Pro Series Class 1: Knife Skills

This post is part of a 9-part series related to my completion of the Pro Series 1 professional culinary arts course at The Culinary Center of Kansas City with Chef Richard McPeake. This course changed my cooking world! An introductory post can be found here.

Alternate Title: Why is There a Bag of Beef Bones in My Car?

Night one of class is complete and I am now assured my class selection was the perfect choice. It is a serious class, but was alot of fun. Most of the attendees came on their own, which made it easier to make friends and find a team that I’ll cook with for the duration of the class. Tonight’s focus was knife skills, beginning with a discussion of knives (anatomy, materials, type, sharpening, care) and followed by chopping demonstrations and practice on particular vegetables.

My “Aha Moments” from today include:

*Use a rocking motion (tip to heel) to cut, so that your knife does the work, not your arm. (Okay, I already knew this but thought it was useful info….).

*Never put your knife in the sink (either by throwing or gentle placement). If things are placed on top of it or it does hit the edge of your sink, you can damage the blade. (I am very very guilty of this.) Also, no dishwasher….

*The best knives have a full tang (metal that runs throughout the handle). We learned alot more about knives…so ask me for more info if you’d like.

*If you store your knives in a block, and your block will accommodate it, store the knives blade side facing up.

*Don’t run with knives. Actually, my Dad and Mom taught me this.

*When slicing a round, “rolly” vegetable, position your knife underneath the palm of your hand with your fingers and thumb on either sides of the vegetable, rather than holding your hand off to one side and trying to cut beside it. You’ll have better control of the vegetable and stand a better chance of keeping all your fingers.

*To control “rolly” veggies, you can also take a small slice off one side to give it a flat base.

*I really do rock at chopping celery.

*When chopping or mincing garlic, add some of the kosher salt from the recipe to the garlic clove when chopping. The salt absorbs the garlic juice and you’ll get more flavor in your dish, because that juice usually stays on your cutting board. Just be sure to subtract that amount of salt from your total.

*Finely chopped garlic is different from minced garlic. To mince, finely chop, then position your knife blade almost flat, blade side facing away from you and rub it (pulling toward you) across your garlic pieces. You can also make a garlic paste this way. If you like this tip, thank Japan.

I’m a few years out of school (I guess I now am qualified to say I am “quite a few years out of school”) so I failed to consider one thing. Class = Homework. We take home a quiz each week, and also have research and practical homework assignments. This week, I am researching umami (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umami), or the fifth taste — savoriness. I also was given two pounds of beef bones and a bag of mirepoix (50% onion, 25% celery, 25% carrot) to roast and simmer into a brown stock. The veggies are the product of our chopping today and will be the base for our stock. I am to return the stock to class next week and it will be compared to the concoctions of the other 14 students.

There you have it. Week 1 (minus homework) complete. Eight weeks, and alot more food, to go.

Stock Update:

My brown beef stock homework assignment is complete and my work-product patiently sits in the refrigerator awaiting its judgement in class tomorrow night. I’m hopeful that it is close to “correct” because it literally took me most of the day on Saturday. I roasted the bones and mirepoix for almost 2 hours, and simmered the stock for over 5 hours. We were told in class that our recipes would always be written without much detail, so I did some additional research (of course…I am me, after all) prior to beginning. My trusty copy of The Joy of Cooking, a wedding gift from my sister Sarah, came in handy as I read about the proper method for making stock and what is most likely to go wrong. After reading this, I realized that how I usually make stock (throw a leftover chicken carcass, veggies, water, and some seasoning in a pot and leave it be) is not exactly right (not really right at all….). So I was especially attentive to my little project to be sure 1) the water didn’t boil too quickly and that it only simmered, rather than a hard boil, 2) the water level never reached below my solids while the stock is cooking, and 3) impurities were frequently skimmed off the top, in hopes the stock will look and taste clear. We’ll see what Chef Richard thinks tomorrow.

Other things I learned:

*Stock is flavored primarily by bones (chicken, beef, etc.) where a broth is flavored by meat.

*White stock is made using raw ingredients. Brown stock is made by roasting ingredients, then making the stock.

*Raw ingredients make the most flavorful stocks.

STOCK VERDICT UPDATE — My stock was good, just weak. I should have roasted my beef bones longer to get more marrow out. (Aren’t you glad you just read that?)

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