Cook Food Good

American Cooking and Technique for Beginners and Intermediates

AND AFTER THE COOKBOOK – Quotations of Chairman Boar

Posted on | September 24, 2010 | No Comments

The Five Inevitable Stages of
Any Cooperative Human Endeavor For Which You Are Not The Boss

1.    Wild enthusiasm;
2.    Complete chaos;
3.    Search for the guilty
4.    Persecution of the innocent; and
5.    Promotion of the incompetent.

Chairman Boar

Pecan and Bacon-Pecan Waffles

Posted on | September 20, 2010 | 1 Comment

These waffles evolved from a very simple pancake recipe I developed to help my kids learn to cook.  We called that recipe “1, 1, 1,” because there was one of everything:  1 cup of flour, 1 cup of milk, 1 egg, 1 tsp of baking powder, and so on.  At the same time, my mother-in-law liked “hearty” pancakes with a variety of home ground flours and other additions that were tasty but incredibly heavy.  My son had a big thing for the “bacon-bit” waffles served by a local coffee shop, more for the little crunchy surprise than the bacon itself.  Well, they all came together.  A light recipe with a little corn meal for taste and texture, pecans instead of bacon, and very simple proportions.


•    1-1/2 cup flour
•    1-1/2 tbs corn meal
•    1-1/2 tsp double acting baking powder
•    1 pinch baking soda
•    1 tbs sugar
•    2 cups (about) buttermilk
•    1 tbs molasses
•    2 eggs
•    2 tbs melted butter
•    2 tsp vanilla extract
•    1/4 cup chopped pecans
•    Optional 2 – 4 tbs crumbled, crisp bacon

We all have our favorite waffle makers.  My favorite is a Belgian style iron, because the extra surface area you get with the deep indentations, gives a crisp texture that contrasts nicely with the slight grit from the corn meal.  Also, Belgian waffles, for some unknown reason, seem lighter.

Stove top waffle irons are very, very cool.   So are their pricey, electric, commercial brethren.  You know, the ones you have to turn over.

Preheat your electric waffle iron until hot.  If using an “over the burner” iron, preheat over medium heat.

Optional: Meanwhile, cut across a couple of slices (aka “rashers”) of regular, American style, smoked “streaky bacon,” into 1″ wide slices.  Put a very little oil in a cold skillet.  Put it over a medium fire, add the bacon slices, and cook them slowly, stirring occasionally, until crisp.  Drain on a paper towel until cool.  Crumble and reserve for the waffle batter.

After the iron is hot, grease it if necessary (recipe has enough butter to be fairly “non-stick” on its own).

Measure the flour, baking powder, and soda, mix with a fork, then sift into a bowl.  Add the corn meal, sugar and pecans (and crumbled bac0n), then mix with a fork.  In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and incorporate the buttermilk.  Add the melted butter, then the  vanilla and mix.  Add the liquid ingredients to the dry, and mix with a French wire whisk until smooth.

Measure and pour the batter on the iron as appropriate for the iron.  Waffles are done when steam production slows dramatically.

Remove waffle from iron and serve traditionally, with butter and syrup.  Real maple syrup is absolutely magic with the corn and pecans, but you can use what you like.  Garnish with fruit,  best bacon, and if you’re feeling very self-indulgent, a poached egg.


PS.  This recipe is great for plain waffles too.

Potato Pancakes – Theme and Variation

Posted on | September 20, 2010 | 2 Comments

Nothing Says "Latkes" Like Bogie

Potato pancakes.  Yum.

The three names, from Yiddish, German and Danish respectively, highlight a universe of alternatives which are perhpas not so alternative.  No matter what you call them, the proportions are more or less the same.  A few of the techniques differ depending on whether the pancakes are grated or ground.  And ahhh, the alternative ingredient choices which allow you to express your individuality or tweak the pancakes in order to best match the other dishes of your dinner, or just to tickle your fancy.

There is no law requiring that any one be ground and another grated.  In fact, my family made latkes by grating and my first experience of ground potato pancakes (kartoffelpletter) came at a Danish restaurant; and I’ve had German kartoffelpuffer of both persuasions in homes and restaurants.

I’ve somehow outgrown the infantile tendency to generalize my own experience.  In the following recipe, I’ll refer to the pancakes by all three names – but I warn you, the names are random and don’t actually control the alternative methods or ingredients.

You buys your spuds and you takes your chances.

