Cooking Class Day 1- Knife Skills and Stocks

Last nights cooking class was on knife skills and stocks. I got my awesome knife set and chef’s coat- I will take pictures soon! I was definitely feeling very Top Chef, until we got in the kitchen where I felt slightly intimidated, but had a lot of fun.

The knife skills stuff would be hard to explain in an e-mail, but I will share a couple things:

-Your knife (particularly your chef’s knife which can do almost anything) should be honed (sharpened) with a sharpening steel (not a stone) every time you use it. This is like warming up before you work out.

-When you are chopping with a chef’s knife it is the back 1/2 of the knife that should be making contact with the food. The front/ tip pretty much maintains contact with the board, and you chop through the food rather than exerting pressure on the top of the knife. (Hint: chopping onions with a sharp knife like this, using minimal strokes, rather than pushing down on the onion with a duller knife, will cause you not to cry- less force = less tears)

-With knives, you get what you pay for. If you pay for a $100 knife, that is what you get. If you take care of them, they will last a very very long time. Today’s better knives are a blend of high carbon steel and stainless steel.

My instructor believes there are five basic knives which pretty much cover everything you need:

9-10″ Chef’s knife- workhorse

Paring knife- for peeling and carving fruits and veg

Boning and Filleting Knives- for meat

Slicers- pointed ones for slicing cooked meats with bones, rounded end are for slicing cooked meat without bones

Serrated Slicer- breads, fibrous fruits like artichokes, pineapple, and squashes

Cutting Boards-

Polyurethane are industry standard for cleanliness.

Stocks

– Stock should be made with the bones of a younger animal (chicken, veal, or fish) because younger animals have more cartilage and gelatin. More gelatin = more flavor = better stock.

-Stock is made from raw bones, or bones roasted specifically for stock (not the remainders of a cooked carcass).

Brown stock is usually veal bones (necks) which have been roasted before making the stock (roasted until very very brown and looking almost burnt).

-Never salt stock until the very end when you are using it. You never know how far down you will concentrate the stock, so best to season at the end to avoid a too salty finished product.

-Be sure to remove as much fat as possible from the bones before making the stock. Fat in the stock traps aromatics at the top of the stock, trapping the flavor. Fat is an enemy of good stock. Good stock should be clear and not cloudy.

To make chicken stock:

– You can soak the bones in ice water for twenty minutes before making stock and then drain before if you want a very clean yet light stock.

Put  enough bones to fill pot halfway (preferably chicken backs with skin and fat removed) into stockpot and cover bones by 1 1/2″ COLD water. Bring to boil (but do not boil- just TO the boil) and turn down to simmer. Skim fat and foam from top. Then add Mirepoix and Bouquet Garni- Mirepoix is 2 parts onion to 1 part celery to 1 part carrot- that’s it! Bouquet Garni is parsley stems, a branch of thyme, and bay leaves. You could also add peppercorns, fennel seeds, or garlic according to your preference. Simmer extremely gently UNCOVERED for 2-3 hours (or if you are super cool for 8-10 hours according to Chef Brian). Replenish water as necessary, keeping water level 1 1/2 ” above bones. Stock should be barely bubbling. When finished, re-skim any fat from surface if needed, strain off stock and refrigerate or freeze until needed. This will make you a culinary ninja and all your food will taste better. You can use it in soups, sauces, cooking grains, etc. Good stock is evaluated on body, flavor, color, and clarity.

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