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All posts for the month March, 2008

A good knife is the most important tool in a cook’s arsenal.  Other than proper use of salt and heat, nothing is more essential than the cook’s ability to break food down.   If food is not trimmed of excess fat, it becomes a stringy mess; if it is not cut down to regular sized pieces, some of it will be burnt and some of it raw; and if it is not cut well, it will not look nearly so nice.

For home cooks who are serious about preparing gourmet food, buying a set of knives is an important purchasing decision that should not be taken lightly.  This one tool can make a world of difference, but buying a nice chef’s knife can easily cost over one hundred dollars.  However, keeping the following advice will ensure it will be money well spent.

When knife shopping, there are three things to remember.  First, most home cooks only need three knives: a chef’s knife or a santoku knife, a paring knife, and a serrated knife.  Cooks should do most of the cutting work with the chef’s knife, peeling and precision cutting with the paring knife, and cutting foods like bread and tomatoes which have hard outsides and very soft insides with the serrated knife.   There are other types of knives that can be purchased (boning knives, cleavers, etc.); however, they are certainly not mandatory and can be purchased at a later time.  

Secondly, a good chef’s knife has a lifetime warranty against most types of damage.  The manufacturer will replace for any reason short of deliberate acts of destruction on the blade.  This makes spending a great deal of money on a single knife more palatable as the cook will only need to shop for her knife once.

Lastly, be prepared to spend time purchasing the knife.  Knives come from different companies in different shapes, sizes, handles, and weights which make the knife feel differently.  There is no such thing as a better or worse knife, merely knives that fit the cook’s individual hand better.  While looking for a knife that “feels right” may be unscientific, it is the proper way to find the best knife.  To go about finding that perfect fit, the cook should go to a store with many knives for sale and ask to hold each one.  Any good kitchen store will be more than happy to take knives from their display case and let the cook feel the weight of blade and check its balance.  Many stores will also have a cutting board that the cook can use to test her cutting motion.

If the knife does not feel too heavy or too light and if it does not slip, then the knife is a good candidate for purchase.  However, the cook should test several more knives to find the proper one.  Only once the cook is sure, should the knife be purchased.

Using salt is one of the three most important skills in cooking, the other two being good knife skills and the proper use of heat.  For many, hearing that salt is a basic cooking skill will come as a surprise.  Given the linkage been salt and high blood pressure and other heart diseases, many home cooks have started to limit the amount of salt in their food.  These same cooks wonder why food at restaurants tastes better.

 

Salt does a number of very important things in cooking and baking.  First, salt helps to draw the juices out of meat and vegetables.  For proteins, this promotes crust formation when they are and it is why so many recipes state that meat should be liberally sprinkled with salt several minutes before cooking.

 

For vegetables, drawing out the juice does several things.  First, in sautés, it causes them to cook faster and more completely.  When adding them to a sauce, the salt will cause the vegetables to release their juice and add it to the surrounding liquid.  This will make the resulting food have a richer flavor.

 

In baking, salt has a number of useful functions.  It provides structure to baked goods by strengthening gluten (wheat proteins) and it helps to brown crusts.  Salt also prevents staleness by inhibiting or killing yeasts that are present in the finished product.

 

While all of this is crucial to preparing good food, the most important thing that salt does is fire the taste buds.  The tongue has different sets of taste buds, each of which are specifically designed for one type of taste: sweet, bitter, umami (savory), sour, and salty.  Without salt, one entire category of taste bud is underutilized or not utilized at all.

 

The common saying is that salt makes things taste more like themselves.  In a roundabout way, this is accurate.  Because the salt causes an additional set of taste buds to fire, the taste signals to the brain will be both clearer and stronger.

  

It bears repeating that the primary skills of a home cook are the use of heat, good knife skills, and the [i]proper[/i] use of salt.  Seasoning food is a balancing act.  The cook should strive to find enough salt so that the food tastes good without it tasting salty.  There is not a great margin of error when using salt in food: a little too much tastes as bad as far too much.  Still, in most cases, food can take more salt than the cook might think.

Sue tagged me.  And since hers is my favoritist blog ever, I decided I should respond in kind.  No matter how long it took me.

Rules:

1. Link to your tagger and post these rules.

2. Share 5 facts about yourself

3. Tag 5 people at the end of your post and list their names (linking to them).

4. Let them know they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment at their blogs.

So without further ado, 5 facts about me:

1. I was an entrant into the past two Next Food Network Stars. At one point, my video had an 89% approval rating and that was before I voted for myself.

2.  I am a vegetarian, but I still cook meat.  A chef must know how to cook all things, so I still practice meat cookery.  To taste, I put a bite in my mouth and then spit it out.  My wife is used to it.  The people at the Kansas City Culinary Institute are still getting used to it. 

3.  The greatest thing I ever cooked was a ginger filet.  It was a nice organic grain fed filet with grated ginger and a powdered ginger, salt and pepper served with a red wine gravy.  Unfortunately, by then I was a vegetarian and had to spit out my taste bite.

4.  I am writing a game.  This should establish me geekcred.

5.  My favorite color is purple.  This is a huge problem because I graduated from the University of Kansas and our school’s second most hated rival (Kansas State) is purple and white.  Fortunately, I bleed crimson and blue, but I do buy purple pens.

Okay, I am tagging:

Logtar
Bea
Game Dame
Gooby’s Mom
http://seansquawks.com/