By Any Other Name…

Serves: 4 for dinner, 8 for apps
Difficulty: Easy


The Pancakes:
•    2-1/2 pounds baking potatoes; about 2 very large Russets (aka Idaho), or the equivalent in a different size or different types of baking potatoes – Yukon Gold is an interesting, but not the only interesting alternative
•    1 tbs distilled white or cider vinegar
•    1/2 cup AP flour; 1/4 cup each AP and light rye flour; 1/2 cup matzo meal; 1/2 cup dry bread crumbs; plus allow for extra flour or meal as needed.
•    1 medium onion chopped coarse of fine; or 1/2 cup scallions, whites and greens, chopped coarse or fine; or 1/4 cup garlic chives, minced coarse or fine; or (best) some combination
•    2 tbs minced parsley
•    1 tbs double acting powder
•    1-1/2 tsp salt
•    1 pinch baking soda
•    2 eggs
•    1/2 cup or so of corn or other cooking oil or shortening; or use rendered chicken, duck or goose fat; or some combination of fat and oil.  You can’t beat duck or goose fat.

•    Sour cream with finely minced chives
•    Caviar (various types), with sour cream and (wait for it) finely minced chives
•    Apple sauce
•    Iced Aqvavit or Vodka


As potatoes go, the “bakers” are those which are “dry” and neither moist nor “waxy.”  Choose bakers.    Choose your potato type, you’ll want to restrict it to a baker of some sort.  Peel the potatoes.  Grate them, using the coarsest grater on your food processor, box grater, etc.

Submerge the gratings in water, let them soak for a few minutes, drain them and submerge again in fresh water.  Add the vinegar and allow the potatoes to soak for at least ten minutes.

Drain and submerge yet again in fresh water.

Meanwhile, if making grated kartoffelpuffer, mince or chop the onions and herbs fine.  If making ground kartoffelpletter, you’ll be using the food processor so no need to cut too finely.

Just Squeeze Me, But Please Don’t Tease Me:
Drain yet again, and squeeze all water from the gratings; either by the handful or by wrapping the gratings in a towel, and twisting it to force the water out.  Squeeze again if necessary.  You want as much of the “potato water” out as possible.  It allows you to control for moisture and starch; and because potato water is bitter squeezing it out imporves the taste of the latkes..

I.  Grated:

If you’re going to use the gratings to make grated latkes, put the squeezed gratings into a large mixing bowl.  Add all of the remaining ingredients, and mix until thoroughly blended.  In order to get crisp kartoffelpletter which hold together and are also pliable enough to rise, you’re looking for something just a little drier than a batter.  You may need to add more liquid in the form of egg or more “dry” as either flour or matzo meal than the recipe specified in order to get that texture.

Note 1:  Matzo meal is traditional among many Jewish families; and fine bread crumbs (pretty much the same thing) may be equally traditional in parts of Northern Europe.  However, AP flour or the AP/rye mix really works better both for taste and texture in my opinion.  However, considering their popularity it would be remiss not to include the meal/crumb alternatives.

Heat a large frying pan at medium-high heat.  When the pan is hot, add about 1/4″ of oil and heat to the shimmer stage.

Add the pancakes to the oil by the spoonful.  You can use a soup spoon to make small pancakes, a wooden spoon, a serving spoon – or what have you – in order to make whatever size pancakes you like.  Try to keep the shape as tidy as possible. As it happens, that’s not very intense so don’t obsess.  When you get each pancake in the oil, flatten it with the back of the spoon in order to keep them a uniform depth.

Fry the pancakes until GBD on the bottom side, before turning.  If you turn too quickly, they won’t brown quite as evenly; but better too light than too dark.  There’s no going back from too dark.

When the first side is done, turn and cook the other side.  The second side will cook about twice as fast as the first.

You may, if necessary, turn a few times in order to get the shade of brown you want.

II.  Ground:

Add all the ingredients, with the exception of the green parts of the onions (if using), the chives (if using) and the parsley; and process until pureed.  Add the green things, and process again until they are small but still visible.  You want “pretty.”

Note 2: No matzo meal or crumbs for these ground latkes – too grainy.

You want a fairly stiff consistency.  It’s likely the potatoes will be wet enough, even after squeezing, that the recipe amounts will be insufficient, so plan on adding about 1/4 cup more flour.  If the batter is very stiff already, then obviously you won’t need to add more flour.

Preheat the pan and the oil as for the grated kartoffelpletter.  When the oil is heated to the “shimmer” stage, drop the batter by the soupspoon-full into the oil to make the  kartoffelpuffer.  A pancake which won’t shake loose from the pan without a spatula is not ready to turn.

You quite likely won’t get an even GBD with these ground latkes, but do your best.  I don’t want to put any additional PRESSURE on you, but these ground puffers get greasy easily.  The less turning, the more getting it right the first time, the better.

III.  Reunited, and it Feels Good:

Remove the cooked kartoffelpletter from the oil, and drain on paper towels.   Taste and adjust for salt.

Refresh the oil in the pan if you’re cooking in batches.

If you’re serving a crowd, you may put them puffers in a towel lined baking sheet, and hold them briefly in a warm oven.  However, every minute after the oil makes them decreasingly crisp and increasingly limp and soggy.  So drain briefly and get those bad boys on a plate and out there.


