Catalyst Cooks

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Technique of the Week (be the Superhero of your Kitchen)- Knife Skills II January 27, 2012

Now that you are getting comfortable with your knife, let’s practice!

Get your potatoes out…

First- an easy multiple choice question.  Is it easier to cut something laying flat on a flat surface, or something rolling around?

Yes, that’s right.  It’s easier to cut something with a flat surface.  So if you’ve been trying to cut carrots, onions, or potatoes without first cutting a flat surface, you’re not doing yourself any favors!

Once you’ve got your flat surface (and yes, please, cut your carrot in half before you go any further, and please do cut your onion in half from stem to root before you try to dice it)- lay your potato flat on the cutting board.

And make sure that pesky index finger isn’t on top of the blade of your chef’s knife for pete’s sake!

Now, we’re going to go to more perfection land.  For those of you who don’t believe in that yet- and I was one of those- here are some reasons why chefs practice these cuts on bags and bags of potatoes (and onions) while they are in culinary school.  – and why you won’t see diced potatoes on a plate very often, because the Chefs got Sick of ’em.

1.  Food that is consistent and uniform is inviting to the eye.  Yes, beauty is one reason to practice knife cuts.

but if you are more practical like me, food beauty may not be compelling enough to practice these cuts.  So there are two better reasons to practice this….

2.  Practice = speed.  As you practice these knife cuts, your skills will get better and faster.  So will your prep to table time!

3.  Uniformity= consistent cooking results.  Where same size= same doneness, different size = different doneness.

If you believe that, please continue cutting your potato.  First, cut your potato into a 1″ square ended- rectangle.

(If it were 3/4″ square you’d be on your way to a Large Dice- but we’re not stopping here.)

Next, cut your 1″ square into 4 x 1/4″ ‘wafers’.

Next, cut the wafers into 1/4″ square-ended hand cut fries – otherwise known as Battonet

(bet you didn’t appreciate those hand cut fries before!)

As the last part of your practice, you can cut your Battonet into “Small Dice”- 1/4″ square pieces of potato, ready for your skillet.

My dice in the picture is not perfect… I diced the ends I had cut off to make my squares.  So this would not pass the Culinary Institute test.  But it’s great practice and I personally don’t demand perfection from myself.  My goal is to improve my speed and accuracy over time.

What to do with these potatoes?

Well, you can boil them and turn them into mashed potatoes…. or use them for a breakfast potato dish… or put them in soup… or deep fry them for mini-tots.  Practice more and you’ll get to try potatoes in fun new ways!

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