Monday, October 31, 2011

Herbs Video

Do you spend too much time removing leaves from thyme?  How about cutting basil into thin ribbons, or mincing enough parsley to make tabbouleh?  Working with herbs doesn't need to be labor intensive if you know a few tricks.

Youtube link: Mincing herbs

Videos you might want to watch before this one:

Do you want to know how to wash and store your herbs, how to substitute one herb for another, best time to add herbs to your dish, or what to do with leftovers?  Check out my FAQ about Herbs.

It was hard to choose which dishes to post here that would encourage you to mince some herb.  Almost all of my dishes use herbs (they are my 4th favorite ingredient after salt, olive oil, and lemon juice :)  But here are some ideas:

Striped Bass with Orange Gremolata
Illustrated Guide to Ratatouille
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Monday, October 24, 2011

What fish is this?

That's a tough question.  Since there are no regulations when it comes to fish names, fish markets and restaurants can call it pretty much whatever they please.  There is a good article in the Boston Globe about it (I hope Globe won't ask you to register after today).  In the article Beth Daley and Jenn Abelson raise the issues of industry fraud, health, and the environment.

I would like to raise another issue -- one of consumer close mindedness.  After watching famous food TV personalities consume bull testicles and pig eye balls, we want to think of ourselves as open minded gourmands.  After all, we tell our children they should try everything at least once, and we are sure we set a wonderful example for them.  We are no longer a nation of meat and potatoes, right?  I wish I could say yes, but I can't.

Over the last 8 years of teaching cooking classes, I had a chance to ask more than 2 thousand people questions about what ingredients they cook with and what dishes they order in restaurants.  It wasn't a formal survey, but more anecdotal evidence that comes from statements like "I never thought I would have liked bluefish.  I've never tasted it before.  Isn't it supposed to be strong and fishy."  Since restaurant chef's and fishmongers have to deal with this kind of attitude, is it any wonder Ming Tsai calls sable "butterfish" on his menu.  I heard that some Mom got her children to eat salmon by telling them it was orange chicken.  It worked.  That's what many restaurants and fish mongers are trying to do.  Get us to eat things we normally wouldn't.

I was at a fish counter at Captain Marden's in Wellesley, MA, when I heard a woman singing praises to Black Cod.  "That cod you sold me last week, Tom -- was the best cod I've ever had.  So tender, so sweet and buttery.  Just melted in the mouth."  That cod was actually not cod at all, but sable.  Would this woman buy it under its real name?

Seafood industry surely needs more regulation, and fish names should be standardized.  The current situation is as ridiculous as if we were selling pork rib chops as veal rib chops, or hanger steak as tenderloin.  But let's not forget to take a good look at ourselves as cooks and diners.  Imagine that consumers were unwilling to buy anything that is not tenderloin.  Would the meat industry be as willing to tell them what the cut really is?

Here are some common fish mislabeling and confusing names.  They are not illegal, but that doesn't make them any more understandable.

Sable -- often goes under the names of Black Cod and Butterfish
Striped bass -- often called Striper in New England and Rockfish in Maryland and mid-Atlantic states
Escolar -- often sold as white tuna.  It's not a tuna at all.  While delicious, it causes many people terrible gastrointestinal distress.  I love its taste and never experienced any negative side effects myself, but I strongly believe they should ban it (many countries do).
Grey sole -- a type of flounder
Lemon sole -- another type of flounder
"Dover" sole -- if "Dover" is in quotes and it comes from Pacific water, it's really a flounder.  True Dover Sole is from Europe
Ahi tuna -- another name for yellowfin tuna
Scrod -- a New England term that means some white fish (could be cod, haddock, or hake)
Chilean Sea Bass -- not a bass at all, but Patagonian Toothfish

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Mashed Garlic Video

Is mashed garlic the same as minced garlic? Watch the video to find out.

YouTube Link: How to mash garlic into a paste

Here are some garlicky dishes to try that use this technique:
Rack of Lamb with Cilantro Garlic Butter
Honey Garlic Grilled Eggplant

Roasted Pepper Garlic Mayo (that's part of the Bouillabaisse  recipe)
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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Slicing and Mincing Garlic Video

One of my readers  (Kake) asked for a garlic video that shows how to do a really compact claw grip.  How could I say no to that?  Garlic is one of my favorite and most frequently used ingredients.

YouTube Link: Slicing and Mincing Garlic
Here are some dishes to inspire you to practice slicing and mincing garlic
Seared Halibut with Potatoes and Tomatoes
Cannellini and Rosemary Soup
Stay tuned for mashed garlic next week.

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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Dicing and Mincing a Shallot (Video)

A shallot is cook's best friend (at least French cook's) -- like an onion, but with more finesse.  Most of the time shallots are used in diced and minced form, and it doesn't hurt to know how to do that correctly. Keep in mind that if you hack up that shallot into large irregular pieces, the finesse and elegance go out the window.

Here are some dishes to inspire you to practice dicing and mincing shallots
Arctic Char Tartar
Beet Orange Risotto

Bluefish with Gin and Lime Butter

Salads that won't wilt

This concludes our series of crying videos. Next week, we'll move onto tasks that don't require goggles or a box of tissues.

