Thursday, August 11, 2011

More Questions (cont.)

Today we will talk about cucumbers and onions because they are both in the recipe tomorrow.  How do you go about peeling, seeding and chopping a cucumber?  What is the best way to chop or dice an onion?  There is more than one way to do both.  The best thing to do is what works best for you and your style in the kitchen.

Let's start with the cucumber.  The first thing you want to do is buy fresh good looking cucumbers and use them before they start to go bad.  Wash the cucumbers before you start to peel them.  You can use a knife to peel a cucumber but most people will waste too much of the product.  So it is best to use a vegetable peeler for the job. Now hold the cucumber in your off hand and the peeler in your dominant hand.  I'm a lefty so that is my dominant hand.  Place the peeler on the cucumber close to your own hand and stoke away from your hand towards the far end of the cucumber.  Slightly turn the cucumber in your hand and repeat the stoke.  Continue this all the way around the cucumber until all the skin has been removed on that half.  Turn the cucumber in your hand so that your hand is now holding the skinned half and repeat the process.  When the entire cucumber is done, place it on a cutting board and slice it length wise in half.  Take one half in your off hand and using a teaspoon or a melon baller, scrape the seeds out of the center and into the sink or a trash bowl.  Repeat the process with the other half and your cucumber is now peeled and seeded.

You can get a vegetable peeler and/or a melon baller at my favorite places to shop; Kohl'sFood Network and QVC.  If you have some time on Sunday or Wednesday, check out "In the Kitchen with David" on QVC.  It will give you some great ideas for your kitchen and dining.

Depending on what you use is for this cucumber is decides what to do next.  For salads, I will just slice across the cucumber making half-moon slices about 1/3 of an inch thick.  If it is a large half, I may slice it length wise first to make more bite size pieces.

For this soup recipe, I will actually slice it lengthwise into 2 or 3 pieces and then cut into more cube shaped pieces.  This is because I'm going to saute it first and then puree the cucumber.  You decide how you are going to use the cucumber and cut it to fit your need.

Now an onion is different and everyone has their favorite way of doing them.  I'll try and give you some examples as we go through it.

Again, you want to pick out fresh good looking onions.  Using your hands, just rub over the onion and discard any loose outer skin.  Don't worry about getting all of it because you will take care of that after you cut into the onion.

Slice the onion in half from the top to the bottom.  By top, I'm referring to the end that had the part that grow out of the ground removed.  The bottom is the root end.  Now peel away the remaining skin.  Some people will try and only remove the skin.  Others, not worried about any product waste, will remove the first layer of onion because it is easier.  You choose what works best for you.  Remember that working with onions will bring tears to your eyes.  It's a side effect and can be reduced by putting the onion in the refrigerator for an hour or two before cutting.  But remember to store the onions at room temperature by themselves in a dark place.

Once you have removed the skin, lay half the onion on a cutting board cut side down.  Using a chef or sudoku knife, slice the onion lengthwise from the top towards the root at a right angle to the cutting board.  Do not cut through the root end.  We use this to hold the onion together while we dice it.  Now turn the knife 90 degrees and starting at the top, slice at a right angle to the cutting board again making small pieces of onion with each slice.  When you get to the root, discard it.  Repeat the process with the other half.

Different recipes call for different sizes of onion.  Some ask for a fine dice or a large dice (chop).  The spacing you use between each slice you make helps determine this size.  For a fine dice, make the cuts very close together in each direction you cut.  The large dice or chop requires larger spacing each way.  Now there are times when I will cut both ends off and slice the onion in half and make two slices in each directions to give me  a large chop for soups.  Again, it is what works for you.

I know that trained chefs will also add a third cut in the process.  Between the first and second cuts I described above they will make horizontal cuts into the onion.  I have asked numerous chefs over the years to explain why they make this cut and what it really does for them.  None of them have ever answered with anything but "that's the way we were taught."  To me it is a waste of time because the onion is already layered to be a curtain thickness which works for any size dice or chop you make.  Add the step if you want but I don't.

I'm sorry today's blog is so long but it takes more than a few words to describe the two processes.  Tomorrow's recipe will use both as we make a cucumber soup.

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