This week I did a knife skills course. No, I am not running away to join the circus. I’m talking about knife skills of the kitchen variety.
I’m a bit of a foodie, have loads of vegetables in my diet and tend to spend a lot of my meal preparation time chopping stuff. I never had lessons in how to do this – I just got stuck in with what needed to be done over the years and it all seemed to work okay. Especially as all ten fingers remain attached and intact.
But when watching cooking television, I’m always hugely impressed and intimidated by the speed and confidence with which chefs slice, dice and generally handle their knives. Every so often they offer a smattering of how-to-chop instruction when a celebrity guest gets involved but do you think I can remember it for application later on?
Last year a work colleague mentioned that she’d gotten a lot out of a Knife Skills course at the Waitrose Cookery School so this week I and eight others spent a day slicing and dicing above the John Barnes Waitrose store in North London.
It was a pretty packed day – we made:
- Minestrone – lots of vegetable chopping practice for this and quite tasty. (I’m not a soup kinda girl though so I gave mine to someone else to take home.)
- Roasted Chicken Breast and Thigh with a Chilli Jam and Vegetable Salad – which included jointing the chicken. I cannot wait to make the chilli jam. It was drizzled over thinly sliced fennel, cucumber and carrot. Super easy and delicious.
- Red Onion Chutney – I brought some home and, having eaten it with everything since, need to make some more.
- Sea Bass with Beetroot, Pink Grapefruit and Apple Salad – this was my favourite of the day. I am so excited to make this and also to try it out with mackerel.
We made everything on the day (except the Chilli Jam) under the tutelage of Chef Andy and his team and that included scaling, gutting and filleting the sea bass and jointing a whole chicken. It went by so fast and Andy made it look so easy but I’m a little worried about replicating some of this – namely the chicken jointing – at home. I mean there was a point when we were trying to locate the wishbone in the a**e end of the chicken…
Speaking of we, we worked through every task in pairs – so I made a new foodie friend – and the group got together a few times to eat our accomplishments with a glass of wine or two. We also got the instructions for making vegetable stock, as well as the fish-filleting and chicken-jointing steps we did on the day AND all of the recipes in a handy folder to take away.
So aside from some great recipes and a pot of Red Onion Chutney, here’s what I got:
1. The claw-in-training
At first this was difficult and awkward. The idea is to form a claw with the ‘holding hand’ by having the tops of your fingers perpendicular to the top of the item to be chopped and then leaning your knuckles forward so that the flat side of the knife brushes across them as you slice. I’ve seen telly chefs do this and explain it to their celebrity guests but this was the first time I’d had any instruction and the chance to practice. It works in conjunction with No. 2.
2. The ‘hang’ of the rolling chop
Again I’d heard about this and seen it on telly but I have been a chopper who has been doing all of the unsafe, bad things – exactly the opposite of what I should have been doing – for a really long time. So I had to concentrate on moving the knife away from me in a rolling motion instead of towards me in a straight saw-like action. It felt really odd but by the time I’d chopped two red onions (for our chutney), Brunoise-d an apple (it means fine dice peeps) for our entree as well as slicing and dicing a whole load of vegetables and garlic for the minestrone, I was starting to get the hang of it. I will have to keep practising.
And last but not least…
3. The Victory: I filleted a fish!!!!
This was THE big win for me and what drove me to do the course.
I love fish but I buy it in fillets. A fish knife has never crossed the Gidday threshold and in fact, I have never held a whole fish let alone done all of the grubby bits. Quite frankly, the thought of dealing with a fish in all its natural glory scared me. But I held that whole Sea Bass in my hands and scraped its scales into the sink. I pierced its underside, slitting its belly open to pull out the guts and drain the blood away. And then I sliced off a reasonably decent fillet and cooked it.
It was delicious. And I was so proud.
So that was my day: I learnt a thing or two, was inspired by some fabulous recipes, met some cool people and overcame a fear.
Oh and I still have all ten fingers.
Not bad for a Tuesday, eh?