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The Rules of the Kitchen...


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Over on this thread we discussed the OP being told that because they had a "unitasker" in the kichen, they were not a "real chef." Setting aside for the moment the egregious misuse of the word "chef" and the touching but misguided trust in a TV sleb's authority, I think Alton Brown's "no unitasker" rule is eminently sensible... for newbies and casual cooks. A dedicated amateur, and even moreso a pro, is going to get a lot of benefit from a few carefully-selected, highly specialized items.

I've heard a lot of these kitchen rules, online, in person, on TV and in cookbooks, and it seems to me they're all like that: fine advice for the novice and generally true, but breaks down in particular situations. Understanding what those situations are is what separates beginners from the well-seasoned.

Here's a few of the ones I've heard, with exceptions. I'd love to hear yours.

-Follow the recipe exactly and you'll be fine.

Recipes are developed by particular human beings in a particular place and time. Measuring techniques vary from person to person (eg, flour by volume), measures themselves vary from place to place (US gallon vs Imperial gallon), ingredients can even change in size (chickens and chicken parts are now much larger than they used to be) as well as qualitatively (pork is now much leaner than in the past).

-The quality of the ingredients should be inversely proportional to the complexity of the recipe.

In some cases, an ingredient adds so much to the dish that it would be a waste to use less than the best you can afford, others, the "budget" alternative is a different product altogether, although bearing the same name. (Powdered Parmesan cheese from a can).

-All you really need is a good Chef's and paring knives.

Until you decide to fillet your own fish and bone your own meat, etc.

-Buy your pots and pans individually so you can choose the one that suits you best in each case.

Retailers often offer sets of, say, six pieces for less than the price of the three or four really good pieces in the set.

-Buy from a restaurant supplier. It's cheaper and higher quality.

If you're familiar with the item you're shopping for, online shops can offer great discounts, even over what you'd at the restaurant supplier.

-Don't try to sharpen your own knives. Take them to a pro.

No. Nu-uh, no way. I don't care how much of a newb you are, it's pretty hard to permanently damage a knife sharpening by hand. Hand it to some jackass with power tools who does lawnmower blades for the neighborhood and permanent damage is virtually guaranteed.

Anyone else?

This is my skillet. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My skillet is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me my skillet is useless. Without my skillet, I am useless. I must season my skillet well. I will. Before God I swear this creed. My skillet and myself are the makers of my meal. We are the masters of our kitchen. So be it, until there are no ingredients, but dinner. Amen.

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-Follow the recipe exactly and you'll be fine.

Recipes are developed by particular human beings in a particular place and time. Measuring techniques vary from person to person (eg, flour by volume), measures themselves vary from place to place (US gallon vs Imperial gallon), ingredients can even change in size (chickens and chicken parts are now much larger than they used to be) as well as qualitatively (pork is now much leaner than in the past).

And there can be typos, misunderstandings of terms, omissions of 'things you should know anyway!'. . .

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-Follow the recipe exactly and you'll be fine.

Recipes are developed by particular human beings in a particular place and time. Measuring techniques vary from person to person (eg, flour by volume), measures themselves vary from place to place (US gallon vs Imperial gallon), ingredients can even change in size (chickens and chicken parts are now much larger than they used to be) as well as qualitatively (pork is now much leaner than in the past).

I would modify that rule to: Unless you see an obvious mistake, follow the recipe the first time... then adjust as needed/desired. I frequently see people that try a recipe for the first time with "I'll just change this, add that, remove the other" who then rant to everybody they know about how "that recipe sucks, never try it". They haven't even tried it yet, how do they know it sucks?

-Don't try to sharpen your own knives. Take them to a pro.

No. Nu-uh, no way. I don't care how much of a newb you are, it's pretty hard to permanently damage a knife sharpening by hand. Hand it to some jackass with power tools who does lawnmower blades for the neighborhood and permanent damage is virtually guaranteed.

If you take them to "some jackass with power tools who does lawnmower blades for the neighborhood" then you didn't follow the rule of "take them to a pro". But I agree... learning to do it yourself is best.

A personal favorite is the old "don't get a drop of yolk in your egg whites or you'll have to start over".

If that were true, I would have wasted enough eggs by now that the entire world population of chickens would have organized against me. A little gets in, scoop out what you can and carry on. I've never had a meringue or foam fail because I had a bit of yolk in the whites.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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A "unitasker" in my humble opinion is whatever it needs to be. A heavy german chef's knife has been in a time crunch: a can opener, a meat tenderizer, a box cutter, a spatula, a docker, a leveler, etc. A cast iron pan can be a pretty quick non-stick pan (all thats needed a a really hot oven, a ton of salt, a little water, and a paper towel), it has also been used to flatten chicken breasts and crush peppercorns. Who really cares in a time of need? Have I sacrificed technique? Maybe- depends on who you ask. Is all of this multi-use nonsense subjective- Yup. As far as the "rules" of the kitchen I have worked in old-school Italian places that pass on recipes verbally and measure their bread ingredients by cupping their hands (I'm still pretty good at this), I have worked for an owner who threatened termination if the recipe I had made 1,000 times wasn't on paper from the binder in front of me the whole time as I made it (VERY strict on consistency)- that still follows me as well. In the end my contention is that as long as it tastes good, the product is respected as much as humanly possible, classic technique is kept in mind (maybe not always followed to the letter), all sanitation laws are followed and you work neat, clean, and with pride. It's all good. Your next chef or owner you work for may have a completely different way of doing things, and they sign your checks. If you don't like the way they do things there are plenty of other places to work. PS: I hone and sharpen my own knifes, and if a tiny bit of white goes into the yolks of my bernaise or hollandase, it won't kill it, I will just try harder next time.