To Be or Not To Be – Quotations of Chairman Boar

Posted on | September 18, 2010 | No Comments

Nobody likes a smartass.  Not even in a think tank.

Chairman Boar

Doing vs Understanding – Quotations of Chairman Boar

Posted on | September 17, 2010 | No Comments

To do without understanding is not to understand. To understand without doing is also not to understanding.

Chairman Boar

Nogent Rambling

Posted on | September 16, 2010 | 7 Comments

If you’re interested in a high-performance knife with an almost uniquely good profile, great handle, wonderfully retro look, and more than its share of history let me whisper one word into your ear.  Thiers-Issard Elephant Quatre Etoile Nogent.  Was that more than one word?

Nogent "Petty" - The Handle Alone Could Change the Way You Think About Small Knives

I would have just called them Nogents but there is at least one other line (inexpensive, stainless) by one other manufacturer running around with the same name.  Which, by the way, is also the name of several towns scattered around France.  Which Nogent is the NogentNogent-Bassigny, perhaps.  Merde.  Je ne sais pas.

Presumably whichever Nogent it is, it’s not too far from Bellevue and Thiers.

With that out of the way, I will not only call them Nogents (one word), but also dispense with the italics when doing so.

As far as I know, they’re only sold by one, very good, North American e-tailer, The Best Things. (And while we’re at it, here’s a direct, link to the Nogents.)

So much for setting the table.

I.  (More) Introduction:

The Nogent blanks were forged sometime from the late twenties through the mid thirties by one or another or even several of the Sabatiers.  According to Thiers-Issard, there were several – none of which were T-I.  They appear to be martinet forgings (not that it matters); are made with full finger guards but no other integral bolster; and have “rat-tail” instead of full or partial tangs.

II.    Tangs and Handles:

Post war marketing has devalued rat tail tangs unjustly.  The tangs are strong enough to resist bending and otherwise last forever and a day as long as you do not use them to pry open metal doors.  “Resist bending” means they still bend a lot more easily than a full tang.  But if you do bend one you can fix it with nothing more than a padded vise and a little brute force.

I’m not exactly sure why full tangs replaced rat tails, unless it was because rivets work better to keep a poorly fitting handle attached to a knife, or had something to do with changes in forging made during the war.  Otherwise, it seems like a solution to something which wasn’t much of a problem.  Certainly, not much of a problem with the Nogents.

At any rate, it was THE handle style back in the day.  Everyone used them, no one complained.  The top line knife handles were ebony.

The old Nogent blanks T-I discovered were just that (blanks, not ebony).  They were fully forged and ground, but did not have handles nor were they sharpened.

Thiers-Issard chose to use handles which look like ebony, and might actually be ebony.  They are stained but not stamina wood or impregnated with resin.  They do not seem to be sealed in any other way.  Like other old-fashioned, real wood handles they need an occasional oiling with mineral oil to keep them stable and feeling new.  If you oil them two or three times a year, there’s no reason they shouldn’t last for decades.

The handles look blocky, but they are incredibly comfortable for damn near any hand size and damn near any grip.

An outstanding feature of Nogents is the full sized handles on the small knives.  Whatever possessed knife makers to put small handles on short knives anyway?  It’s not like they need to be balanced, the blades are too small to weigh anything. They’re great handles throughout the line, but put them on a small knife and the grade jumps to outstanding and better than MAC.

III.    Blade Profiles:

All of the Nogent blades are very traditionally shaped – which only makes sense because these knives are NOS (new old stock) refugees from Tradition-Land.

10" Chefs - As French a Profile as DeGaulle's Nose

Profile matters most with chef’s knives of course.  The Nogent chef’s are perfect.  Their tends not to be much variation in Sabatier chef’s profiles from one manufacturer to another.  Nearly all of them are pretty close to perfect.  Nogents are perfect.  As perfect as K-Sabatier and as perfect as Masamoto KS.  Perfect. Perfect. Perfect.

The slicers?  Fantastic.  Streamlined, with just the right amount of flex at any given length.  The longer ones are more flexible than the shorter.

What can you say about a paring shape?  Couteau office is couteau office.  That said, I use the 6″ slicer which has the same profile as my “petty.”  It’s great.

All of the profiles are thin.  Thin as carbon Sabatiers and thin but not terribly thin by Japanese standards.  Stupid thin, wonderfully thin, deliciously thin in comparison to German knives.

I’m struggling to find a negative, but not getting very far.

IV.    Edge Characteristics:

A.    Edge Taking

Like the other “very good” carbon Sabatiers, the Nogents sharpen very easily to extremely sharp.

B.    Best Sharpening Techniques:

The final stone in my oilstone set, a Hall’s ProEdge Surgical Black Arkansas , produces outstanding results and takes the knife as sharp as is practically necessary.  The Arkansas edge is very durable and holds up better than can be reasonably expected to maintenance with my HandAmerican Borosilicate Rod.

