Wednesday, December 11, 2013
When you're a youngin', people don't tend to give you knives. Mom typically wields one on your behalf (halving grapes so they're less likely to get wedged in your throat, slicing hot dogs because you simply prefer them plated that way).
Inevitably, when you're 10 or 24 or 33, people expect you to be able to cut your own food. Most of us figure out how to cut a chicken breast into chewable portion sizes early on, even if a piece or two sometimes gets flung across the table.
But knife skills in the kitchen, the kind required to dice, julienne, or brunoise (as if we even know what that means), are an altogether different matter. You can't just hack into a tomato with the same crude stabbing technique used to jab into a tough steak or to slash the couch cushions at your ex's house. You need composure.
I recently had a chance to learn some cutting composure in the kitchen at Aurora Provisions. Chef Marion Bannon was generous enough to give me an expert tutorial. She was also trusting enough to put a knife in my hands - even after I showed her the lingering wounds following last month's Scalding Oil Incident.
Marion demonstrated the proper way to hold a knife (mainly, don't wrap your finger under the blade). And she talked about the different knife cuts and when you might use them. Sure, consistent cuts look pretty (and pretty makes food taste better) but consistency is also essential for uniform cooking. Little chunks will cook fast than big chunks. Then you have burnt little chunks.
Learn some knife cuts with Marion:
Some basic knife cuts:
Julienne - Long and thin, like shoestring potatoes
Batonnet - A shorter, fatter friend of Julienne
Dice - Cubes. Sizes can range based on what you're making
Brunoise - It's a dice cut measuring 1/8 inch by 1/8 inch by 1/8 inch
To slice "on a bias" means to slice at a slant.
Since my tutorial, I've been cutting everything - apples, onions, bars of soap.
I chopped the daylights out of some sweet potatoes and made a fine sweet potato hash.
I julienned some zucchini for a raw zucchini salad.
And I want to chop all. the. time.
I don't know which is scarier - not knowing how to use a knife or knowing how and wanting to slice and dice everything in sight. (Not people though. Or not most people anyway.)
Shannon Bryan is a feature writer for the Portland Press Herald and content producer for MaineToday Media's entertainment website, www.mainetoday.com.
And here's a well-known truth: Shannon can't cook. She's also ostroconophobic (in Maine?!?), but in a foodie place like southern Maine, she's determined to learn how to cook, eat, and order with the best of them. Read about her culinary crusade:
Pans on fire
She's also an investigator into all that's strange and entertaining to do around here. Those findings are gathered here:
Out Going: Things to do in southern Maine