Herbs… oh, how I love herbs. They add complexity and depth to food that can’t be matched. But they’re not all the same so how do you know which ones to use?
I’ve seen charts out there that try to tell you that these herbs pair with those foods but that’s simplifying it way too much for me. Some herbs are best fresh while others are great dried. Some hold up to cooking and others are best as a garnish. And some can be unpleasant going down your esophagus so I want a little more explanation than an “x” in the chicken column.
Experience is the best way to discover how you like your herbs but until you’re able to work with all of them freely, I put together a little guide for you. There’s a short description for each along with a chart that identifies properties of the fresh version of each. I listed out which cuisines each herb is most known for and also listed some of the more popular ingredients they compliment. 
Standard curly parsley and flat-leaf parsley can be used interchangeably although flat-leaf is more peppery and has a stronger flavor. The stalks of both pack more flavor than the leaves and are often used to flavor long-cooking French soups, stocks, and sauces while the leaves are used to finish dishes. Parsley cleanses the palate and is also used in heavy dishes to lighten the flavors. It’s mild flavor makes it the most versatile of all herbs and allows it to work with just about anything savory. Just keep it out of desserts.
Leaves:  Soft, bright green
Flavors:  Tangy, clean, slightly peppery
Cuisines:  Just about all of them
Pairs well with:  lemon, garlic, vegetables
Use it raw?:  Yes
Use it cooked?:  Yes
Use dried?:  Yes, but it’s better fresh
Chives are the most delicate member of the onion family. They’re best when fresh and should not be cooked for long periods or at high temperatures.
Leaves:  Long, green, and grasslike
Flavors:  Mild onion
Cuisines:  French, Mediterranean
Pairs well with:  Cheese, potato, eggs
Use it raw?:  Yes
Use it cooked?:  Gently
Use dried?:  Only when desperate
Cilantro is often mistaken for flat-leaf parsley and while their flavor profiles are similar, there is a notable visual difference. If you can’t tell them apart, compare the stems: cilantro stems are much thinner than parsley. Cilantro is used widely in salads and sauces and is best when not heated. It’s flavor is ruined when dried so stay away from the jarred stuff.
Leaves:  Soft with thin, wispy stems
Flavors:  Sharp and tangy, slightly citrusy
Cuisines:  Mexican, Asian, Indian
Pairs well with:  Lime, tomato, avocado, cumin, curry, garlic, ginger
Use it raw?:  Yes
Use it cooked?:  Gently
Use dried?:  No
Dill is very delicate and loses its impact when cooked so when cooking with it, add it at the end of a dish after it has been removed from heat. Steaming is really the only cooking method delicate enough for actually cooking dill.
Leaves:  Feathery, delicate, blue-green
Flavors:  Similar to parsley but with a much sharper taste of anise (licorice)
Cuisines:  Scandinavian, Greek, Indian, Central to Eastern Europe
Pairs well with:  fish, potato, cucumber, salads
Use it raw?:  Yes
Use it cooked?:  Gently
Use dried?:  Only when desperate
Tarragon is best when fresh and is one of my favorite herbs. I enjoy the flavor even though it’s kind of licoricey (and I don’t like licorice). It’s mild enough that I use it in place of parsley in quite a few dishes. Dried tarragon, however, tastes like hay. Not that I’ve tasted hay but it tastes like hay smells. You know what I mean.
Leaves:  Very delicate, long, and bright green
Flavors:  Delicate anise, mild and slightly sweet (similar to licorice or fennel)
Cuisines:  French
Pairs well with:  Fish, tomato, chicken, lemon
Use it raw?:  Yes
Use it cooked?:  Gently
Use dried?:  Please, don’t. Unless you like hay.
Sweet Basil is most commonly found in the United States so that’s what I’ve charted below. Opal Basil is the purple variety and is similar in taste but is less sweet than those with green stems. You may also see Thai Basil, which is between the other two in taste. Thai Basil is identifiable by its green leaves and purple stems.
Leaves:  Large, green
Flavors:  Strong, citrusy, slightly peppery, minty, slightly sweet
Cuisines:  Mediterranean, Southeast Asian
Pairs well with:  Tomato, garlic, coconut, curry, lemon, Italian cheeses
Use it raw?:  Yes
Use it cooked?:  Yes
Use dried?:  Eh
Mint has many different varieties but spearmint is most commonly found in the U.S. It can hold up to some cooking but its flavor doesn’t pair well with many savory flavors so it’s not cooked often. Mint is ideal in drinks (mojito, anyone?), salads, and desserts.
Leaves:  Soft, bright green
Flavors:  Tart, fresh
Cuisines:  Thai, Middle Eastern
Pairs well with:  Chocolate, fruit, lamb
Use it raw?:  Yes
Use it cooked?:  Yes
Use dried?:  No
Oregano has a strong, noticeable flavor, mostly associated with pizza sauce. It’s classically paired with tomatoes in Western cooking. In Middle Eastern, countries, it’s used to flavor a variety of meats and can even be found on the table next to the salt and pepper.
Leaves:  Small, dark green
Flavors:  Hearty, peppery, and slightly sweet
Cuisines:  Mexican, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern
Pairs well with:  Lemon, tomato, fish, pasta
Use it raw?:  Yes
Use it cooked?:  Yes
Use dried?:  Yes
Rosemary should not be used dried; its leaves get hard and inedible and it dramatically loses flavor. Its stems contain abundant flavor and are often used to flavor sauces but are removed before serving.