However, I can definitely push farther with waterstones than oilstones.  Until fairly recently, I would have told you that a Naniwa SS 8K was the limit for any French carbon, not so much in terms of the alloy’s absolute ability to take a fine edge, but more in terms of its ability to hold it and resist scratching.

Lately though, my experiments with the HandAmerican Stropping Kit have me reassessing.  Following the 8K (nominally 1.2u) with boron oxide “liquid” on a balsa strop makes a definite difference, in sharpness as well as in lowering friction.  It also has the side benefit of being so bright, that it functions as a sort of Magic Marker trick and will reveal any sharpening errors you’d deluded yourself into believing you’d outgrown.

But Wait.  There’s More!!! Chasing the boron oxide with chromium dioxide liquid – also on a balsa strop – resulted in greater sharpness still, at least according to the Murray Carter “3 Finger Test.”  The knife also felt slicker to a thumb drag.  While the extra edge from the Cr02 didn’t seem to make much difference in chopping the usual suspect, slicing old mushrooms, or tomatoes, thumb-dragging did lead to a meditation on why Murray only has three fingers.

1.  The Factory Edge

No Nogent that I’ve ever seen, came sharp OOTB (out of the box). I don’t mean “dull” by BDL’s near mythic standards either.  How bad?  We’re talking 30 seconds max on a belt sander by someone who got the job because he’s a nephew. In other words, Japanese OOTB standard.

Like a lot of Japanese knives, it will come with what I call a “Christmas Morning edge.”  That is, good enough to use the day you get it, but something you’ll want to re-sharpen from zero as soon as possible.  I don’t know what T-I is thinking, other European knives — including other T-Is come with much better edges.  But, c’est la vie say the old folks. [Gallic shrug]

2.  Best Sharpening Angles and Geometry

A 15* V edge with flat bevels is probably the most practical, although I’m now sharpening mine more acutely.  Because the knife will need a lot of steeling, don’t let your geometry get too asymmetric.  60/40 seems about right.

3.  A Rare Carbide Issue, Don’t Panic

It sometimes happens with “new” (which is to say previously unused and no more than rudimentarily sharpened) carbon knives that a carbide crystal will be lodged in the edge.  This, I believe, results from molecular migration over time; although I sure don’t know for sure.

You do not need to expect it when buying a carbon knife or an NOS carbon knife or a Nogent in particular.  But it does happen.  However rare, it certainly happened with one of my Nogents.

A carbide can often detect it by thumb-dragging the edge, or it might manifest itself the first time you try and sharpen and hit a spot that simply will not grind.  If you have a crystal stuck in the edge, the knife will require a fair bit of grinding to knock the carbide out – before you can begin sharpening a new profile.

Just sayin’.

C.    Edge Holding

It’s soft, French carbon.  To use it is to take it out of true.  As a practical matter, the knife acts far harder than you’d expect from a knife with mediocre RCH (an appropriately disrespectful acronym for Rockwell “C” Hardness) numbers like 53-55ish.  But it’s still French carbon, and still going to either need plenty of steeling or plenty of “touch ups” on a fine stone.

Since a honing rod is so much more convenient than prepping a stone, use a rod.  Use one fine enough not to destroy your polish.

Otherwise, as long as you don’t get too asymmetric, the Nogent will hold its edge for quite some time, and is slightly superior to newer Sabatiers in that respect.

The knife’s thin cross section and resistance to wedging helps it seem to stay sharp longer as well.

V.  The Real (Maybe) Story

You’ve got to love the retro-chic of these knives.  Just holding them makes you feel like your sharing the kitchen with Evelyn and Henri-Paul.  They also come with actual history.

Here’s the official version:  During the late twenties and early thirties, a lot of French knife companies were in difficulty.  Thiers-Issard was not.  They seized the opportunity and bought up a lot of NOS as well as a few of the companies.  Somehow the knives were misplaced.  In the early nineties, T-I emptied an old warehouse in order to tear it down and make room for new construction.  In crates at the back of the warehouse, were tens of thousands of old knives.  And, voila!

That T-I bought tens of thousands of knives, hid them behind a wall of other crates “accidentally,” and forgot for no good reason, doesn’t make much sense.  At minimum, in the middle of the depression, someone must have been held responsible for accounting for hundreds of thousands of francs spent on purchasing other companies’ NOS.

My story – and it’s only a story – NOT an accusation, innuendo, libel or calumny – is that during the ramp-up to WWII, T-I hid a lot of production to keep it from French government steel drives.  They kept it hidden during the German occupation.  After the war it was either too embarrassing to “find” the knives right away or the person or people who knew where the knives were stashed, had left Thiers-Issard for whatever reasons.

Whether during, immediately after or at some nebulous later point but at any rate AFTER THE DAMN WAR, the secret of their location was truly forgotten.

