Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Knife and Preparation Skills Class


So I did decide to do that class on Knife Skillz at the Cambridge Adult Ed that I mentioned previously. It's two consecutive Mondays, with last night being the first 3 hour class... so I can give a bit of a review. The class maxes out at 16, with 13 signing up, and 8 actually showing. The kitchen in Cambridge is not so fancy (word on the street is that Boston Adult Ed is much better), and counter space seemed a little cramped even with only 8 people. Lars (the chef) brought a variety of your basic knives(chef knives, slicers, and paring knives) and a bunch of things to chop. I had never even really seen a "slicer" before, and certainly never used one, but he made a pretty good case for it being essential for cutting thin slices of anything. He went over the theory and what makes a good quality knife, and how you should store and care for them (magnetic rack shown above being his favorite). Also, he's a fan of the Epicurean recycled paper cutting boards... no feet so it'll slide, so you need to put a wet paper towel down underneath... the advantage being you can just flip it over and cut on the other side instead of washing the board. I gotta say I think I still prefer wood/bamboo but his points about problems with warping were solid... I think the answer is to just not leave it sitting in water, no?

Overall, nothing amazingly earth shattering was imparted, but it was really nice to see the correct techniques get demonstrated and get an opportunity to practice them with some hands on instruction. I've never really been taught the proper way to handle a knife... just sort of picked it up by watching people cook in person and on television, so obviously there were some serious corrections to be made. The obvious one is using the "non-knife hand" to secure what you're cutting and keeping the side of that blade in contact with your knuckles. I think we all know vaguely what you are supposed to do there, but actually doing it, while not being scared you are going to chop off your fingers, is another matter entirely. So it was good to get to practice that... though I'm not appreciably better at it after a mere 3 hours of instruction, I would say I have the fundamental idea down enough that I will slowly get more proficient at it over time. The other big one was "cutting not pressing", which I don't think I really thought about much before. Basically it just means to be pulling(with something the doesn't require much force, like celery) or pushing (when more force is required, like a potato) your knife as you bring it down. That's not exactly an alien concept to me, but I don't think I was consciously trying to ensure I was doing it all the time... and it really does make a big difference... especially as you are trying to cut something into strips before you dice it... pulling/pushing the knife will help keep those strips together, while just pushing down pushes everything out away from you and requires significantly more force (and is thus less safe).

In the end we cut a lot of celery, onions, and some potatoes and herbs. He demonstrated several specific onion cuts, including the dice I'm such a fan of, and how to julienne to a dice with the celery and potatoes. One good thing to learn was how to use a paring knife to prep an onion, which I had never done... in fact, I pretty much never even use a paring knife, so that was pretty handy... though it's yet another thing to that will take a lot of practice to become reasonably competent at. The last hour he used a lot of the vegetables we cut up to make French Onion soup and New England Clam Chowder which we then ate. There were still a lot of left over onions, but at least we were able to use some of it. At $123 dollars it is a bit on the pricey side, but not too unreasonable I think. So far I'd say it's worth it, but we'll see how next week goes.

photo by flickr user Andy Ciordia used under a Creative Commons License