Kitchen Knife Use & Mise en place
5.03: Mise en place
Mise en place (MEEZ ahn plahs) is a French term for having all your ingredients measured, cut, peeled, sliced, grated, etc. before you start cooking. Pans are prepared. Mixing bowls, tools and equipment set out. It is a technique that chefs use to assemble meals so quickly and effortlessly.
Practicing mise en place has several benefits:
Any missing ingredients can be spotted before it's too late for a quick trip to the store or your neighbor next door.
Special preparation for ingredients -- such as toasting nuts, letting certain ingredients come to room temperature, etc. -- can be handled BEFORE cooking rather than in the midst of another preparation step when time delays may affect food quality.
There is time to clean the mixing area as you go along rather than face a counter full of mixing equipment when you're done.
You can group ingredients or place them in the order used to assure all recipe steps are included.
It makes complicated recipes more fun to prepare when you're no longer doing a juggling act, trying to complete several tasks simultaneously.
5.04: Measuring Ingredients Properly
Baking is a science and it requires all the precision you would expect when doing a chemical experiment. Your ingredient measurements have to be precise to get the chemical reactions you need and to score that perfect, consistent result every time.
It may sound obvious, but the key to successful cooking and baking is to always measure the ingredients carefully. Here are some helpful measuring tips.
Dry ingredients (like flour and sugar) should be measured using flat-cup measures. Ingredients should be level. Running the back of a flat-bladed knife across the surface is a good way to do this.
Spoon measures must be measured with the correct sized spoons. A level spoon is essential.
Liquid ingredients should be measured in jugs. Set the jug on a flat surface and check at eye level.
5.05: Knife Skills
A Chef's knife is the single most important tool in any kitchen and is used in the creation of virtually every dish. A sharp knife means more control and less slippage when you cut, leading to safer, more consistent slices. Beginning cooks might not know how versatile a knife can become in the hands of a professional chef. It doesn’t take long to start learning these skills. The following list are the six most common cuts used by chefs.
1. Mincing: Gives chefs finely cut chunks of an ingredient such as onions, garlic, or squash. The proper mincing technique varies slightly depending on the ingredient, but cooks can adjust their techniques easily when encountering new foods.
To mince garlic, use a knife with a thin, sharp blade. Cut the garlic into strips, running from the head to the root. Turn the strips at a 90-degree angle and cut them into small pieces.
2. Chopping: A versatile technique that works well with a chef knife or a cleaver. Hold the cleaver’s handle securely and place your other hand on the top, dull side of the blade. This lets you control the cleaver easily so that you can create large or medium chop sizes.
3. Dicing: A subcategory of the chopping technique. The major difference is that dicing creates small chunks. Chefs can use smaller knives for this technique, although experts could still dice with cleavers.
4. Julienning: Creates long, thin strips. This technique is most commonly associated with cutting vegetables, but chefs can translate the skill into techniques used when preparing ingredients such as fish, meat, and cheese. To julienne properly, use your middle, ring, and pinkie fingers to grasp the top of a chef knife’s handle. Your forefinger should rest on one side of the blade while your thumb provides support from the other side. Use the knife to cut off four sides of the ingredient. This will create a block that is easy to work with. Now, cut the ingredient into uniform, lengthwise sections. Do not “chop” straight down. Instead use a rocking motion that allows the knife’s blade to move easily through the vegetable or other ingredient. Stack the sections on top of each other and use the same technique to cut them again. This should produce long, slender cuts of the ingredient.
5. Chiffonade: “Chiffonade” is a French word that means “made of rags.” Chefs primarily use the style when cutting herbs such as basil or mint. To chiffonade basil leaves, stack the leaves on top of each other and roll them into a tube. It should look like a green cigar.
6. Diagonal: A simple Chinese cooking technique that can be used with many vegetables. Cutting vegetables on the diagonal exposes more of the vegetable's surface area to the heat. Besides making the vegetable cook more quickly, it allows it to absorb more of the sauces and seasonings it is cooked with.
Use an extremely sharp knife to cut the leaves using the same rocking motion from the julienne section. This will create short shreds of the herb, making it perfect for adding flavor to dishes.
These basic knife skills can make cooking easier and safer. Learning how to use them properly is an essential step for every chef.
5.06: How to Hold a Knife
The cutting hand, which grips the knife, has the star turn, but the other hand is an important supporting player. That helping hand holds, nudges and stabilizes the ingredient being cut, to maximize safety and efficiency.
For the knife grip used by most chefs, the palm of the hand chokes up on the handle, while the thumb and index finger grip the top of the blade. This is different from how many home cooks hold a knife, by wrapping the entire hand around the handle. The chef’s grip has evolved that way for a reason: it’s the most efficient way to use the weight of the knife, the sharpness of its blade, and the strength of your arms, which makes for the easiest cutting.
The Helping Hand
The ideal position for the helping hand is called the bear claw, with the fingertips curled under and knuckles pressing down on the ingredient to keep it from rolling or sliding. It may feel odd, but it’s the safest place for your fingertips to be in relation to the cutting blade. Alternatively, bunch your fingertips together and rest the pads on top of the ingredient.
In a perfect world, while the hand that is holding the knife moves forward and back to cut, the helping hand moves across in even increments, creating perfect slices. (Do not despair; this takes practice and is hardly a requirement for home cooks.)
Tips for your Grips
Overall, the best way to handle a knife is the way that feels safest to you. Here are a few principles to live by:
• The knife handle shouldn’t be held in a death grip: try to relax hands and wrists and let the blade do the cutting.
• Position all 10 fingers so it’s virtually impossible for the blade to cut them.
• The hand holding the knife should be gripping the blade as well as the handle.
• The knife moves in a rocking motion, from front to back, as well as up and down.
• The knife should be at the same height or just below your elbows, so that the whole upper body, not just the hands, can put downward pressure on the knife.
Six Knife Safety Tips:
Use a sharp knife.
Choose the right knife for the task.
Keep your knives clean.
Store your knives correctly.
Know the proper cutting techniques.
Pay attention to what you are cutting.
5.07: Review/Critical Thinking
Please complete the following questions. It is important that you use full sentences and present the questions and answers when you submit your work.
Go to the Assessment area in the course to complete the assignment Review and Critical Thinking and submit the work as a file attachment.
The answers to the Review and Critical Thinking Questions are worth 10 points.
5.08: Cooking Assignment #5
You are to make one of the following:
*Please Note: You are just making the meringue. This assignment does NOT require you to do anything further with the meringue. If you choose to make them into cookies, add it as a topping to a pie, etc., I will give you 10 extra credit points!
This assignment will NOT be graded on presentation so please do not worry if your final product does not turn out perfectly. The goal for you on this assignment is to TRY YOUR BEST! At a minimum, you should take pictures of: (1) the ingredients prior to cooking, (2) a picture demonstrating a preparation or cooking technique, and (3) the completed product/dish. When you're finished, write a brief description of the techniques you used to prepare the dish. Write a separate paragraph evaluating the results. Include any problems you encountered and how you overcame them. It is ideal to put everything into ONE document/presentation. Submit in the Assessments area.
5.09: Module 5 Quiz
Before you take the quiz for this unit take a moment to review what you have learned.
When you feel that you are ready to complete the Module 5 Quiz, Kitchen Knife Use & Mise en place, click HERE.