Then they tear down the warehouse.  Again, voila!

I could certainly be wrong.  But since I’m not French, I don’t have to be embarrassed about keeping necessary war materials from the French Army, and I like a little greed and cupidity in my war stories.

Biensur, The fundamental things apply, as time goes by.

VI.    Special Considerations Before Buying

It may be that all, many or some of the knives were stored without straightening after they were hardened by heat treating.  It may also be that many of the knives were bent into a very mild arc (tip and handle down) during storage.  In any case many Nogents are slightly bent.

If you decide you want one (you really should) enough to order one (again you really should), like the bogus edge this is something you’re going to have to deal with.

A.     Ask TBT For Help

Start by calling The Best Things and ask them if they have a straight knife in stock.  Don’t expect a guarantee, or even a terribly responsive answer.  They are a very good knife e-tailer in every way, but they just don’t see this issue the way we do.  Ask them to at least go through whatever they do have and send you whatever they think is the best.

B.  It Came and It’s Not Perfect; Whatever Shall I do?

If you receive a bent knife, and the bend bothers you in any way, it can easily be repaired by clamping it into a padded vice and muscling the knife straight.

Any good knife shop should be able to handle this.  Anyone fairly handy should be able to as well.

Speaking of knife shops, you’ve already been fairly warned about what to expect from a Nogent edge.  If you’re not at the point where you trust yourself to do a good first sharpening, get someone who can.  Many knife shops and knife services can not.  Tell them what you want.  If they can sharpen 15* edges and know what 60/40 asymmetry means well enough to explain it to you, you’ve probably found someone who can do it.

Yes I’ve bought knives from TBT in the past.  On one occasion something went wrong which was absolutely not their fault or a problem with their stock.  Even so, they went way out of their way to make it right  I expect that if there’s any problem with a knife you purchase from them they will take care of it quickly and professionally.

If you can’t live with the idea that your new knife might come bent where the handle joins the blade (not side to side, the blade might be bent down a little) a Nogent might not be a good choice.

C.  Act Now.  Operators Are Standing By.  Limited Time Offer.

Even if the knives need a little extra work, they are great knives, are beautiful, have history, are well worth the money and then some, etc., etc., etc.  There is a finite number of them, and there will never, ever be any more knives made.

D.    Special Bonus

No nagging about learning to sharpen in this post.

VI.    Ratings For the Numerically Inclined

•    Blade Profiles – Range from, “the best” through “practical perfection,” to “Platonic ideal.”  Stupid good.  10/10
•    Edge Taking – Excellent for European Carbons.  8.5/10
•    Handles – Excellent, especially considering how primitive they look; but not quite as good as some of the Germans, some other Sabs, or MACs – at least for the big knives; Can’t beat the handles on the small blades.  9/10
•    Maintenance – Lots of steeling, as usual with European made knives.   Patina or baking soda, just like any carbon.  You’re either the type who can either live with carbon’s neediness or you’re not.  7/10
•    F&F and QC –  Tu as bu, ou quoi? 4/10
•    History – Oodles.  Romance, too.  Talk about a bonus.  9/10.
•    Price – Reasonable.  Damn reasonable.  Almost too damn reasonable.  What the hell am I saying? 9/10

Bottom Line:
Great knife with history yet.

Highest Recommendation.


GUILLOTINE AND GLIDE – The Classic French Action

Posted on | September 15, 2010 | No Comments

Knife Skills, Part Whatever

I call the classic, French action used to make many of the classic cuts with a chef’s knife Guillotine and Glide.  But as far as I know (a) no one else does; and (b) there is no real name for it. And while we’re caveating, this technique is useful but it doesn’t work with every knife, nor is it the right way to cut everything.

Henri Paul Pellaprat Imparting Knowledge

At some point, I’ll have to make a video.  In the meantime you’re stuck with mere, inadequate, prosaic words and the picture of the greatest cooking teacher ever frolicking with French women.

Here’s How (to begin before getting to Here’s How):
The action starts with the grip.  If you don’t know how to do a “soft pinch,” you should look at that post first.

Put something to cut on your board – something not to long, too high or too wide.  Celery would be fine.  When you start learning you don’t want to cut anything too long or too wide. So “block” your celery into strips about 5″ long and half a stalk wide.  (When you get good, you can use very long strips; and if and/or when you’ve really got the claw mastered you can use very short sticks, but for now we roll with medium.)  You’ll want a few dozen strips to have enough for practice.

You’ll be trying to make dice about 3/8″ wide.  FWIW, that’s about “medium.”

After you’ve fabricated the strips, push them to the left side of your board (assuming you’re right handed – if you’re a lefty like me, you’ll just have to reverse everything).

Use your knife to push 8 or 10 into the center of the board.  Use your left hand to gather them into a loose bundle.  Orient them so they’re perpendicular to your knife.  Gently tap the ends with the side of your knife so all the ends on the right side are even.

