Sunday, August 24, 2008

Gettin' Some Mad Knife Skilz

This morning I took a drive down to The Factory in Franklin to attend a cooking class at the Viking Store. Viking is the company that makes the huge "professional grade" refrigerators, stoves, and the like as well as cookware and gadgets. All but some of the gadgets are out of my budget range, but it's always fun to look around and daydream about that lottery win and the enormous white-tile kitchen that new fortune would buy.

The Nashville / Franklin store is one of a handful around the country that offers cooking classes, and is by far the most successful program in the whole company. The type and style of classes vary considerably. A few years ago I was part of a small group that did a demo-style class where the instructor/chef did most of the work and we could jump in and help as desired. That was fun, but I've been wanting to take a hands-on class for a long time. I finally bit the bullet and signed up for a couple, and today's was the first. Called Basic Knife Skills, 10 of us spent 2 1/2 hours learning about using a chef's knife the right way while preparing our lunch -- chicken & shrimp fajitas with a variety of vegetables and from-scratch salsa. We made julienne (1/8 inch strips), batonettes (1/4 inch strips), and then dice of the same, which had French names I can't remember. :P (Also, I think I remember from previous readings that there is a cut called baton, which I think is 1/2 inch.) We also did mince of garlic and cilantro.

I'm pretty good with a knife and know a few things, but here are two really fundamental things I didn't know:
  • I've been holding the knife incorrectly, both for the basic chop and the two-handed mince
  • There's an "Italian" way to slice and a "French" way -- I've been using the French way
I've seen a number of techniques done on TV but never tried them, and today I did:
  • Sharpening a knife on a stone.
  • "Breaking down" a bell pepper using the rolling technique, which was a LOT easier than you might think, and WAY cool.
  • Boning a chicken breast.
  • Holding down the vegetable with the fingers curled under. When I tried it before I always found it awkward. In class I made a more determined effort to try it, and found a little success. One tip I picked up that helped a little was to anchor the tip of the thumb at the back of object being sliced. So ... Practice will make perfect, I hope.
  • Peeling a tomato by dropping it into boiling water (after scoring a light cross in the top and the bottom), then dunking in an ice bath. The skin just slipped right off.
One of the best parts of these classes is that you always pick up tips and information not necessarily related to the topic of the class.
  • 3 drops of bleach in a couple of quarts of water is enough to sanitize non-porous surfaces -- i.e., your knife. I've always used a ton more.
  • Stock is made from bones only. Broth is made with bones and flesh. Skin, fat, and organs should never be used when making either.
  • Also: When making chicken stock/broth, add vegetables only for the last hour of cooking, and don't saute them first. For beef stock, the vegetables can be sauteed/roasted first since it's a heartier concoction.
When everything was cut, chopped, sliced, mixed, and cooked (where appropriate), we sat down at a long table in the kitchen and ate the fruits of our labors, along with a small pour of wine for those who wished. It was good -- I won't say that the recipes were anything out of the ordinary, but it was tasty and fun to see those wee nearly-perfect cubes of vegetables in the salsa.

When I signed up for this class, I also enrolled in a class on tapas that will be in late September. I found out, though, that there is also a "Knife Skills 2" class that will be in early September. I signed up for that as well, using the 10% discount I had available for taking today's class. So watch out ... I'll be dangerous!

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