Wednesday, December 15, 2010

It's official! I slice, I dice, I chop... julienne, bâtonnet, paysanne...

Many innocent potatoes, onions and carrots gave their all in a supreme effort to to aid me to master the art of putting blade to root. I now possess knife skills beyond the ordinary man's, able to transform ordinary vegetables with classic French knife cuts and whole chickens into expensive parts.

I never learned how to get a knife so sharp it will split a hair, like in the cartoons, but still they're a lot better than they were. I suppose getting them to that level involves a $200 whetstone and a lot of time on the fine stone.

Buying cut-up chicken is now a thing of the past. I buy whole chickens and cut them into all kinds of fascinating shapes. Lollipops, oysters, tenders, breasts, half breasts, galantines, ballotines, carcass for stock, drumsticks, thighs, boneless dark meat for all kinds of things (tacos, Asian, kebabs...).

Funny, but there are at least three ways to de-bone a chicken. Our instructor makes a lot of precise cuts. Jacques Pepin makes very few cuts, and basically rips the chicken apart with his bare hands while maintaining all the major pieces intact. Martin Yan is just a blur, but he seems to be making a lot of cuts in with some ripping of his own.

Watching TV chefs de-bone chickens is interesting. The fastest is supposedly Martin Yan, who can "de-bone" a chicken in under 20 seconds. His technique is blindingly fast, but he talks about for about two minutes before his attack, thereby negating whatever advantage he might have started with (kind of like the Tortoise and the Hare, I thought to myself). I put de-bone in quotes because the wings and thighs still have their bones intact. He does have boneless breasts - I'm not sure about the tenders. He also uses a Chinese cleaver to do the work - but he's still slicing, not chopping.

At another table, representing fine French tradition, is Jacques Pepin. The man is a real artist - he takes over a minute, but does it while he's talking and the chicken truly is boneless - legs, wings, everything.  Jacques then goes on to show how to stuff the boneless bird, truss it and prepare it for roasting.

 I tried two of the methods (I can't even see what Martin Yan does; it's all a blur). The school method runs 5-7 minutes using a boning knife. The Pepin method took about 9 minutes using a boning knife and a chef's knife. Eventually, the Pepin method looks like it might prove to be faster once I don't have to stop to watch the video - and with less chance of cutting myself, too. Although it's much more visceral with all the flesh ripping, joint popping and bone breaking action.

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