Let’s talk Kitchen Basics: Part IV- “Techniques”
As I try to encourage you to be enthusiastic about cooking. I need you to understand that every cook has to start somewhere. I know many great Chefs and cooks who have blundered in the kitchen and have at times ruined meals. Although most errors are edible, we are all human. We just need to keep trying. Cooking is a process and the best way to learn is by making mistakes. The more we cook the more we will grow. In time, we will want to create new exciting dishes, experiment with new recipes, create new flavors, combine different ingredients, and enhance our techniques. Thus, from time to time, not all of our experimenting will work out as we had hoped.
Thankfully, you can become a skilled enough cook to preform everyday cooking with only a few basic techniques and a little patience. I want to encourage you to cook, not only by offering you some great recipes, but to let you know that cooking is not as intimidating as some might think. I consider myself to be a great cook and have been told that my dishes are delicious, but some of my techniques are terrible. Sure I can dice an onion, but I do not dice it “properly” by kitchen professional standards. It might take me a bit longer and my pieces will not be uniform, but the end result is delish.
With that said every cook will develop their own techniques. And there will some techniques you will ignore anyway. So the bottom line is to find the inner cook in you. Enjoy kitchen time, preparing, cooking, eating with those you hold dear, and remember to Live, Love and Cook.
First things First: WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS THOROUGHLY
The way you prepare food will have a direct impact on how it cooks and tastes. So I have compiled these tasks a cook is required to do before subjecting anything to heat or before consumption.
Washing, Peeling and Trimming.
Most food should be washed before cooking. Especially, our fruits and vegetables. Wash away any dirt and hopefully pesticide residue, bacteria, fungi, and the handling they go through before reaching our kitchens.
The general consensus is that Fish and Meat don’t need to be washed. But do need to be cooked properly. (Safe Minimum Temperature Chart) However; clams, mussels, and oysters must be scrubbed really clean. Shellfish can be peeled or not. Some seafood such as squid, for example, have special cleaning techniques that need to be researched to ensure it is done properly, the same is true for certain vegetables. Some people might go as far as washing their eggs before cracking.
Vegetables can be washed before or after peeling the choice is yours, but I please rinse them after peeling to make certain all the dirt and/or bacteria is rinsed away. A paring knife or peeler is usually used to remove thin skins from vegetables like; carrots, potatoes, apples, etc. A paring knife is also used to remove blossom ends, cores, and blemishes or bruises. For tougher or thick skins use a paring knife to cut away from you. A basic soup spoon works nicely to remove seeds and other inner fibers, like you find inside pumpkins and melons.
For meat, poultry, or fish trim excess fat and any inedible parts. Additional, research may be necessary in or to ensure you are trimming correctly.
The Basics of Cutting.
Cut food is easier to handle, cooks quicker and is convenient to serve and eat. So a few simple knife skills will make your food more appealing and, of course, tastier.
For me this technique has changed over the years. As the arthritis in my hands progresses along with my carpel tunnel this task is becoming more cumbersome as the years pass. But in all my years in the kitchen the number one rule I’ve come to know is never cut with dull knives! This technique will improve with practice so don’t get discouraged if you think you are taking too long to cut and prepare foods for cooking or consumption. We are “home cooks” not chefs cooking for large groups of people.
I relate this technique to learning to ride a bike. At first we had training wheels, then as we learned to balance better they were removed. Before long, we were riding down the street with no hands. It took weeks or months of practice but soon we were having a blast and riding with our friends through town.
Cutting, slicing, dicing, whatever type of cutting is needed, it all begins with practice. Sometimes it will seem slow and tedious but before long we will have mastered the craft of cutting. We will know the correct pressure to use when cutting certain vegetables and we will find the correct type of knives that handle certain tasks comfortably in our own time. Just stay vigilant on the task at hand, use sharp knives and take your time safely.
When cutting hold your knife however you feel most comfortable and secure keeping a firm grip on the handle and place your thumb on the inside against the handle. When using a Chef’s knife hold your food with your other hand on the cutting board, curling your fingers and thumb to keep them out of harm’s way so your knuckles act like a bumper or guide. (I found this video by Chef, Mike Monohan very helpful and simple to understand. Feel free to check it out).
Here is another great video: How to slice, dice, chop, and julienne
There are 3 basic sizes. Roughly chopped, chopped and minced.
Roughly chopped – are chunks that are bite-sized or larger usually about 1” chunks. This cut is used for dishes that should be rustic and chunky and is also used when you are going to puree’ or mash.
Chopped – are cut pieces ½” to ¼” in size. Most often used for vegetables like; onions, celery, and bell peppers.
Finely chopped – chopped as finely, as possible.
Minced – the tiniest bits you can manage. Once you have reached the finely chopped stage it is only a few more chops before you reach the minced stage. (Check out a jar of minced garlic at the grocery store to get a better idea).
Slicing – is basically, chopping with a little more precision, and more uniformed thick or thin slices. You can cut crosswise, lengthwise, or on the diagonal. The diagonal slice is mostly used in stir-fries and gives you a broader area for crisping.
Is cutting into sticks. It can be a thick cut like with French fries, or a thinner cut like matchsticks.
Dicing – Dicing can large, like ½” cubes or tiny (called Brunoise)
Chiffonade – cut into strands or ribbons. Such as big leafy vegetables like kale or Collards or this cut can be tiny as you would use to cut basil. Regardless of the size the technique is the same. Take a few leaves and make a pile placing leaf on leaf laying them flat. Then roll them from end to end, and slice the roll as thin or thick as you like.
Well as you know you can find almost anything you like on www.youtube.com I would suggest browsing some of these great “cooking 101” basic cutting skills. So that you know exactly the right technique to practice, be safe, and become your own favorite cook!