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
- 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.
- 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 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!