When you cook, a good knife or set of knives is really important. And they must be sharp.
I learned this the hard way when I sliced my finger open trying to cut through a particularly tough sweet potato. It was there and then, I decided two things – to sharpen my knives properly and to go on a course to learn to proper knife skills.
I booked myself on to a course at the fabulous Leith’s School of Food and Wine in West London. When the day came, for some unknown reason, I was a bit nervous, but all nerves were swept away by the friendly staff and instructors.
They started the 3 1/2 hour course by running through the basics – explaining the names of the different knives, their usages, how to hold a knife properly and how to sharpen a knife. Did you know that you should ideally sharpen your knives at least once a week, if not more? Nope, me neither.
We then started off by dicing a celery, then went on to french frying and cubing potatoes and julienning carrots and leeks.
It was very eye opening to see how easy cutting vegetables could be – with the right technique. I had recently begun to rely on my food processor to slice and dice onions, garlic, peppers and herbs and since taking this course, I haven’t used it. I’ve become so much more precise (and faster!), so all the food prep needed for cooking is much easier now!
The instructor and her assistants walked around to make sure we were all using the right technique – an almost ‘rolling’ action with the knife in our dominant hand, pulling the knife up and cutting with a forward motion. Then repeating, without letting the tip of the knife leave the board. With the other hand, holding the vegetable with a claw like action, so that the tips of the fingers and nails are curled under and the knife is resting of the middle section of the fingers. Here’s a nice set of images demonstrating this technique with an onion.
We spent the second half of the course focusing on herbs and fruit. We learnt how to finely chop fresh herbs (the picture above is my attempt to finely chop chives, rosemary and parsley), as well as how to chiffonade big leafy herbs like basil.
The hardest part of the course was sectioning oranges to make nice little wedges with no pith on them. My poor attempts (that I didn’t bother to take a photograph of) show that this is clearly something that takes a lot of practice, so I have even more respect for the chefs and sous-chefs that produce such lovely orange wedges for breakfast buffets!
And best of all, we didn’t go home empty handed! We used the herbs to make a lovely herb & garlic butter, put the oranges wedges in caramel sauce and put together a tomato & basil salsa to take home to show our loved ones the fruits of our chopping efforts.
I can’t wait to take another course at Leith’s. It was such a wonderful and very practical experience, that ended very pleasantly with a lovely ploughman’s buffet lunch with lovely French wine.