4 Showy Chef Tricks That Really Are Worth Knowing
These signature chef moves may seem like they’re for showmanship at first glance, but they’re actually quite practical for cooks of all skill levels.
If you’re at all like me, you watch a lot of food shows on TV. And as I watch, I frequently think to myself “Oh that’s just silly. They just do that to show off.” But I have come to believe that there are a lot of those show-off, chef-y things that we could all stand to incorporate into our kitchen routines at home.
Using a Honing Steel
Chefs are constantly using a steel on their knives. At first glance, it just seems like overkill, all of that over-the-top whipping the blade around the sword-like steel. But, the more you cook, the more you’ll use your knives. And the more you use them, the more “out of line” your blade will become. Not a good thing. While using a steel will not sharpen your knife, it will help realign the blade between sharpenings. That IS a good thing.
Another example is two-level cooking. Essentially, that just means using two methods of cooking for one dish. The clearest example of that, to me, is a breaded chicken breast. At first, you saute it in a skillet on the stovetop until the breadcrumb coating is golden. But often the chicken is not yet done. You don’t want to keep sauteeing because the breadcrumbs will burn...so all you need to do is place the (oven-safe) skillet in a 350 oven until the chicken finishes cooking through. The same principle holds true when you want to start a stew on the stove, to brown the meat, and then finish in the even all around heat of the oven. It’s a technique you’ll use constantly once you try it.
Blanching and Shocking
TV chefs all seem to also spend inordinate amounts of time blanching and shocking vegetables. Isn’t that just a messy extra step? Well, I blanch my green vegetables and then shock them in cold or ice water. It may seem fussy, but this way, they are virtually cooked, and all I need to do before serving is a quick saute on top of the stove in oil or butter and herbs or spices for flavor, rather than the entire cooking process. And as an added benefit, you can do about 90% of the vegetable cooking long before the dinner rush overwhelms you. Not to mention, this method really does retain the bright green color and a lovely crunch, just like the TV chefs say!
Seasoning From Above
But I think the showiest technique I grudgingly adopted (and have fully embraced, to tell you the truth) is seasoning from a height. You know, when you see the TV chef hold a handful of salt what appears to be 40 feet above a piece of chicken or beef and then lets the salt float down like a rain shower. Well, there’s a reason for it. When you rain seasonings down from a height, the coverage is exponentially more even...no salty bites next to totally unsalted ones. Yes, it looks showy. (And no, it’s really not 40 feet—more like 12-14 inches.) But you’ll be shocked at how easily you can evenly season things.
I still don’t fall for some of the silly things TV chefs do. I mean, nobody in their right mind winds up and throws herbs like a fast ball screaming, BAM! But, watch good chefs carefully and see whether or not there’s a kernel of knowledge you might glean from all of their theatrics.