Kitchen Demo: Knife Skills

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Workshop leader: Hank Shaw

Hank: I write Hunter Angler Gardener Cook.

I used to be a professional chef; then became a newspaper reporter - Now I am a full time food writer.

I won a James Beard Foundation award for best food blog in 2013; was nominee 2009, 2010

My second cookbook, called Duck, Duck, Goose, is coming out this fall.

Knife skills:

There is no one right way to do any of this - the way you cut is the way you cut.

That said, if you're doing something awkwardly, there are probably better ways to do things.

For example, sticking your finger out on top of the knife - if it works for you, fine, but if you cut 65 onions that way, you will get carpal tunnel syndrome.

So… what I'm showing you is what I do, it works for me, if you take another skills class, they might teach something else.

When you have your technique down, you can do this all very quickly - and you can get to the mythical "5 minute prep time."

First Iron Rule of Knives: Work on a stable surface.

Second Iron Rule of Knives: A dull knife is a lazy servant. Your knives must be sharp. You cut yourself worse with a dull knife than a sharp one.

I got cut with a super-sharp knife; I could barely feel it. It healed quickly. When you are cutting with a dull knife - you have to put so much effort into it - there is a bigger chance you will have a rougher, nastier wound.

It's worth learning to sharpen your knives with a stone. You will keep them sharper, better over the long term.

If you use knives as a cook, you will want to sharpen them every three or four months. I use the steel (sharpener) every day.

If I'm filleting fish - I do it after every three or four fish.

For a Western knife, your angle should be 18 to 22 degrees (Asian knives are steeper). This is not exact - but as long as you are the one doing it it will be the same angle every time. It's got to be consistent.

The two knives you absolutely need: Chef's knife, paring knife. Everything else is gravy. I am not brand loyal.

Never buy your primary chef's knife on the Internet - You have to know how it feels in your hands.

You can do almost everything with a chef's knife; what you can't do with the chef's knife, you can do with the paring knife.

Third Iron Rule of Knives: Focus. Pay Attention. If you are thinking of what you're going to do next, or looking around, or talking to someone - there's a better chance you're going to get cut.

Demos

Onions:

Cut in half; put half face down to help you cry less. (The chemicals that make you cry are part of onion's natural defense against being eaten.)

Then peel it; chop off one end. Then cut in an arc all around the onion; then crosswise to get diced onions.

Keeping the root on while you are cutting makes it an anchor and keeps rows together.

For sliced onions, chop off root end and then cut in the arc.

The garlic trick: Crush head of garlic with your hands; Two bowls of equal size; shake - the peels come off.

Otherwise just tap with the flat of the knife and then peel.

Slice in half lengthwise, lay flat side on board, slice.

Carrots:

Cut in half so two shorter pieces. Chop from the back two or three inches (not the tip) of the chef's knife.

Leave the end on because it is an anchor.

To dice it - cut it in half lengthwise so you can lie it down on flat surfaces, then slice.

To dice it in squares - slice off edges to make into square. Cut strips of the same size (for even cooking) .

Carrots, onions, potatoes, are good to practice on - because they are cheap.

Citrus:

Special technique for making "Supremes."

Cut off ends of orange.

Cut off peel top to bottom, arcing the knife, cutting away from yourself.

Switch to paring knife; slice carefully in between the sections-- no pith, no seeds.

Fish:

Cut all vegetables before doing meat or fish. (If you have good meat, not factory meat, your chances of getting salmonella is pretty low) If you're dealing with fresh and raw and different dishes, then you need a different cutting board.

Gills should be blood-red, not brown.

You want your off-hand to be on the head of the fish. Dorsal fin facing you.

Cut around the gills, turn the corner, rest the knife on the back bone. slide the knife down, past gut cavity, then slip down.

You can save the remainders for fish stock, but remember that you never ever want gills in the fish stock

It's easy for markets to hide a bad fillet. You can't hide a whole fish.

Remember that a lot of fish cutting is drawing back because fish meat is very tender.

For bronzing, take care of pin bones with needle-nose pliers or fish pin bone pliers.

The key is that the hinge will get rusty - Have to keep it loose with olive oil.

Chickens:

Some will use chef's knife, some will use boning, some will use paring.

For bigger bird, I use stiff bladed boning knife.

First you take off the wings. Anchor the cleaver - pop. Take wings apart at "elbow."

Take the knife right on the leg down to ball and socket joint. Curve under the "boat" of the body so you can pop the joint.

Change grip if you need to. Keep moving the chicken around if you need to.

You can also use kitchen shears for this if it is easier for you.

Think about freeing the meat - not chopping or slicing.

Breasts - Start from the front; follow along ribs. To remove tendon, roll it so tip is exposed, roll it out with knife.

When you are using cleaver to cut bone; remember that the tip of the cleaver is what has the most force.

Don't forget to save your extras/scraps for stock!

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