Staying sharp in the kitchen

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The best way I know to separate an egg, after trying many others, involves nothing but the most important tool you have in the kitchen — your hands.

I don’t remember where I learned it, just that it was many years ago and has been my favored technique ever since. It works like this:

Using scrupulously clean hands, as they always should be when you’re working in the kitchen, crack the egg on a flat surface, open the shell and dump the raw egg into one bare hand, cupped palm up over the bowl you’ll collect the whites in. Slightly part a couple of fingers, the white will slip right through, and the cleanly separated, unbroken yolk is dropped into a second bowl.

Another words about eggs: Check the end-of-carton date to be certain you’re getting fresh ones. While eggs last a long time in the fridge, their quality deteriorates, they lose much of their flavor and color, and the yolks become very fragile, to the point that it’s almost impossible to flip frying eggs without breaking them.

The separating trick is a small thing, but it makes cooking easier, and so, more pleasurable.

There are a lot of such tips I’ve used for years, and don’t normally think about. But I’ve been taking notes, because I think you’ll find at least some of them useful in your own kitchen.

Opening oysters — On those special occasions when you treat yourself or guests to fresh raw oysters on the half-shell, don’t bother to buy an oyster knife to crack them. Holding the oyster securely in a dishrag or towel, flat-shell up, shove the tip of an old-fashioned “church key” can opener into the hinge, twist it, and the shell will almost always open easily.

Good gravy — You can get different finishes on pan gravy and other sauces, depending on which thickener you choose. Flour will leave the sauce with a smooth matte finish; cornstarch gives it a bit of translucence. Always mix the starch with a little water or broth before whisking into the sauce (helps prevent lumps).

Mise en place You don’t need to remember the French cooking phrase, but it’s a good idea to practice what it describes: having everything in its place before you start cooking. This is what you see on most cooking shows. Get all of your ingredients together (to avoid discovering that you’re out of something while in the middle of a dish), measure those that need it into small dishes or plastic storage containers, slice or chop those that need it, and otherwise prepare everything you need for the dish. Then start cooking.

Be keen — More pleasure is taken out of cooking, and more danger put into it, than anything else by trying to use a dull knife. Invest in at least one quality chef’s knife, keep it sharp, and touch it up on a sharpening steel between grindings. This is the rough metal rod chefs hold while deftly stroking it with a knife’s edge. Remember, the steel won’t actually sharpen a knife; it merely knocks microscopic burrs off the edge that develop with routine use to restore an already sharp edge. Wash your good knife by hand, dry it thoroughly and store it in a knife block or alone in a separate silverware trough. Letting it bang around with other tools in a drawer will knock the edge off faster than cutting on a porcelain plate or a glass cutting board.

Stink fingers — Although it works as advertised, one of the most needless cookware gadgets is the “magic” odor remover. After cutting onions or garlic or anything else with stank, you rub this over your fingers under cold running water to kill the smell. It’s just an overpriced bar of stainless steel, and there’s plenty of that in your kitchen. Easiest choice: With the edge pointing away from you, rub your fingers over the side of a knife blade to rinse away the reek.

Claustrophobia — My kitchen’s about the size of a motor-home galley, with virtually no countertop space. I’ve gotten used to resting a cutting board on an open top drawer, and sometimes even setting up the ironing board outside the kitchen door, for additional work surfaces.

Smashed — Another waste of good cash is the garlic peeler. The most common one is nothing more than a rubber tube in which you put a garlic clove and roll it back and forth on a work surface to rub off the paper skin. Just do this: Put a garlic clove on your cutting board, lay the side of your knife blade on it and smack it with your fist. Then you need do little more that pick up the smashed clove by a piece of the skin, give it a little shake, and the stripped clove falls free.

Touch your meat — With a little practice, you can judge your steaks’ degree of doneness by using the thumb and fingers of one hand. Open one hand, relaxed, and press the hand muscle at the base of its thumb with the forefinger of your other hand. The spongy feel is a very good approximation of how a rare steak feels. Lightly touch the thumb and index finger of that hand, and the ball of the thumb will feel like medium-rare. Thumb and middle finger for medium; thumb and ring finger, medium-well; and thumb to pinky, well-done.

Ric Bohy is editor of Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
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