On Saturday, I knocked off one of my ‘12 in 2 list‘ goals – do a knife skills course. I went to the Chef’s Armoury in Rosebery, Sydney. It was $89 for a 1.5 hour session – there were 6 people (though one didn’t turn up) to the one teacher in the specialist knife store – mainly Japanese knives, and some additional food items. You were asked to bring a small and a large knife – which is smart, to learn how to use YOUR knife, rather than one of theirs.
First we started with carrots, and had our skills evaluated. It is nerve racking having someone watch you do something you know you’re not that good at – that’s why I signed up for the course! Anyhow, no one was immediately eliminated, and despite threats that he’d shout ‘STOP EVERYTHING’ if he saw anything really dangerous, we all did pretty well. Basically, the key learning was that you need to curve all your fingers around like you’re holding a stress ball, as you cut whatever item. AS I said, we started with a LOT of carrots! Practising our curled fingers we julienned carrots, and then finely diced them. Then we moved onto leeks.
The thing that I learnt about leeks was how to wash out that pesky dirt that is always near the tops of the white part. Basically you cut the ‘head’ into quarters or eighths, making it like a brush. Then you swish it around in a sink or bowl of water, and huzzah, no more dirt. Really not rocket science, but something I’d never worked out on my own :s
So far, everyone had all their fingers. Thought a few people had some knife to fingernail action, there was no blood or anything serious! Next he really upped the ante, and whipped out the capsicum (bell peppers). Seeing we’d mastered juliennes and dicing, we then were shown how to skin a capsicum with a knife. Let me assume me, I do not think I’ve ever really thought ‘wow I need to skin this capsicum’ but as the instructor explained, the skin is bitter, and when you have a fine dice or similar, say for a bruschetta, you don’t want little bits of skin in your teeth. I didn’t really master the finer skills in separating the capsicum skin from the flesh, but that’s ok, cause next up we went onto tomatoes).
Tomatoes are EASY in comparison! I can skin a tomato, without boiling it, and then burning my fingers! And then, just to keep up our skills, we finely diced the tomato as well. We learnt that the fine dice was part of the beauty of cooking, the smaller pieces of carrot, leek, onion or tomato caramelise better due to the larger surface area. So there you go, not something I’d ever considered, but of course is makes perfect sense.
Oh and back on the leeks – here’s a good way to dice them. Cut into the core, and then lay it flat like a book. Then julienne in line with the grain (ie cutting along the ‘long side’ rather than the ‘formerly round end’), then come back to dice them.
We leant two motions with the knife. There was a pinch gripe, with a simple up and down motion. This is where we started with the carrots. Then we moved onto the locomotive grip, running in an elliptical motion. This elliptical motion is crucial when cutting spring onion or shallots so that you don’t crush the circular structure. It seems this is what I hadn’t mastered, as that’s what causes the shallots to no be cut right through (they sort of look like a potato hedgehog or something). Definitely something I’ll need to practice some more as I didn’t reach perfection during the course.
Next up we learnt how to zest an orange (or any citrus fruit really). Essentially it was just using the knife to finely peel the colour part from the pith. Interestingly, whilst we were asked to bring a big and a small knife, we were encouraged to use the large knife for everything if we felt comfortable. I also wasn’t the master of the zesting, but I got better as we were asked to peel the pith (without, obviously, removing too much of the lovely flesh!) Lastly we learnt how to cut out segments, leaving behind the nasty white niceness (cause white stuff is poisonous - like in the capsicum. NO, no it’s not, but our teacher assures us every 5 year old will tell you it is!). I didn’t take an action shot of this, but I’ll show you the mother’s day fruit salad I made on Sunday to test the skills
Last, but by no means least, we learnt to cut onions. Now, the teacher says the only way to not cry cutting them is to get someone else to cut them! The other participants said a mouthful of cider or beer will help – so I’m willing to try it. Cause the matchstick between the teeth trick has come up bust with me lately. Basically you keep the root on, and trim the head of the onion. Then you cross the head of the onion, and use the knife to peel away the skin. Tick and tick – well I wasn’t using a knife to peel away the skim previously, but otherwise I was following the method in my own cooking. Then you halve the onion and cut wedges into it, keeping the root intact. There’s not need to do the whole ‘then cut horizontally through the onion’. Then using the fingers around a ball technique, you dice the onion, with tears streaming down your face. Tada, the sad end to the class!
I’m pleased I went, and in order to illustrate this post I tested all my skills in making a vegetable soup! For the first six months he asks us to WATCH what we’re doing, but once we have finger placement down pat, the safety of it will mean we can cut and safely watch TV at the same time! Wow, cool huh?
Did I teach you anything new? Any cool tips you have, that I can add to my repertoire?