Adventures with food and becoming a chef. That’s what the tagline says, but I haven’t talked much about school since the julienne practice session with carrots. Sometimes I’ll start out a post with stories about class, then decide that it’s irrelevant and too long-winded, so I end up cutting the whole thing. Today, I’d like to shine the spotlight on school by sharing the techniques I’ve learned in the last month, namely knife-skills.
Someday, I might make a few videos about knife safety and cutting methods, but for today’s post I’ll do my best to visually and verbally describe them.
This is a twist on a Thai-style curry with coconut milk, but uses in-season produce here in Vermont. When cooked, delicata squash has a similar texture and taste to pumpkin, but in general it’s just a bit more…well, delicate. The skin of a delicata is much softer than a standard pumpkin’s and you don’t need to remove it before cooking. The beautiful romanesco adds just a shimmer of color and contributes to the heartiness of this dish, while the apples lend a surprising sweetness to contrast the savory squash.
This entry got pretty long, so I’m going to post the full recipe up-front, along with the directions. If you’re interested in the knife-skills portion, just keep reading!
2 tbsp Coconut Oil
1 Shallot, diced small
1 Chili pepper (I used an Anaheim), diced small
2 Dried, Kaffir lime leaves
1 Knob of ginger (about 1 inch long), minced
1 tsp Turmeric
1 tsp Garam masala
2 Delicata squash (about 1.5 lbs), sliced into 1/4″ thick half-rings
1 Small head Romanesco broccoli (about 11 oz), separated into florets
1/2 cup Vegetable stock
1, 13.5 oz can coconut milk
1 Small apple (I used a honeycrisp, 5 oz), peeled, cored, and sliced.
1 tsp Kosher salt
In a heavy-bottomed pot, heat the coconut oil over med-high. Add the shallots and cook for about 2 minutes, or until soft. Add the chili and cook another minute and a half before adding the ginger, turmeric, garam masala, and lime leaves. Toss together and cook for 2 minutes to soften the lime leaves. Add the squash, romanesco, and vegetable broth and let steam for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the coconut milk, stir, cover, and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 10 minutes, then remove the lid, add the apples slices, and stir to combine. Replace the lid, and simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Season with salt and serve with basmati rice.
Knife Skills and Prep
To prepare the delicata, use a paring knife to cut off the ends, then using a large chef’s knife, slice the squash in half length-wise.
The easiest way to remove the seeds is to use a melon-baller. The edges of the melon-baller are sharpened and give you a cleaner scoop than a spoon.
Once you’ve scooped out all of the seeds, lay the squash cut-side down and cut into 1/4″ slices. The finished product will look like crescent moons.
Set these aside in a bowl and prepare the romanesco.
Romanesco broccoli is a beautiful example of math meets Mother Nature. It’s one of the few examples of naturally occurring fractals.
Your paring knife is the perfect precision tool to isolate individual florets. Hold the handle of the knife in the palm of your hand and curl your fingers into a fist around it. The sharpened edge of the blade should be pointing toward your thumb. This grip allows you complete control of the blade while preventing any slips.
Carefully slice through the base of each floret with the paring knife, then gently pull the floret away from the rest of the head. Continue in this way until only the top portion of the broccoli remains.
Because you want the florets to be more or less equal in size, and because the closer to the top of the broccoli you get, the smaller the florets, eventually you’ll be left with one large floret. Just cut it in half so it’s closer in size to the other pieces.
Set these aside with the squash.
Up next is the chili. I found a red Anaheim chili at my local co-op and used it for the color and size, rather than the heat. If you want a spicier curry, you’ll include the seeds of the chili.
Using your paring knife, nip off the top and bottom of the chili, then slice it in half length-wise.
To remove the veins of the chili, use the fist-grip on the paring knife and run the tip of the knife around the edge of the cut pepper. For tricky veins directly down the middle, lay the knife flat against the pepper and carefully run the length of the vein to remove it.
Once your peppers are nice and clean, slice each half length-wise in to matchstick-sized pieces. This is the julienne. Once you’ve julienned the pepper, gather the pieces into a tight pile and cut across them to create a fine dice. This is known as a brunoise.
To dice the shallots, start by peeling them. Shallots are prepared like onions on a smaller scale. They have a root end, the point at which all of the layers are connected, and a growth end that tapers off at the top. Start by removing both ends.
To get a fine-diced shallot, take one of these halves and position the root-end away from you. With your hands positioned on top of the shallot (no cut fingers!), slice horizontally through the growth end, toward the root.
After you’ve sliced both shallots this way, score into the shallot to create a series of cross-cut.
Then just dice.
Last, but not least, the ginger. Ginger is surprising easy to peel with a paring knife. Just use the dull edge of your blade to scrape away at the dark skin.
Now that the ginger is peeled, it’s time to tackle the slicing.
Ginger root has tiny fibers that run the length of the root. They’re a pain to pick out of your teeth, but there is a way to avoid them altogether. The very first step to mincing ginger is to cut very thin disks across these fibers and eliminate the possibility of stringy bits sneaking in. After you slice the whole knob into disks, grip your chef’s knife firmly in your dominant hand, with your thumb and forefinger steadying the blade. Your other hand will also be used to steady the knife. Place your open palm near the front edge of the blade, and using a rocking motion, guide the knife in short, steady chops, over the pile of ginger.
A big thank you to Anden for all of the action shots! His close-ups were awesome and this post would not be possible without him.