Hold the sticks with “claw” technique.  (Make sure your fingers are tucked under, and that your thumb is out of the way, and not pointing towards where the knife will cut.)  Make the bundle two or three sticks high – no more than three.

Orient the sticks so they’re perpendicular to the natural line your knife will take.  If you’re using the approved stance, posture, and a straight wrist, that means your cutting board will be square to the counter, and your bundle will be square to the board.  If you’re not doing all that stuff, just try and get the bundle 90* to whatever your line is without straining.

Hold the bundle at its left end, unless you can already do “cut and retreat” or are already practiced at using your knuckles as a guide.  We’ll save those techniques for another post.

Here’s How (this time for real):
The tip starts down, but not necessarily on the board. If it’s not on the board, the blade comes down in a push. (With something as low as celery that’s as soon as it is on the board, the cutter guillotines the knife, using the arc of the belly to make the edge traverse diagonally through the food. As the flat of the knife comes down on the board, the cutter slides the knife forward.

That’s it.

A lot of sturm und drang for something very simple if you ask me.  But whose fault is that?

OK.  Now that you know how, practice for a couple of months, then leave a comment on how your life has changed for the better.

Try a Little Perspective:
One of the desirable characteristics of this technique is that it’s more or less silent.

Another, is that it’s intuitive with a French profile chef’s knife.  Intuitive after a forty or fifty hours of practice, anyway.

Yet another is that it’s not a universal technique – depending on the type of knife and what you’re trying to do.  It’s not good without a chef’s knife (although a santoku might do it); and less good with a German profile than a French.

It’s very good for cutting sticks (alumette, batonet, julienne, etc.,) and dice (medium, fine, brunoise) but not particularly effective for blocking or planking. Those things work better with more “push cut,” and some other things work better just by dragging the tip through, or “popping” the tip the way reality TV cheftestants speed-chop a cucumber.

Rather obviously, you have to adapt your technique to what you’re doing and with you’re using to do it. 

Less obviously, you also have to adapt to where you’re doing it.  For instance, if you’re working in a kitchen with a crapulous chef, silence is golden.  Rather obviously, you have to adapt your technique to what you’re doing and with you’re using to do it.  Less obviously, you also have to adapt to where you’re doing it.  For instance, if you’re working in a kitchen with a crapulous chef, silence is golden.  Silence is golden anyway.  How can I listen to Scarlatti if you’re tap, tap, tapping?  Right, Scarlatti AND silence is golden.


French and German Chef’s Knives – Profiles In Cutting

Posted on | September 15, 2010 | No Comments

“Profile” is a term which gets used a lot when talking about knives. The words “French” and “German” are often bandied about when discussing Chef’s knives/gyutos.

What and why?

One of your primary interactions with a chef’s knife is determined by the shape of the edge (as viewed from that angle).  If you don’t fight the knife, will go a long way towards controlling how you use the knife and how it feels in your hand as you work.  If you do fight the knife and try to work it in a way which doesn’t suit it, that will determine how it feels as well.

The better your grip and knife skills, the more sensitive you’re going to be the knife.

The good Sabatiers — Including but not limited to everything form Thiers-Issard, K-Sabatier, and  Mexceur Et Cie — have a an almost uniquely good blade profile.  Not just in the sense that I love it, but nearly everyone else does as well.  Profile isn’t everything and I’m not suggesting you run out and buy a bunch of Sabs.

Chef’s knife profiles come in two basic flavors.  French and German.  German profiles have more arc (aka “belly”) throughout the length of the edge, while French blades are flatter — at least from the very back (heel) until the rise toward the tip.  People often confuse the “width” or “height” of knife (distance from heel to spine, at the handle) with belly and profile.  They think a wide knife has a lot of belly, or is German, or both.  Belly is arc.  “French” and “German” refer to how much and how the arc is distributed.

Ikon Chefs.jpeg

Here’s a German profile chef’s.  Even though it’s 9″ long and fairly streamlined as Wusthofs go, it’s still got plenty of belly.

Here’s an 8″ German, this time a Henckels, it’s also on the straighter side of the envelope as German knives go.  In fact, KY Heirloomer, who knows his onions said it actually was “French.”

Zwillings Chef.jpg

Note:  The point isn’t who’s right and wrong.  “French” and “German” are relative terms, at least as far as knives go.  KY and I agree that a Henckels Pro S Chef’s knife feels a lot more French than a Wusthof Classic (not shown), and we should because it does.

Compare the German made knives to a couple of my Sabatiers.


(Pardon me for using this photograph again.  It’s hard to find pictures which do a fair job of showing the profile; at least this does that.)