Leaves:  Stiff, needlelike
Flavors:  Earthy, piney
Cuisines:  French, Mediterranean
Pairs well with:  Roasted or grilled meats (particularly lamb), fish, garlic, potato, onion, tomato
Use it raw?:  No
Use it cooked?:  Yes
Use dried?:  No
Sage is very robust and pairs well with heavy, rich dishes. Sage is probably the most identifiable flavor in breakfast sausage so when you try it on its own for the first time, you might have an irresistible urge for pancakes.

Leaves:  Light, grayish green, soft & fuzzy
Flavors:  Slightly peppery and minty
Cuisines:  French, Mediterranean
Pairs well with:  Cheese, pork, pasta, onion
Use it raw?:  No
Use it cooked?:  Yes
Use dried?:  Yes, but it loses flavor
Thyme stems have more flavor than their tiny leaves so they’re used to flavor sauces (just like parsley and rosemary stems). Thyme holds up really well when dried but it intensifies the flavor so use no more than half the dried thyme as compared to fresh.

Leaves:  Tiny, dark green
Flavors:  Hearty, earthy
Cuisines:  French, Italian, Middle Eastern
Pairs well with:  Chicken, fish, lamb, mushroom, onion, potato, soups, stews, tomato
Use it raw?:  No
Use it cooked?:  Yes
Use dried?:  Yes
Bay Leaves are used solely for flavoring soups, stocks, and sauces. Like thyme, they hold up extremely well when dried and are much less expensive than fresh. 

Leaves:  Large, bright green
Flavors:  Sweet, balsamic aroma and peppery flavor
Cuisines:  French, Mediterranean
Pairs well with:  Soups, stews
Use it raw?:  No
Use it cooked?:  Yes
Use dried?:  Yes

When shopping for fresh herbs, look for crisp, bright green leaves and stems. Avoid herbs that look limp. For extended life, rinse your herbs, wrap them in a barely damp paper towel, then seal them in a plastic baggie. Store them in the crisper drawer in your refrigerator. Herbs lose their flavor and can get bitter when they start to turn yellow or brown so try to use them up before they change color. I’ve seen some people suggest you freeze them in olive oil in ice cube trays but what if I don’t want that much olive oil in my dish? I prefer not to waste that much olive oil.
Don’t be intimidated to try herbs in your cooking. When experimenting, use your nose. Your sense of smell is directly linked to your taste buds so before adding a new flavor to your dish, smell the dish, smell the herb, then smell the dish again. That will give you an idea of whether or not the herb will work. It’s not foolproof but it’s helpful. Also, add a little at a time. You can always add more but you can’t take any away.

Happy herb experimenting!

Yesterday’s post was all about the reasons to buy whole chickens. Today, we’ll pick back up with our knife skills and learn how to butcher a whole chicken. There are plenty of videos on YouTube that can help you out and because there are about a hundred ways to do it, the videos are all a little different. No method is wrong if the end result is the same so pick the method you find easiest.

I typed these instructions for a beginner who is not at all familiar with where joints are in chickens. Those of you with a little more chicken experience will be able to skip the steps where I outlined how to identify joints and slice right through them.

I photographed each step so you can see the details. If it’s hard to comprehend through photos, watch some videos for more information. If I can get a good quality video put together, I’ll add it to this post.

Setting Up

Before you get started, line a half sheet pan with parchment paper and set it next to your work station. You finished cuts will go on this pan. I also have a gallon-sized freezer bag ready so I can drop the bones inside when I’m finished. I scoot all the skin and cartilage I cut off the chicken into the top, right corner of my board so they’re out of my way. They’re garbage and will go into the trash when I’m done.

You’ll need your boning knife and a chef’s knife if you want bone-in breasts (I won’t demonstrate bone-in breasts in this post). If not, you’ll just need a boning knife. If you don’t have a boning knife, choose one that has a long, smooth blade. Also, use a plastic cutting board. If the bottom of your board doesn’t have grips on it, lay a wet wash cloth under it to keep it from sliding around.

