Friday, March 05, 2010

Weapons of Choice

I posted this today over on Chef Talk but though I would also add it here. I will try to remember to add some pictures.


My previous career was in metal casting and I have a BS in metallurgical engineering. My perspective on knives may be a little different than everyone else's since I approach it from a metal and engineering view rather than a culinary view. Probably not right but some things I just can't shake.

In my opinion, a forged knife is hands down the best knife, ignoring brands, styles, size, etc. Of the forged knives I am a big fan of pattern welded steel often erroneously referred to as Damascus steel. Forging gives a knife wonderful strength, elasticity and crystal alignment that can't be done by stamping. The advantage of a pattern welded knife is that two or more different metals are forged together. At a microscopic level this gives a serrated edge with wonderful sharpness that in a sense re-sharpens itself as the edge wears since the different metals wear at different rates. My third favorite knife and quickly becoming my number one favorite is the sintered powder metal knife. Like the pattern welded knife it creates a microscopic serrated edge as it wears so it is brilliantly sharp. The fact that it is sintered allows for the use of some higher tech metals that are not available any other way.

I am opposed to buying a knife kit as I believe in buying the best knife for the job that is in my budget. My first knife was a Lamson-Sharp 10" Chef's Knife. GREAT knife. My only regret is that is isn't longer, but I didn't know that at the time. It's forged and made in the US. It didn't really come into its own until I began sharpening it myself with my two sided water stone and put a slightly narrower angle of edge on it. I use this knife every day in school and at home.

My second knife was a
Nenohi Nenox G-Type Petty 5.9" (15cm) as I wanted to try one of the Japanese knives. This is a PM made knife and has an edge that boggles my mind. Some days I use this knife more than my chef's knife because it cuts so well and feels so good I don't want to put it down. This Japanese knife is a little harder to sharpen but once you get your technique down, it isn't a problem. One thing I learned from both of these knives is that sharpening them yourself will give you a better, sharper edge that lasts longer than what you got out of the box.

Third knife wa
s a Ittosai Stain-Resistant Layered Steel Santoku 6.4" (16.5cm) as I wanted to try this new to me style and it was a pattern welded knife I could afford. Great knife but not as good as the other two. I really have not bonded well with this style but if I want to cut thin slices of onion, tomato or potatoes, this is a good one to use. But it normally stays at home rather than at school. Sharpness and edge retention is in between the Lamson and the Nenohi.

Next knife was a Glestain salmon slicer. I rarely use or require this knife but when I do, there is nothing better. Very sharp out of the box and I have not sharpened it yet. I am a little nervous about sharpening a 12" blade. Not sure as a culinary student when or if you would need to purchase one of these, definitely not at my school. It was a celebratory reward for myself.

Last knife I bought was a Misono Hankotsu for ripping up chickens. This was my first venture into single sided Japanese knives. This is a very heavy and menacing looking knife. Makes me feel like I should join the French Foreign Legion. While the edge out of the box is sharp, it isn't very good. It is not consistently sharp along the length of the edge. As before I think that sharpening this knife myself will get the maximum performance out of it. I just have not done it yet. I have to watch my DVD on sharpening first since I have never sharpened a single sided knife before.

For honing I use an F.Dick flat multi cut steel and highly recommend it. I don't do the razzle dazzle knife honing routine that every cook does. I think it is BS. I slowly pull the knife, at the proper angle, along the full length of the knife across the steel. After each pass I feel for a burr with my fingernail. If the burr moves to the other side then I hone that side. If I don't feel a burr on either side I don't bother honing the knife. I can usually hone a knife with three or four slow passes, though a knife that was used hard may need a few more. I hone them in the morning and then forget about it.

My recommendation for a first time purchase is to buy a good but not great nor cheap chef's knife, middle of the road. In my opinion, hands down, the Japanese steel is superior. But there is nothing wrong with the other's either. I highly recommend Lamson Sharp. Wustoff and Henckels are good too, but I would be sure they are forged. I have not been impressed with Dexter. Messermeister is better than Dexter. Regardless, this is a learning knife to learn technique, beat on, mess up sharpening, break the tips, etc. You won't be out much. Even an old Chicago knife is a good starter. Stay away from the cheap stamped Chinese crap. I don't like metal handles like Global but I think that is more of an individual preference, they are good knives. Buy a good steel and learn to use it. Buy at least a two sided stone and learn to use it, especially correct edge angle. I don't like oil at all but that is probably a personal preference. Do not ever ever ever rely on or use one of those pull sharpeners like fishermen use or an electric sharpener. Nothing will ruin your knife faster.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

I'm going fish fish, fish fish, fish fish fishing again...

