!

    Will be curious to know how your trial goes.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This made me laugh. I have another question about the recipew and it relates to both steps. After tilting the pan and adding the fish do you untilt the pan, or do you proceed with the tilted pan until the fish is cooked? But you are right. We sometimes do take things for granted when transferring knowledge.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. That recipe seems a little fishy, to me. I think you’re right, people who write recipes do seem to assume the reader knows and understands all the vernacular, when the reader may not have a clue. I have a few questions, too. Like, does the fish have to be dead, or can it still be alive? Should you keep a net handy, in case it jumps out of the pan? And why is sal-mon pronounced sam-mon?

    Liked by 4 people

    1. you raise a lot of good question; these recipes do assume too much. and what’s this with not pronouncing the “L” in salmon? no wonder the guy had me repeat my order a coupe of times…

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Kudos on the pun 🙂 I like these questions. I always wondered… What about those bones? And the skin? And if the pan is non-stick, what do you need the oil for? And what kind of oil goes with salmon? Is there a selection guide, like with wine? And what’s with the L in Colonel Salmon?

      Liked by 2 people

  4. My Dad is exactly the same as you. What he does is re-writes recipes that my Mum regularly makes (so he can ask her what something means), but uses wording he ‘gets’. Makes his life easier when he comes to cook these dishes. Smart.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is exciting news, Jim. I do recommend keeping the addition of non-vegan items down to just these two until you can determine what affect the change in diet may have for you. I am hoping you will find a positive outcome to some of your physical issues. As for recipes and cooking, much like accounting, they are as hard as you make them. I look forward to hearing about your journey and wish you the best of luck!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. P.S. You may want to consider adding small portions at first in order for your digestive system to acclimate to this new protein source. It has been a long time since you asked your system to digest this type of food and it may help to slowly ease into it to avoid stomach issues.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I hope to limit my dietary changes to just those two items, but there is a chance that I get lazy and start trying lots of stuff with my newfound “freedom”. As for accounting, I can’t make it too simple, or else they might decide they don’t need me at all…


  6. I throw mine in a pan and bake it in the oven, with lemon juice, dill, a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. done. and no need to tilt when throwing in the pan.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. You make some very good points, Jim. I feel the same way about many parents- what seems simple to me regarding children is not always simple to them. When it comes to salmon, do it on the grill on top of a thick slice of onion, to prevent sticking and add flavor.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I can’t believe you couldn’t understand the recipe you quoted. Those words aren’t just used in cooking, they are commonplace, and as for not knowing the difference between skin side and flesh side! Words fail me. I’ll giver you the benefit of the doubt and presume you wrote this tongue in cheek and for a laugh.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Jim, you might like this quote from “The Pedant in the Kitchen” by Julian Barnes. His approach to recipes are identical to what you have written!
    “Lesson Two, Part Two. It’s not just difficulty, it’s also time. River Cafe Green has a terrific recipe for Penne with Tomato and Nutmeg (and basil, garlic, and pecorino), which I make regularly; the nutmeg is the key surprise element. But I did first have to overcome the recipe’s opening sentence: ‘2.5 kg ripe cherry vine tomatoes, halved and seeded.’ So that’s well over five pounds of cherry tomatoes. And how many of the little buggers do you think you get to the pound? I’ll tell you: I’ve just weighed fifteen and they came to four ounces. That’s sixty to the pound. So we’re talking 300, cut in half, 600 halves, juice all over the place, flicking out the seeds 600 times with a knife, worrying about not extracting every single one. All together now: NO, WE’RE NOT GOING TO DO THAT. Leave the seeds in and call it extra roughage.”

    Liked by 2 people

  10. You bring up a good point… those who cook view that recipe as quite simple and you probably seeing accounting as quite simple yourself where as I would be lost at the first set of digits lol… I realize always that I take cooking for granted when I see my friends who don’t cook attempt to make something from a new recipe and have logistical questions every step of the way lol

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I am giggling as I hope my recipes don’t result in so many questions! I trust you don’t read them? Hopefully your students want to study accounting and their questions are meaningful. BTW, do you feel better since adding protein to your diet?

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I do love salmon and am so lucky that my wife, our youngest son, and my daughter-in-law Claudia are all experts at preparing it. We also have some nearby restaurants that cook it so well. All I have to do is eat it. Oh wait, I got distracted. I think you were making a bigger point.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I just shove the salmon in the oven and wait. But, I’ve been wanting to try a different method. This does sound easy enough. But yes, I absolutely see your point – I encounter questions like these quite often when I read about food and recipes.
    Keep us posted regarding your diet changes. Eggs are divine!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Costco sells a salmon with butter and dill all ready to go in the oven, with instructions: Bake at 400° for 25-30 minutes. It tastes fantastic and I’ve never messed it up.

    Liked by 1 person

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