Check the cavity of the chicken and pull out anything that’s inside. You can add the neck to your bones for stock. You can also use the liver and gizzards in stock but I save them for other uses (dirty rice, fried livers, etc.). Some people feed them to their cats or dogs but you can always throw them away if you don’t plan on using them.

If you’re cutting on the right side, the wing tips will be pointing up. If not, turn it over so that it looks like this photo. Cut off any skin that is hanging loosely from the bird. I recommend working on the white meat first and leaving the dark meat on because the dark meat helps keep the carcass stable so it’s not rolling around the board while you’re trying to take off the breasts.

That said, we need to get the legs out of the way. Make a thin slice through the skin between the leg and breast.

From inside the cavity, gently slice through the rest of the skin so that it’s completely severed. Gently. Don’t use a lot of force unless you want to end up slicing your nose off in the process.

Here’s how it should look now that the skin is split. Repeat on the other side.

Now, for optimal stability, you want the legs to lay flat on the board. To do this, grab the left leg and thigh with your left hand and grab the right leg and thigh with your right hand. Lift the bird slightly and bend the legs back quickly and firmly so that it breaks the joints.

Removing the Breast

Now take a look at the top of the chicken. You can rub your fingers over it and feel where the breast bone runs, right down the middle from the back to the front.

Make a shallow incision down the middle of the breast bone on the top of the bird. This is to expose the breast bone. Stick you finger in the incision to get a feel for where the bone is. Remove your finger and make another long incision just to the right of the bone, staying as close to the bone as possible.

Continue making long, smooth strokes with your knife, going farther into the flesh with each cut. Try to keep your knife as close to the breast bone as possible without cutting into it. You want to get as much meat off the bone as possible. It could help to run your finger along your cut after each slice. This will help you get a feel for how much you’re accomplishing.

A couple inches into your cutting, the breast bone will start to flare out. Continue to follow the curve until you find the end of the bone and the breast separates.

Run your thumb under the breast as far back as you can because you’re probably getting close to the joints. Joints are important because they’re held together with tendons, which you can cut through. Since you can’t cut through bones, you have to look for joints.

Pull the breast back and expose as much of that mess as possible. In the photo, you can see where the two separate bones are. Even if you can’t perfectly see the joint, you can feel where it is with your fingers so you know where to cut to separate the bones. The end of each bone has cartilage on it which is bright white, which will help you identify the the joint.

Cut through the tendons and here’s what you have. I identified the same bones as in the photo above to show you what they look like. Notice I left in the wishbone. Whoops! I usually take that out first but I was distracted. Run your knife around the bone to release it.

Removing the Wing

Now take off the wing. Pull the wing up and make a shallow incision where the wing meets the breast.

Turn the breast around and bend the wing down to expose the joint. Use the tip of your knife to cut around the right of the joint until the wing separates from the breast.

Here’s your wing and your breast, separated.

Finishing the White Meat

Flip the breast over and that long, slender piece that’s barely hanging on… that’s the tender. Just pull it off, no knife required.

Flip the breast back over and you can see some extra skin hanging off. Make one long, quick slice to separate that extra skin. Don’t saw… just one long, quick slice right where the arrows cut.

Much better. These pieces (breast, tender, and wing) are done. Move them over to your sheet pan and go through the exact same process on the other side of the bird. I changed up my process a little because I wanted an airline chicken breast but they’re not very in demand with home cooks so I’ll give you that process another time.

Take Off the Breast Bone

Here’s what you should have left.

Take the breast bone in your left hand, grab the dark meat with your right hand, and break the backbone in half. Doing this creates a break in the spine so you have a place to cut with your knife. Lay it on the board again and slice through the break you just created to separate the breast bone.

Here’s what it looks like now. The breast bone can go into your reserved freezer bag.

Remove the Legs & Thighs

Flip your dark meat over so it looks like this.

Make an incision down the middle of the bone.

Run your thumb into that slit and keep your thumb running along the bone, with your fingernail directly under the meat. Look at the next photo… see that little scoop-looking bone? The most tender chicken meat on the whole bird sits in that bone and it’s called the “oyster”. It’s tender enough that you can easily separate it from the bone with just your finger.

Now that the oyster is removed, you can keep running your finger along the bone to separate the rest of the meat.

Using your knife will get it off faster but I suggest you do it with your thumb the first few times. That will help you find the joint so you know where to cut to separate the thigh from the pelvis.

When you cut through the joint, here’s what you get.

Separate the Legs & Thighs

Flip over the meat you just cut off and this is what you see. Notice how the leg looks a little pinker than the thigh? That’s because there’s way more fat under the skin of the thigh. The nice thing about it is that it gives you a clear path on where to cut. You want to make your next slice right along that line where the pinkish leg meets the yellowish thigh.

Here’s the slice I made. Run your finger into that slice so you can identify where the joint is.
Once you’ve found the joint, slice through it with your knife. Now you have a separate leg and thigh.

