My most important cooking tools are:
- Good knives – Chef’s, Pairing & Serrated
- Cast iron skillet
- Dutch oven
- Stainless steel skillet (with an interior layer of aluminum or copper to best conduct heat – in the stores, they refer to these at multi-ply cookware)
- Nonstick pan
- Stand Mixer
- Microplane Grater
- Chinois (or alternate strainer)
- Oven Probe Thermometer (allows you to leave the probe in your meat while it cooks and set the timer for when the thermometer reaches a certain temperature)
Michael Ruhlman (renowned author) has a great blog post explaining why many of these and others are his favorite tools: http://ruhlman.com/2010/04/my-essential-kitchen-tools/. I agree!
But before you worry about all of these, foundational to all great cooking is skillful use of a knife.
Step 1 – Keeping a Knife Sharp
To begin, ensure that you are using a quality knife that is maintained sharp. Not only does a sharp knife ease your cutting but it also helps you avoid cutting yourself. Dull knives are extremely dangerous!!
Note that in order to properly maintain the edge on your knife, you will need to both sharpen (using a stone, the blade is reground and its edge is restored) and hone (using a steel to remove microscopic broken pieces and realign the remaining ground edges).
To use a stone to sharpen whenever your blade begins to dull:
- Depending on the type of stone, drizzle oil or water across
- Hold the heel of the blade at a 20 degree angle against the stone
- Draw the knife toward you, from heel to tip, in light, even strokes
- Repeat on the other side starting with the tip of the blade at a 20 degree angle and push the blade away from you while maintaining light pressure
- Repeat this process 10-20 times, moving across the stone from the coarser grit side to the fine grit side of the stone, until the blade is sharp
Conclude the sharpening by using your honing steel:
- With your fingers of your non-primary hand protected under the steel’s guard, position the steel in front of your body
- Hold the blade with your other hand at a 20 degree angle
- Alternating sides for 5-10 strokes, touch the heel of the blade to the top of the shaft and draw the entire blade of the knife down the shaft in a sweeping motion until the tip ends up just above the guard
Test your knife by cutting into a tomato. If it cuts easily through the tomato’s skin, mission accomplished.
Now, start using your knife! But very importantly, remember to hone your knife every time you use it. This will minimize how often you’ll need to sharpen.
Step 2 – Holding the Knife Correctly
When learning to cut, your first focus should be on holding the knife correctly. Hold the blade with your thumb and forefinger (parallel to the bolster) and placing your last three fingers around the handle. Use your other hand, with your fingers curled back into a claw, with your thumb tucked behind, to hold the food you are cutting. By maintaining the claw, you can safely bring the knife down in a forward motion, using the front of your blade to cut the food, while protecting your fingers.
Step 3 – Precision
Next, your focus should be on precision – ensuring that your cuts are equally sized. This is important for two reasons:
- Equally sized food cooks more evenly
- Matching cuts look nicer and make your food’s presentation more appealing
Step 4 – Speed
Once you’ve become more comfortable with the sizes and evenness of your cuts, you can begin working on building speed.
Remember, knife skills are practiced daily and it takes years to truly master.
COMMON KNIFE CUTS
Traditional French cuisine relies on a shorthand language to describe the sizes and shapes of the cuts that will be used in dishes. Becoming familiar with the names/dimensions and learning how to cut them is a critical component of a culinary education. Here is a cheat-sheet for the most common:
|Pont neuf||Large stick cuts – 1 in x 1 in x 2 in|
|Mignonettte||Thick matchsticks – ½ in x ½ in x 2 in|
|Batonnet||Medium stick cuts - 1/4 in x 1/4 in x 2.5 in|
|Allumette||Very thin sticks - 1/8 in x 1/8 in x 2.5 in|
|Julienne||Thin strips – 1/8 x 1/8 x 1 to 2.5 in|
|Carre||Large dice – ¾ in x ¾ in x ¾ in|
|Parmentier||Medium dice – ½ in x ½ in x ½ in|
|Macedoine||Small dice – ¼ in x ¼ in x ¼ in|
|Brunoise||Tiny cubes – 1/8 in x 1/8 in x 1/8 in|
|Demilune||Half moon cut|
|Concasser tomato||Peeled, seeded and roughly chopped|
|Hacher||Very finely chopped|
|Tournes||Trimmed into a football shape until it has 7 facets
|Fondants||Trimmed into a dome with a flat bottom and a 5-faceted top – diameter of 1.6 inches and a length of 3.2 inches|
|Paysanne||Triangles – 1/2 x 1/2 x 1/8 inch|
|Sifflet||Small angled cut|
|Parisienne||Round balls scooped from potatoes|