The Importance Of Rest, In And Out Of The Kitchen

Resting a chicken is a fairly foundational instruction. The science tracks: heat makes meat contract, so putting a 1.5kg bird in a hot oven for over an hour will create a certain tension. Remove it from the oven, the skin bubbling with butter, clear juices running from the leg, cover it in foil – stop trying to make crispy skin happen; it’s not going to happen – and allow the meat to relax for at least 15 minutes. Everything softens. Carving becomes easier. The searing heat starts to dissipate. You’ll be able to pull the leg away without a knife. Perhaps you’ll rest the bird onto a rack, so the plate or dish below catches all the salt-soaked juices, primed for your stock tomorrow. During this time, you could prepare a salad: a plate full of crunchy leaves, raw fennel or maybe some thinly shredded white cabbage dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and parmesan. Set the table – digging out an old table cloth for a little ceremony, even if it’s just a solo meal. Candles for effect.

Leaving rice to rest is less obvious. Impatience overcomes me when I cook the white stuff, especially in the donabe pot, which takes exponentially longer especially when using an electric hob. Waiting for the steam to emerge from the dome feels like torture, let alone removing it from the heat and letting it rest on the clay tile. But it works. Ten minutes to reply to a few emails or catch up on that article; water the plants or vacuum the bathroom; snog your significant other or simply lie down on the bed in silence. Then return: lids come off, steam escapes and the rice paddle reaches into the sticky depths of the pot. The heat and the steam have allowed the rice that would ordinarily stick like glue to the bottom to come away easily. Rest has made it perfectly fluffy, ready to receive the dark wonder of soy sauce and the silken drizzle of sesame oil.


Like chicken and rice, we could also do with a few moments to rest. This week I’ve been feeling Catholic levels of guilt (for what, I’m not sure, but its presence has been felt greatly in my body), a low-level hum of anxiety for zero reason whatsoever (anxiety’s MO) and an overall sense of sickness that isn’t covid, although I kind of wished it was so I could understand where it’s coming from. It’s resulted in a self-imposed lockdown that has then fed the guilt of not enjoying time out in the pre-spring sunshine. Earlier this week, I went against my better judgement and took myself for an afternoon jaunt to Hyde Park. It should have been glorious. The sun was shining and I had a few hours to myself. Instead I spent the entire time sweating, looking for a toilet and feeling like my body was going to explode. I walked into four Prets (for my favourite ham and cheese baguette) and walked straight out from pure exasperation. I walked 12,000 steps and I felt empty.

As someone whose default setting is ‘in bed’ (if you can’t find me there, I’m either sitting down in the shower or eating food at the kitchen counter), rest doesn’t feel like the answer to much. I rest all the time. I feel guilty for extra-curricular resting because there’s always something to read or do or eat or cook. I say yes to every dinner because I worry saying no will make me seem uncaring or selfish. But I forgot what it was like to rest your brain as well as your body. Some meditate (not me); I cook. A huge bowl of glossy linguine tossed in garlic, vermouth, chilli and parmesan on a Thursday lunchtime. A slow-cooked sausage ragu that bubbles in the oven, or a butter-roasted side of salmon that sits on top of mustardy lentils and perfectly diced mirepoix.

I also deleted Instagram, which has been unsurprisingly helpful. My brain has had time to soften. The juices are running clear again. I’m not mining the bottom trying to desperately peel thoughts away. They’re coming more easily. I’m writing more and scrolling less. I’m sure I’ll forget all about this the next time anxiety and stress become my fuel. If that happens, I’ll just have to roast a chicken and cook some rice to remind myself to rest.