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-Don't try to sharpen your own knives. Take them to a pro.

No. Nu-uh, no way. I don't care how much of a newb you are, it's pretty hard to permanently damage a knife sharpening by hand. Hand it to some jackass with power tools who does lawnmower blades for the neighborhood and permanent damage is virtually guaranteed.

If you take them to "some jackass with power tools who does lawnmower blades for the neighborhood" then you didn't follow the rule of "take them to a pro". But I agree... learning to do it yourself is best.

I use "pro" in the sense of a person who sharpens for money (opposed to an "amateur" like us, who do it for "love"), rather than in the sense of "expert." I agree you could hand the job over to an expert (amateur or professional) but I think if you know enough to spot the difference between experts and dilettantes in this matter you probably know enough to do it yourself...

A personal favorite is the old "don't get a drop of yolk in your egg whites or you'll have to start over".

If that were true, I would have wasted enough eggs by now that the entire world population of chickens would have organized against me.

Dude, they have.

A spectre is haunting the World -- the spectre of Chickens. All the powers of the Kitchen have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Tri2Cook and Dakki, Localherbavore and Baroness, French Traditionalists and German Molecular Gastronomers.

This is my skillet. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My skillet is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me my skillet is useless. Without my skillet, I am useless. I must season my skillet well. I will. Before God I swear this creed. My skillet and myself are the makers of my meal. We are the masters of our kitchen. So be it, until there are no ingredients, but dinner. Amen.

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I knew it! I told my therapist those chickens were following me!

Point taken on the knife sharpening. I was just thinking that a lot of people get paid to do jobs that they can't/don't do particularly well. I don't usually consider them professionals.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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-Follow the recipe exactly and you'll be fine.

Recipes are developed by particular human beings in a particular place and time. Measuring techniques vary from person to person (eg, flour by volume), measures themselves vary from place to place (US gallon vs Imperial gallon), ingredients can even change in size (chickens and chicken parts are now much larger than they used to be) as well as qualitatively (pork is now much leaner than in the past).

Any chef worth a damn uses metric units of weight in their recipes. Poor results are likely a matter of execution and unfamiliarity with terms/technique (ie,rissoler), theory and practice.

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I also prefer measures by weight, but most recipes handed down by family, shared by friends, found on the back of the box, on the Web or in cookbooks use measures by volume. Measuring by weight hasn't really caught on outside of the hardcore foodie community, and there's people right on this forum who insist a scale is an unnecessary expense or only necessary for baking.

This is from the perspective of an enthusiastic amateur, not a chef.

This is my skillet. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My skillet is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me my skillet is useless. Without my skillet, I am useless. I must season my skillet well. I will. Before God I swear this creed. My skillet and myself are the makers of my meal. We are the masters of our kitchen. So be it, until there are no ingredients, but dinner. Amen.

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I dunnoo......

Unless it's a pastry recipie, I very rarely follow the recipie to the "T". That being said, I'm a very strong advocate of using scales, and the metric system. I will NOT borrow, use, or purchase a book that gives quantities in volume, and if cornered, I will convert volume to metric. I have given countless classes to people ranging from 4 yrs old to 80 yrs old, and all have grasped the concept of using scales and the benifits of doing so within minutes.

I do have some uni-taskers: A scale, sugar thermometer, smoked salmon knife, to name a few. That being said, I still find new uses for one foot lengths of 3/4" diameter plastic pipe....

I am of an "older generation" and have never purchased anything on-line, have never given out my credit card #, and I never buy anything I can't get my grubby little mitts on before I hand over the money.

Restaurant dealers never sell in "Sets", and face it, the main difference between high end homeowner's sets and restaurant quality is the outside finish: Commercial quality never really bothers with a shiney finish on the outside, it's going to get scrubbed with a Scotchbrite pad in the first few days anyway.

I have seen many, many people "re-profile" their knives (dead flat, hollows, too much belly, too shallow bevels, too steep bevels, wildly changing bevels, rounded over "dubbed" edges, you name it) with a hardware store 200 grit stone, and most usually place deep scratches in the blades. Many self proclaimed sharpeners remark on how quickly thier knives seem to "shrink"---"sharpening" is done with abrasive materials....... On the other hand I have seen sharpening done by knife stores that would make a lawnmover/chainsaw guy blush. If you don't want to sharpen your knives,(and I didn't for the first 15 years) the only thing to do is bring a "sacrificial knife" to a sharpener and judge his work after the fact.

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-Follow the recipe exactly and you'll be fine.

Recipes are developed by particular human beings in a particular place and time. Measuring techniques vary from person to person (eg, flour by volume), measures themselves vary from place to place (US gallon vs Imperial gallon), ingredients can even change in size (chickens and chicken parts are now much larger than they used to be) as well as qualitatively (pork is now much leaner than in the past).

I just love recipes that call for 2 carrots or a small onion or whatever. How small is small? Tell my an actual measurable quantity. I don't care if it by weight or by volume, just make it measurable!

Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

;

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The unitasker thing strikes me as fine advice, but hardly a rule. It shouldn't depend on how casual you are, but on whether you'll use the thing often enough to justify its price and kitchen real estate. If you plan to make fresh pasta twice a week, get a pasta machine. If you plan to make it twice a year, use the rolling pin you already have ...

Edited by paulraphael (log)

Notes from the underbelly

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