I’ve learned a few things in my time in a kitchen. I can braise meat and separate an egg, knead dough and make preserves. And yet, somehow, I’ve escaped ever learning to properly handle the most basic of kitchen accoutrements: the knife.
This usually becomes evident during dinner parties when I’m frantically trying to mince this or slice that and end up a bleeding mess reaching for a dishtowel to stanch the blood pouring from my digits. Quite frankly, I’m amazed by the fact that I’ve never required stitches.
A few months ago I decided that enough was enough. If I’m going to play cook, I must stop lacerating myself and start lacerating my food in a way that makes it look like I didn’t use a weed wacker.
After a bit of research I settled on taking a class at the Boston Center for Adult Education. I had a few reasons for doing this: first, I was unemployed when I signed up and hence was looking for something that wasn’t too expensive; second, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to commit to a long-term culinary school type class spanning several weeks (as it turns out, I couldn’t); and lastly, I happen to live down the street from the BCAE. Their new facility on Arlington Street is quite nice, boasting two professional kitchens, lots of light and ample work space. I figured it would be best to get my feet wet at the BCAE and then see how far I wanted to take this knife thing.
I arrived at the class a few minutes late last week- everyone already had a cutting board and a knife set up on their stainless steel work table. As I set my space up, I learned my first little trick- putting a wet paper towel under the cutting board to keep it from slipping.
My instructor was Lars Liebisch, a German-trained chef whose accent somehow made the class much more entertaining (He opened the class asking us, “What’s the first thing you do when you cut yourself?” Answer: Count your fingers.) After learning about the three basic kinds of knives and what they’re good for and Lars set us to work practicing, though not nearly as much as I would have liked.
Remember the scene in Julie & Julia when Meryl Streep goes to culinary school and has to cut piles of onions? And then remember when Paul finds her weeping before a mound of onions almost as tall as she is and she cries, “You should have seen the way those men looked at me!” Well, that’s what I thought knife skills class would be like. In reality, it was like a few stalks of celery, a couple onions, some leaves and a potato. So, while I learned some new techniques, I need to practice, practice, practice. Sounds like I’ll be making some salads soon, eh?
Anyway, a few gems of wisdom from class:
– Don’t hold a chef’s knife by its handle, rather hold the blade with your thumb and forefinger.
– When cutting, you want to pull the knife through the food, not simply push down.
– Keep your knives sharp.
– Avoid moving food around the cutting board with the blade- use the back of the knife to do that.
– To transfer minced food from a knife to a bowl, don’t push your finger down the blade. Instead, hold the blade over the bowl and then pull it back keeping your finger in place. Far less mess.
– When dicing, you want to slice the vegetable, then cut into strips and then dice, Start by creating the largest/longest slices you can (ie slicing a potato lengthwise, rather than crosswise.)
Knife skills part two is tomorrow. We’ll deal with meat and fruit there. Stay tuned.