Top to bottom, the knives are:

  • 10″ K-Sabatier Chef’s
  • 10″ K-Sabatier trenchelard Slicer.
  • 7″ T-I “Nogent” Sabatier Chef’s
  • 6″ T-I “Nogent” Sabatier Slicer

Look at the two chef’s knives.  A profile doesn’t get any more French than the 10″ K-Sab.  Note that even though the 7″ Nogent is shorter than the two Germans pictured above — its curves are accentuated by being compressed into a shorter package — it still appears flatter than either the Ikon or the Pro S.

And, as long as that particular picture is up, note that the difference between a slicer and a chef’s knife is “profile.”  That is, they’re all knives, have similar handles, same alloy, etc., but the distinction is shape.  It’s also worth pointing out that the 6″ knife is sold as a slicer, but the shape is not only trenchelard (French, spear-point, style slicer), but couteau office (common paring knife).  It’s being sold as a slicer instead of a parer because of its length.  I actually use it as a “petty,” which is a sort of parer / boning / utility; a knife of many slashes.

One of the things which makes Japanese gyutos so attractive to good cutters is that most of them have a more or less French profile. Some very good cutters prefer German profiled chef’s knives; but the French profile is more agile, more adapatable to “push cutting,” and requires less handle pumping (usually called “rocking).  The French profile punishes bad technique and rewards good technique more than the German.

But… let’s keep our senses of perspective and humor.  A German knife won’t turn a good cutter into a bad one, and a French knife won’t do the opposite.  Both profiles suit the classic, European and American styles of food and knife skills.  It comes down to taste and training.

Bottom Line:
Go French with a gyuto.


PS.  This is (or will be) posted on Cook Food Good as well.  Collective Commons Reservation of Rights and all that.

Getting a Grip on a Good Pinch

Posted on | September 14, 2010 | 2 Comments

The only sane way to look at knife skills is pragmatically.  Whatever works.

Most western cooks with good knife skills use something called the pinch grip when they use a chef’s knife to make the “classic” stick and dice cuts” like julienne and batonet; fine dice and brunoise.  It’s the grip I use and will show you here.  It’s relatively easy to learn, and has the effect of automatically creating better knife work once it’s practiced enough to feel natural.

Why not give it a shot now?  I’ll wait here while you go get your chef’s knife.  Got it?  Good.

Hold the knife between the pads of your thumb and forefinger, so that your forefinger wraps over the spine of the blade.

Pinch - Top View

Here’s a side view from the thumb side:

Pinch - Thumb Side View

If you look very carefully, you can see that I’ve rounded over the spine of the knife so it won’t cut off the circulation in my index finger or create a callus.  You should too.

Don’t worry, you’re not missing anything by not seeing the forefinger side.  Pardon the stains on the knife and the dirt under my nails.  I was in the process of cleaning and sharpening my knives when someone asked for pictures of my grip.  Once a ham always a ham.  Who needs rehersal?  who needs makeup? Oh to tread the boards once more, dear boy.

The pinch makes lots of good things happen.  One of the best of them is the knuckles of your thumb and forefinger are well out of the way, AND the knuckles on your back three fingers have rotated to the side so they are not – or at least less – in danger of hitting the board when you chop.

It works even better when it’s refined into a soft pinch.  A tight grip will tire your hand.  Here’s a picture of my grip from underneath.

From Underneath - If the Grip Were Tight, the Knife Would Be Pressed Into My Hand, But It Isn't

You can see that even though I have big hands and long fingers, my fingers don’t wrap all the way around the handle.  If I held the knife firmly, the handle would be jammed into my hand – but (just in case you didn’t read the caption)  you can see that it isn’t and infer that I’m not.

If you hold the knife straight, so its point, your wrist and elbow are on the same line, you can instinctively control the point by looking.  You won’t have to swing your elbow around to aim the knife, or waste a lot of time aiming it.  Just look and it will go there.  It’s going to take awhile to make this instinctive – but that’s exactly what I’m going to ask you to do.  A lot of people have trouble visualizing what a straight wrist grip should look like.

Here’s that 10,000 word picture (h/t Durangojo):

All Lined Up

You can see that my wrist is straight.  But perhaps an even better clue is that the handle lines up with the center-line of my forearm, and you can’t see it peeking out from either side of my wrist.

If you have to change the angle of your knife, keep your wrist straight and turn your body.  Dammit

Is that really all?  Yes, pretty much.  To paraphrase a Russian genius, Is soft pinch grip.


Pastrami, Pastrameleh

Posted on | September 13, 2010 | No Comments

In the thrilling days of yesteryear and not give a rat’s patoot about cholesterol pastrami was often made with the brisket point, while the flat was reserved for corned beef.  The next time you purchase a brisket for barbecue, you might want to think about reserving the point for pastrami.  Or not.

It’s not always easy to find and choose a good brisket.  You might want to take a look at what I wrote about that in the “Shop” section of the Barbecue Brisket – An Eleven Step Program post.  I apologize again for the length of that recipe, but it’s worth it.  So there.