After we finished with our tribute to Eire, Chef gathered class around to tell us that the next day we had someone coming in to talk to us about a trip to Italy in September. One of the other schools in the area goes every two years or so and Chef is tired of us being the orphaned step-child and wants to start having us have the same opportunity to go. There would be some sightseeing and and also some cooking school. Sounds awesome even though I don't like Italian food. For the others it would definitely be good resume padding. Mayfield kept interrupting with a bunch of question, how much? When? What is the program? Where? Finally I had to interrupt. "You know, I bet that is what the guy is going to tell you tomorrow." I'm so smart. Bunch of undisciplined, attention challenged, disrespectful people.

Afterward it was time for our Nutrition class. I had set out a piece of salmon last week but then school was cancelled and it had sat for a week in the walk in. I threw it out and started over. I did learn that the vacuum sealed fish is supposed to be thawed out unwrapped, not in the vacuum sealed package. Something about the meat gassing off.

I had not done fish yet for this class, and we all should eat more fish, so I checked with my client and it turns out she LOVES salmon. That settled it, barbecued salmon. I have not had barbecued salmon before but my niece raves about it. It is one of three foods she will eat. She was very disappointed when she came to visit and we took her to Herb's to experience true southe'n BBQ that salmon was not an option. I think it is a Midwest thing.

I received mixed advice on how to grill the salmon. Chef said he sears the outside and finishes it off in the oven. I did indeed use this technique. Another instructor told me to soak the salmon in milk, but of course that was not an option for my client. I didn't bother making a barbecue sauce from scratch. I heard once that 75% of all restaurants use Cattlemen's sauce as their own or as a base to make their own. I used some Bull's Eye that we had but added Worcestershire, honey and apple cider vinegar. I lightly marinated the filet for maybe a half hour before throwing it on the grill. I basted it a few times. I tried very hard not to over cook it but it zoomed past 145°F so fast after I had pulled it, even though I pulled it early. I wasn't too worried because I believe that most people are used to eating overcooked salmon as restaurants play it safe.

I combined a presentation and a vegetable by placing the salmon on a bed of roasted vegetables. I had intended to use yellow squash, egg plant and zucchini but discovered at the last minute that all of the yellow squash had been used up that morning. I subbed red bell pepper instead. Tossed everything in olive oil, grilled them then finished off the vegetables in the pan with the fish in the oven. I cut the veggies into strips after they were cooked. I have a very sharp knife so that was not hard to do. Because my client wanted her plate to go, I was not worried about losing heat or any of the food being cold.

For dessert I went as basic as I could get, an ounce each of fresh blueberries, strawberries and blackberries layered into a parfait with vanilla soy yogurt. I put a pinch of raw sugar on top just for effect. Wendy City loved it so much she wanted the recipe. Take that Sandra Lee!

I named my menu the Superfoods because it was loaded in nutrients.

My compadres were making oatmeal burgers. I have a reputation in my class for being a pure carnivore. It isn't true, I do like vegetables. Even more so fruit. But I have a reputation to maintain no matter how false, and it is a fun reputation to have. Most people thought I wouldn't make the oatmeal burgers because of my anti-veggie reputation. Not so. Chef said the times he has had them they tasted just like a real hamburger. My client does not, will not, eat red meat. There was no way, no how, I was serving her a food that is like red meat. You should never make your client vomit because of your food. I had to argue this point with Mayfield. He said there was no red meat in the burger so what was the problem. Sometimes it just is not worth arguing.

Unfortunately Chef couldn't find a third of the vegan ingredients for the oatmeal burgers so they had to make some substitutions. New Girl almost vomited I think after she tasted one. I had a big piece and the flavor really was not bad. The texture was awful though. Just a nasty mush. Baby food has better body than these burgers. I had planned on making a black bean burger this week, but after tasting these I changed my mind. I LOVE LOVE LOVE Morningstar Farms (formerly Worthington Foods as in Worthington OH, my hometown) spicy black bean burgers, but they are made with textured vegetable protein (TVP). Without TVP I had my doubts of making a successful black bean burger. Today I noticed that in my recipes I have a black bean burger recipe that I have made, I just forgot. Looking at my notes today, I see I commented on the texture and mush mouth feel of the burger.

I watched everybody plate up. I feel good working with Tennessee. He was making an orange sorbet and wanted something green to garnish it with. Naturally we didn't have any mint. My brain went to working and I came up with using some zest from a lime. He liked my idea, made me feel good. Mayfield on the other hand did not like my questioning his plate. Yes, your oatmeal burger is healthy and nutritious, but serving two of them isn't really a healthy concept. Can we say portion control? RK was looking for some A1 sauce for his. Blech! I never use that stuff. He asked if my Bull's Eye barbecue sauce was the same. My eyes glazed over. Then I noticed a half sheet of what looked like under cooked potato wedges. I called out, "what kind of chips are these?" I thought they might be jicama chips or yucca chips which is something I wanted to do. "Thems is just baked taters," RK replies. Yeah? Your pre-diabetic client is going to love those. If only she knew that RK NEVER EVER washes his hands. I don't eat anything he cooks.