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Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2007 02:38 am

Tricks are for cooks

ItÂ’s never too late to learn new shortcuts in the kitchen

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Untitled Document Time flies when you’re chopping chives; this year makes 10 since I received my blue-ribbon diploma from cooking school. It was there that I learned, among many other things, how to bone a quail, make a sauce, and cook eggs in more ways than I cared to know. Ten years hence, I’ve not boned another quail, and I’ve left my egg-coddling skills somewhere along the side of the road with my boning knife. As much as I appreciate my culinary education, I am not the cook I am today because I know how to butcher 80 lobsters or the difference between a beurre maniО and a roux (raw versus cooked). I am that cook because of the boot-camp-like intensity of a commercial kitchen, which instilled a do-or-die sense of purpose and confidence and forced me to acquire the organizational and time-management skills of a CEO. And I am that cook — simply put — because of the tricks learned along the way, the things not found in textbooks but passed on from those who have been around the chopping block a few more times than I have. Despite what the commercial says, tricks are not for kids; they’re for cooks, and they’re indispensable to getting things done in time, whether you’re cooking for 80 or for your brood on a school night. Tricks also make you feel smart and competent, which inevitably makes your food great, wins you praise, and makes you hungry to learn more. A bag of kitchen tricks is like a pot of . . . gold. Take, for instance, peeling ginger. How the heck do you peel that knobby, tough-skinned beast without losing a year of your life — or the tip of your thumb? One word: teaspoon. Cut off the hunk you need, and simply peel away with a spoon, which saves time, body parts, and the root itself.
Chopping fresh basil without its turning black is another stumper. Pile those fragile leaves into a little pillow, roll them up into a cigar shape, then gently cut on the diagonal. This method, called chiffonade, yields still-green shreds rather than unsightly bruised leaves. And one for the road: Transform boring boiled potatoes into sublime spuds simply by salting the water and shaking them in a pot when done. The starch that’s released, combined with some butter or oil, yields a creamy sort of sauce and gives potatoes a new lease on life. I don’t know much about dogs, but it’s never too late to teach an old cook new tricks.
Culinary questions? Contact Kim O’Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.
M.F.K. Fisher’s “Shook Potatoes”
Adapted from West Coast Cooking, by Greg Atkinson
2 pounds red or yellow thin-skinned potatoes (four    to six medium potatoes; estimate two per person) 6 cups water 1 teaspoon salt 4 tablespoons fat (unsalted butter cut into half-inch    dice, or olive oil, or a combination thereof) 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, chives, or both Black pepper to taste Salt to taste
Scrub the potatoes and cut them in half, if necessary. Place in a heavy saucepan with water and salt. Cover the pot and cook on high heat until water is boiling; lower heat to a simmer. Cook potatoes until very fork-tender, about 20 minutes, and remove them from heat. Drain most of the water by tilting the pan over the sink. Leave a little cooking liquid in the pan (just enough to cover the bottom). Add butter/oil, chopped herbs, and salt and pepper. Shake pan vigorously to break up potatoes and combine them with the other ingredients. Serve hot. Makes two or three side-dish servings.
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