Ladies and gentlmen, fresh from appearances before the crowned heads of Europe, without futher ado, and at great expense to the management, it’s my pleasure to present the talented and lovely,


•    1/2 cup kosher salt
•    1/2 cup brown sugar
•    1/4 cup black peppercorns
•    4 tbs coriander seeds
•    2 tbs juniper berries
•    2 tsp granulated garlic
•    1 tsp dry ginger
•    1 brisket flat, trimmed to about 1/8”, about 5 or 6 lbs. Note 1: The trim is important. If you scalp the brisket you’ll end up with a dry pastrami. If you leave too much fat, a) the marinade won’t penetrate, and b) the pastrami will be unpleasantly greasy.
•    1 qt beef broth
•    3 cups water, or 12 oz water + bottle of (preferably) beer, or (better) ale or (best) stout
•    4 tbs pickling spices
•    4 bay leaves
•    2 tbs additional juniper berries
•    2 tbs additional black peppercorns

Place peppercorns, coriander seeds and juniper berries in a spice grinder or strong blender. Give them a quick whirl so that all is crushed to approximate size of salt. Mix the salt, sugar, garlic, and ginger with the seasonings from the grinder.

Reserve 1/4 of the seasonings. Rub the flat thoroughly on all sides with seasonings. Wrap in saran wrap, then aluminum foil. Place in a glass pan in the refrigerator. Turn daily for at least one week, up to two weeks is better. Remove brisket from all wrappings. Place on rack in pan so it can drain, and put uncovered in refrigerator for at least four hours, or overnight, until very dry.

Prepare smoker to run at 200 deg, or lower (preferable). Remove from refrigerator and place cold in the smoker. Smoke brisket between 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 hours, depending on strength of wood used at lowest temperature you can still get smoke. You want a fair amount of smoke, but very little bark (surface crust). The “preferred” woods for smoking are cherry and oak. I’ve had good luck with pecan, too. Mesquite is very strong, oak and hickory slightly less. Must nut woods, maple, and most fruit woods are medium strength. Alder is mild. Avoid chestnut and walnut.

Remove pastrami from smoker and place in kettle just large enough to hold it. Cover the pastrami with a broth made from beef stock and water, or beef stock and beer (best!), or water and beer. Add the reserved rub, the pickling spice, the bay leaves, the additional juniper berries, and the additional black peppercorns.

Bring to a simmer, cover, and simmer until the meat is tender. 2-1/2 – 3 hours.

Remove from water and slice, as thin as you can, across the grain, on the bias.

Note 2
Brisket, with its relatively shallow depth and and thick covering of fat is an unusual cut. The only common cut I can think of that is similar in size and shape is a butterflied leg of lamb. But lamb fat is highly indigestible, and you want all the fat off of the leg — a much easier trim. Taking all but a very thin layer on the brisket is more of a challenge. It requires concentration and is best done with a long, sharp knife. A “slicing” shaped knife is ideal as is a “cimiter.” Chef’s knives have a little too much body, as do “butchers’” and “breakers,” so the angle of attack can be determined by the flat of the blade itself. Still, they are good second choices, as are fillet knives with a 7″ or longer blade. I wouldn’t want to go into this with a paring knife, “steak knife,” or “santoku” unless one of these were the only choice. In any case, as with all kitchen knife tasks, you want something sharp.

If it’s a whole brisket, separate the point from the flat so you’re dealing with two pieces. Start with the flat by prodding it with your fingers to find the part with the thickest and stiffest fat. Place the palm of your off-hand gently over the fat, and use your knife to cut through the fat, between the heel of your palm and the red part of the meat — without cutting into either! Hold the knife with a soft hand so you have a lot of “feel.” You’re trying to take a piece of fat no larger than about 2-1/2″ x 3″ or, roughly a quarter your hand (not counting fingers). If you feel like your cutting into the meat, take your hand away and cut up to take off the fat. Even if you’re sure you’re not cutting into the meat keep your trimmings reasonably sized. Trim the point in exactly the same way. Don’t hurry. Don’t worry if you cut all the way down here and there. A little unevenness will actually make for a better pastrami.

The point is usually a hard cut to find sold on its own. But it’s more popular among commercial suppliers for pastrami. Just not for best quality pastrami. My recipe is written for the flat, but you can use substitute the point if you like. Just make sure you don’t overcook it in the broth or it will fall apart instead of slicing. There’s no exact timing. You’ll have to use a fork or press the meat with your fingers to check for doneness. I use my fingers, but there aren’t a lot of people stupid enough to stick their hands into simmering water. They know who they are.

Note 3
Since this recipe requires only light smoking, you may use a stove-top smoker box; build a smoker ala Alton Brown, or use a smoker built and sold for home use. If you’re considering buying a smoker, I recommend the Weber Smokey Mountain as the best unit for beginners; one of the best small smokers, period; and a dandy, portable grill.


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