Thursday, February 11, 2010

Setting up a good food prep station in your kitchen

A knife is a fantastic kitchen tool. It has been doing kitchen prep work for thousands of years and have evolved all kinds of specialized shapes in the last few hundred years. It has been the mainstay of the kitchen even since the invention of the food processor, which is just a powered knife. 

You need just 3 knives to start with a chef's knife, a paring knife and a serrated bread knife. There are a lot of other knife styles out there but these are a great starter set. 

The chef's knife is the workhorse for cutting large things like carrots, onions and meats. The paring knife is for small foods you are cutting off of the cutting board like apples. The serrated bread knife is good for bread and also things with tough outer skins like tomatoes.

Like almost all tools it needs certain accessories to reach its full potential. In the kitchen you need a cutting board of wood for vegetables and polypropylene for meats. You want two cutting boards to prevent cross contamination. A lot of people spend a lot of time sick because of poor kitchen sanitation procedures.

Keep your good knives away from surfaces like granite, composite countertops and especially glass. I was at my parents and they had gotten a glass cutting board, because it would be easy to clean. Good idea but I was cutting a tomato and after cutting the top off I couldn't get through the skin any more. The glass had completely dulled the knife. Steeling the knife after each cut gets old real fast.

Another accessory is a steel, this is often called a sharpening steel but it doesn't sharpen it hones or realigns the edge that got bent through normal use. You want to steel your knife at the start of a cutting session, if you're just cutting a grapefruit in half then you can skip this step, but if you are going to cut up a bag of onions don't skip this step. 

Someplace to store the knives. This is usually a knife block or magnetic strip. Don't just toss them into a drawer, they might cut you and your knives will get dull rattling around in there.

Is your kitchen set up to making knife work easy and safe?

Your main food preparation area needs to be near:
The knife block so you don't have to walk across the kitchen holding a knife. 
The cutting board storage area.
A big open space that can hold the food to be cut, the cutting board and food being cut and the food that has been cut and the discard items. 
The sink so you can clean the knife without having to walk across the kitchen with the knife.

Have you ever thought about how food flows through your kitchen? 

I have noticed when I have stuff to cut up I need some things in place. I'm right handed so I like having a workflow that runs from left to right. I usually wash the food first then put it to the left of the cutting board. Space is kind of tight in our apartment, so I have the sink to hold the discard items to the right of my cutting board, but you can use a bowl, and then take them to the trash or compost pile later, as appropriate. 

Look at where you cut food in your kitchen, is there a way to make things flow easier and faster. Easier and faster is often safer and a safer kitchen is a very good thing. And getting food on the table faster using less energy is always a good thing.