Gastronomical Gear, Volume 1: The Chef's Knife

As a chef, the equipment you use is an extension of you; how you directly interact with the food. From the professional chef to the casual home cook, a working knowledge of the tools of the trade can only make the cooking experience easier and more enjoyable. With this Gastronomical Gear series of blogs, we'll delve into myriad topics related to culinary tools.

First and foremost in any cook's arsenal is the knife. While there are numerous types of knives for many different jobs, the keystone to any knife kit is the Chef's Knife or Gyutou.

From My Kit

There are volumes of arguments and debate over German vs. Japanese, this brand vs. that brand, and there are no right answers. What matters most is that you find a knife that fits you, and serves your purpose.

When asked what I would recommend, I steer people towards Japanese knives. While German Wusthof's and Henckels' of the world sell quite a few knives based on reputation, Japanese knives are the most advanced in terms of steel, quite varied in terms of purpose, and ultimately perform at a higher level than their German counterparts. There is however, more upkeep involved in a Japanese knife. If you'd like a less labor-intensive but heavier, less agile and certainly less sharp knife, German is for you. Don't forget, there are a lot more accidents with dull knives than sharp, so don't be scared of something exceptionally sharp. The longer I own Japanese knives and I work on my sharpening technique and skill, the more personal these knives become to me, and the more I really appreciate the craftsmanship and history involved in Japanese cutlery.

While the variety and surely the language differences can be overwhelming and possibly discouraging, there is an unanimous 'gateway' knife into the world of Japanese cutlery. The Tojiro line of knives are very affordable (Gyutou from $50-$80, quite competitive with their German counterparts,) very reliable and take a minimal amount of effort to learn and maintain. If you're looking to get into Japanese knives, your first purchase should be a Tojiro DP Gyutou. If you're concerned or wary of a larger knife, start small and move forward from there. This line of knives is available at Korin Trading Co. who offer great customer service and quick shipping. Korin also offers sharpening stones, instructional DVD's and years of experience.

If you're going to buy a Japanese knife, you should absolutely budget for a Sharpening Stone. I'd recommend, for a first-timer, a King 1000/6000 grit stone. It provides you with a medium and a fine stone for a reduced price and in half the space. With Japanese knives, you'll absolutely want to take the time to learn the basics of sharpening, as the results you'll achieve are more than worth it.

There are quite a few resources regarding knives (buying, sharpening, maintenance, etc.) Chad Ward's book An Edge in the Kitchen is a great tool for anyone interested in expanding their knowledge. There is also a very handy Knife Maintenance and Sharpening post by Chad on eGullet. If you're looking for advice, Foodie Forums or the In The Kitchen section of Blade Forums can connect you with many experts and enthusiasts willing to share their experience and knowledge.

I have several links to retailers and resources in the world of kitchen cutlery, and will gladly answer any questions (to the best of my knowledge) or point you in a direction of someone who can answer.

Again, there are no right answers, and your knife should be your choice and make you feel comfortable using it.


Festival Fun

The Hill Country Wine and Food Festival is fast approaching, and their updated website is live and selling tickets to all of the events. Year after year, the Wine and Food Festival has been one of my favorite foodie events here in the greater Austin area, and judging by the events scheduled for this year, it will not disappoint in 2009.

If you don't make it to any other events, make sure to attend the Sunday Fair, hosted this year at the Vineyards at The Salt Lick.


Uchi Means House

Many thanks to Samantha Davidson and Uchi for hosting a Food Blogger Tasting showcasing Uchi's culinary fare and bringing Austin's food bloggers together for food and fun.

The food, as usual, was delicious and beautiful. Chef Cole's 'Japanese food for the American palette' has garnered much recognition and deservedly so. From Beet Terrine or Scallop Crudo, to (my favorite) the unctuous Braised Pork Belly, the food was artfully presented and skillfully prepared.

If you're in the mood for a playful and unique meal, Uchi is definitely a must-visit restaurant.


Exploration Made Easy

One of my favorite aspects of cooking is finding a new combination, a new flavor profile or an interesting substitution to an existing dish that pleases the palette and expands my culinary repertoire.

Food science has come a long way.

It is common knowledge that foods that share certain flavors (more specifically certain chemicals) tend to taste better together. Belgian food scientists have developed an easy, user-friendly website to take the guesswork out of culinary experimentation. Using Food Pairing, which breaks down food into it's major flavor components, you can combine ingredients in new ways or substitute new ingredients into old recipes without the 'I hope this works' trepidation often associated with exploration. Next time you're staring at a random assortment of foods, unsure of what the heck you're going to make, utilize this website and make your culinary life that much easier.


Cook the Plank

Inspiration for this week's foray into uncharted territory came courtesy of the weekly Wheatsville Coop e-mail, in which Bryan, the 'meat guy' extolls the virtues of a very interesting and somewhat rare ingredient. Ivory King Salmon.

Most wild Salmon derive their pink-ish hue from their diet that consists of carotenoid-rich shellfish. There is, however, a rather small percentage (around 5%) of the King Salmon population that do not posses, for whatever reason, the ability to absorb said pigments and maintain a white flesh instead of the signature 'Salmon' color. For many years these genetic oddballs were considered waste but they have recently developed a culinary following and have become prized for their more delicate flavor and obvious rarity.

To tackle such an ingredient, I decided to utilize a beautiful cedar plank that I received as a gift.

What follows are the quite pleasant and delicious results of this adventure in culinary novelty.

Cedar Plank Roasted Ivory King Salmon with Blood Orange Confit, Roasted Root Vegetables and Yukon Gold Coins
(Recipe Serves 2)

2 filets Ivory King Salmon, skin and pin-bones removed

Season Salmon with salt, pepper.
Drizzle with Olive Oil.
Sear in hot pan to color.

Set Aside.

For the Confit:
1 blood orange, zested, cut into supremes, juiced
1/2 Meyer lemon, juiced
2 sprigs Lemon Thyme
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
pinch Salt

Blanch orange zest in boiling water about 30 seconds.
Remove and rinse under cold water, set aside.

Heat water, sugar and thyme just to a boil.
Remove from heat and let steep about 15 minutes.
Remove thyme sprigs.
Add orange zest and juice.
Simmer until reduced to syrup consistency.

Add lemon juice, salt and reserve.

For The Veggies:
4 small carrots, washed
1 turnip, washed, peeled and diced
Olive Oil, as needed
Salt, Pepper, as needed

Blanch carrots and turnip pieces separately in boiling water for about 2 minutes.
Rinse in cold water and/or shock in ice water.
Toss with Olive oil, salt, pepper.

For the Potatoes:
4 small Yukon Gold Potatoes, washed
Canola Oil, as needed
Salt, Pepper, as needed

Slice potatoes using a Mandoline (for uniformity, or just use a knife if you choose) and hold in water to cover.
Blanch potatoes in boiling water for about a minute (less for thinner slices, more for thicker.)
Shock in ice water.
Set on towels to dry.

Heat about 1/4" oil in a skillet.
Add a layer of potatoes to cover the bottom of the skillet.

Cook until brown. Flip.
When both sides are browned, remove to paper towels and season with salt/pepper.

For the Plank Roast:
1 cedar plank, seasoned with oil on the top side

Preheat oiled plank in the oven (350F.)
Add seared Salmon.
Surround with oiled/seasoned veggies.

Roast in the oven until Salmon is cooked to your liking (I prefer mine medium, if you like it more, let it go longer.)
Let rest on the plank.

Garnish with Blood-orange supremes and Lemon-Thyme.
Serve and Enjoy!