Line Cook Tricks: part 1

You’ll get the finer points from other resources. Here are a few things that I see people screwing up on a regular basis that pros do all the time.

Your blender (probably) sucks.

Basically, consumer grade appliances are terrible. They are under-powered and over-priced garbage. If you do nothing else we discuss here, save you hard-earned cash for professional-grade tools if you do anything other than holiday cooking. The work of maintaining a scratch kitchen these days equates to professional usage in the age of microwave dinners and fast food.

Transfer:

If you’re to mix, such as with a whisk, double the size of the vessel relative to the contents.

Mixing utensils in order of the thickness of the liquid: whisk, paddles, hooks. The thicker the solution, the smaller the vessel it will tolerate for mixing.

Mix the oil on top of your peanut butter with a dough hook and a hand mixer.

If there’s a chance of wasting in a smooth-sided vessel, use a rubber spatula.

Liquids follows what interrupts their path. A chopstick on the rim of a bowl when pouring is a tool for aiming your pour.

Chopsticks are not just for eating sushi. They are immensely valuable in plating anything that benefits from precision. You can find long chopsticks designed for cooking as is common practice in many parts of Southeast Asia.

Silpat mats are indispensible! No more cooking spray on your sheet trays. Use them to make fruit leathers. Throw over-ripe bananas cut in half and skinned onto a silpat. They cook down into a delicious sugary caramel and chewy dried fruit. Clean-up only takes 1 minute with the silpat.

Nothing looks dumber than using a normal spatula on a griddle. Use the long, flat, wide kind, or try a 6″ taping knife. And be brave and shove it under the food with gusto like you’re shoving a table cloth under a place setting.

KNIVES:

Dimples are cute, but your knife doesn’t need them. Hands up, tips down (perpendicular to the table) if you want to minimize drag (by minimizing surface area). Hands parallel to the cutting board, tips facing forward if you want something to cling to your blade.

Harder to dull = harder to sharpen. Easier to dull = easier to sharpen. How much maintenance can you live with? Now, go buy a knife. Past what feels good and what you can afford, that’s the decision you need to make.

You can hone a knife on anything. I use the spine of another knife in a pinch or the rough underside of a porcelain plate.

You’d have to be high to cut high-acid foods with a high-carbon knife.

Nobody needs a tournee knife. You should probably get an oyster knife, because not having one and needing one is just dangerous.

HEAT:

Using wooden skewers? Soak your skewers. Only a fool puts wood in fire and expects something other than ashes.

If you intend to sear, you must get HOT. A warm surface sticks. A HOT surface cauterizes and then sears. Carbon is a lubricant; create carbon if you wish for your protein to release.

Furthermore, the protein must be DRY. Pat the meat dry, rub in salt, set it down, walk away. This especially goes for scallops, but keep an eye on them. They’re sneaky little bastards.

You only cook as hot as your conductor. Water boils at 212. Oils retain quite a bit more heat. We sear with oil.

Use dry towels for hot things. Steam burns suck. Ask your barista.

Add a splash of water and cover the pan to heat quickly and evenly.

EGGS:

Want eggs to cook faster? Cook them from room temp. More importantly, a “6 minute egg” is 6 mins from room temp, not from your frigidaire.

Add yolk to, hell, nearly anything. Throw one into your pasta. Whisk some into any cream-based sauce.

Clarify stock with your left over whites. They even make a tasty snack after straining if you dare.

MEAT:

Buy turkeys when they’re cheap. 

I thaw the birds and debone them, then they freeze in one flat layer like a meat blanket. Slice down the back, cut shoulder joints, peel the back meat and breasts down like taking off a meat sweater. Dislocate and cut hip joints, and scrape the meat off the bones and cut around joints. Remove breast fillets. Use a dry towel to grab ligaments and scrape them away from the meat with a knife. Takes about 2-3 minutes per bird with some practice. Then brown the bones and start your stock.

Save the fat.

Chill your stock. Skim the fat off the top of your chilled stock. Heat the skimmed fat and when it stops bubbling, filter it through a coffee filter. Waste not, want not. If you are cooking stock or another fat-generating dish without rendering your fat, I feel bad for you. This is one of frugal living’s great pleasures.

Low & Slow

Throw meat in a crock pot with any kind of marinade and it will probably be good. This trick never gets old. It saved mom’s behind more than a few times when you were a kid, and you never knew the difference.

London Broil

If sirloin is the poor man’s filet, and the filet is the poor man’s waygu, then the London broil is the poor man’s “hey, it’s steak.” This cut is always dirt cheap compared to the rest of the beef, the cuts are massive, and if you take your steak medium rare, you’ll love it! If you’re running a crematorium, you’ll end up with a shoe, but then that’s probably what you deserve, peasant.

Other: 

No, you are probably not a chef. Calling yourself a home chef is about as lame as forming a single-member LLC and calling yourself the CEO. Just stop.

Coming Soon Part 2: Veg, Tofu, Rice, and other assorted hippie chow.

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