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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Knife geekiness

Say you want to learn Japanese knife sharpening techniques.  Where do you go?  The only place I know of on this coast is Korin in New York.  That is a bit inconvenient for me at the moment so I thought of a better place -- Google.  I don't mean the search engine (though that was very helpful too), I mean the Google office in Cambridge, MA.  That office probably offers the highest concentration of geekiness in the Metro Boston area and this characteristic seems to be very highly correlated with people's obsession over their knives.  Google also happens to be the work place of Scott McKay who has an extensive Japanese Knife Collection.  I don't mean the stuff you buy at William and Sonoma.  I mean serious stuff.  Some of it is so serious, it has never touched a cutting board.  You wouldn't want to cook with a museum quality knife, would you?  But there are many lovely Japanese knives that Scott does use for cooking and thus needs to maintain.

I've met Scott at the Culinary Historians of Boston many years ago, and decided to contact him with a plea for sharpening help.  Scott gladly agreed and told me to come with my knives, tomatoes, and onions.  I also brought band-aids.  After reading Matthew Amster-Burton's article, I figured there was no way I was getting out of this experience without some blood.  Scott brought his knife collection and a few sharpening stones.  

I was learning to hone a knife on a stone since that's preferable to a rod (a.k.a. steel) for Japanese knives.  First we had to find the right angle.  To do that, Scott told me to set the knife flat on the stone, put the fingers right on the edge and gradually lift the back of the knife until there was no gap between the edge and the stone.  To maintain the angle, I had to keep my fingers right on the edge as I pushed the knife forward and backwards on the stone.  It was actually quite easy, except for not cutting myself.  I walked away from this experience unscathed, but I was cheating a little.  I put my fingers right on the edge to find it while the knife was stationary, but when I started pushing the knife on the stone, I moved my fingers a little back.  

After practicing for 20 minutes I felt pretty good about the process.  Did the knife get sharper?  Not that I noticed, but I've only used the Mac (Jason's birthday present to me) for 1 week, so it was very sharp to begin with.  The good news was that I hadn't made it duller, which could easily happen if I was not using the stone correctly.  

After I got home, I was so inspired that I pulled out my cheapy Norton stone and used a similar technique to what Scott showed me with some tips from Chad Ward's wonderful egullet post to give my Forschner a more narrow angle.  One thing I did differently this time is I sprayed the stone periodically with water.  I realize it's an oil stone, but oil seems too messy and slows down the sharpening process a lot since it reduces friction.  The few times I used the stone before, I tried it dry since Cook's Illustrated said it worked fine dry.  But that metal slurry the knife forms on the stone when the water is added really seemed to help.  

I was aiming for 15 degrees.  With a little trig I was able to figure out how high I should lift the back of the knife given its width and the angle that I wanted.  I don't think I've used a sine function in over 12 years.  It was kind of fun to use high-school math again.  The edge came out quite nice.  

This is not a minimalist dish from a molecular gastronomy establishment.  It's my sharpening test.  One grape tomato was sliced with a Forschner and one with a Mac.  Can you tell which knife was used for which row?  If I can make 1mm slices of tomato, I think my knives are in working order.  Onions still feel a bit harder for a Forschner, but I am guessing that's just the geometry of the knife.  The Japanese knife is thinner, so cutting takes less effort.   Now if only I could have the Mac blade with a Forschner handle, I'd be in heaven.  

Now that my Japanese stone has arrived, I was able to give both my Mac and Forschner a much more polished edge.  The Japanese stones are much smoother than western.  The one I got is 1000 grit for the coarse side and 4000 for the fine.  My Norton stone isn't labelled, but I am guessing it's 300 for the coarse and 800 for the fine.  

I have also finally learned to use the steel correctly.  Yes, everyone goes swishing their knives on it, but does it do anything?  After replacing my worn out steel with a new one (sharpening tools wear out too!), reading Chad Ward's post, and watching Patti Small from On the Edge Knife Sharpening do it a few times in person, I finally got it.  The angle should be just a little wider than the angle of the edge and the pressure should be very light.  Since I have so many Forschner knives, I took one to Patti for a 15 degree edge.  She has an EdgePro system that controls the angle perfectly.  This is my example knife against which I can compare my free hand sharpening efforts.  

Now I feel kind of bad feeding the rest of my knives to that Chef's Choice electric machine or using AccuSharp.  The truth is, they work.  They give your knives a rather wide angle of 20-22 degrees and chef's choice leaves occasional very small bumps in the edge.  But they don't take any practice to master and are a lot faster than stone honing when I have to deal with 15 knives I use for classes.  They are also a great option for people who are not that obsessive about knives but want to be able to slice a tomato cleanly.

But for my own knives, I'll try to keep practicing free-hand sharpening and honing.  If I keep this up, maybe I'll buy myself a really nice knife.  About 15 percent of my students show up with Shun and Global knives these days and have no idea how to maintain them.  Most of these companies will resharpen your knives for you if you send them back to them, but that's like deciding to have children and thinking you'll call a baby-sitter when the diapers will need to be changed.  If you want to have kids, you'd better learn to change diapers.  And if you want really nice knives, you'd better get up close and personal with a stone.  

Monday, October 3, 2011

How to slice a shallot (video)

One of the questions after my claw grip video was how to do it on a small vegetable, like a shallot or garlic clove.  Since a picture is worth a thousand words (and a moving picture is worth even more), I decided to make a few shallot videos.  Here is one on slicing

Youtube link: Slicing Shallots

Videos you might want to watch before this one:

These fig and blue cheese tarts should be a wonderful opportunity to practice slicing shallots.

Fig and Blue Cheese Tarts

Stay tuned for diced shallot next week.

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