Finish the Dark Meat

There was a little loose cartilage hanging off from the joint I just cut through. Feel around and cut it off. Nobody wants to bite down on that stuff.

Flip the thigh over. Cut off any more loose cartilage.

It’s a little hard to see in this photo but in person, you’ll see a lot of extra fat and skin on thighs. Pink is meat and yellow is fat and skin. Cut off any yellow you see creeping out from the pink.

There’s a little meat on that fat and skin but not enough to justify leaving all that on the thigh.

Cut off any other loose, dangly yellow pieces.

Here’s what’s left of your thigh. Lovely.

(Except that extra goop on my board. Totally should’ve wiped that off so you wouldn’t have to look at it. Sorry!)

Now clean up your drumstick… if there’s anything dangling off that joint you just cut, trim it off and you’re done. Whew!

Clean Up the Mess

Here are all the bones, perfect for stock. If you’re not making stock right away, freeze the bones.

And here are all the cuts I got from one chicken. I apparently didn’t photograph how I separate the wing segments in this shoot (I shot it several months ago). I’ll take photos during my next chicken extravaganza. Until then, you can do it the same way you separate the leg and thigh… find the joint and cut through. Same with the wing tips, and you can toss those in with your bones for stock.

I cover this pan with plastic and stick it in the freezer just to freeze up the outside before I bag them by part (as I talked about in yesterday’s post).

Once again, check out some videos on YouTube if you need more visuals. I’ll work on a video and post it sometime in the near future.

I hope you’re encouraged to buy whole chickens. I was glad I had all those chicken wings in my freezer last weekend when my friends were driving to every grocery store in town looking for some for the Super Bowl. You never can tell how much thinking ahead helps you out until days like that!

Buying whole chickens and breaking them down yourself can save you some serious cash at the grocery store. It’s a skill that requires a lot of practice (and patience) but the rewards are huge. I no longer buy individual chicken pieces. Ever. I’ve found it way more cost-effective to buy whole chickens and break them down into the cuts I want. Plus, I love chicken butchery… maybe because I know how much money it saves me.

Dollars and Sense

I won’t deny that I’m tempted by those huge bags of frozen chicken breasts that cost about $8 but in the end, I know it’s a waste of money. I can buy a whole chicken for under $4 and get 12 pieces from it. In addition, I’m left with chicken bones and if I add that to about $1.25 worth of onions, carrots, celery, dried herbs, and some water, I get two and a half quarts of chicken stock. (We’ll talk about how easy and virtually effortless it is to make chicken stock soon in Soups, Stocks, and Sauces.) 

The chicken stock alone would cost me over $10 if I were to buy it at the grocery store, and it’s not very good. Even the high quality brands (which still can’t hold a candle to homemade) have additives that I don’t want. The concept is the same as when I talked about produce in How To Stock Your Pantry… nobody is cutting up a chicken to save you time and money. They’re doing it because they can charge you and arm and a leg for it (or a leg and a thigh, heh). And they manage to shamefully convince you they’re doing you a favor in the process. The $5.25 (max) I pay for a whole chicken and all the components of chicken stock gets me 12 pieces of chicken and 2 1/2 quarts of chicken stock. If I let someone in a manufacturing plant do the work for me, the same would cost me around $20. That’s a 380% markup. For some of you, your time is worth the money and I get that. That’s just not the case for me or anyone who needs to lower their grocery bill in a tough economy.

Dark Meat? Blech. 

But you prefer white meat over dark meat, right? I’m with you. I feel like a traitor to my profession by admitting it but it’s true. I tried to convince myself that I preferred dark meat because no self-respecting chef could prefer white meat. Everyone says dark meat has more flavor but truth be told, I don’t like the flavor of chicken. I like what chicken tastes like when you add stuff to it but I’m not down with steaming a piece of chicken, white or dark, and going to town.

I did a little research on the nutritional values of white vs dark meat in preparation for a cooking class, back when I was still in dark meat denial. I wanted to convince my students that, nutritionally, there aren’t that many benefits to white meat so they should choose the more flavorful part of the bird. In my research, I discovered what I already knew to be true: dark meat is significantly higher in fat and calories and contains less protein per serving. In trying to convince others to eat dark meat, I convinced myself to stick with white meat instead. But… dark meat has it’s place. It’s great fried. And barbecued, mmmmm. There are tons of delicious recipes that are better with chicken thighs than with breasts and having them on hand means there’s more variety in my meal selection. Nothin’ wrong with that.

Have It Your Way

I also have more options when I break down a chicken. I can get dozens of combinations of the following cuts by doing it myself:

  • Whole chicken (for soup)
  • Bone-in, skin-on breast
  • Boneless, breast
  • Boneless, skinless half breast (from large birds)
  • Airline breast
  • Tenders (they’re not just sliced breasts)
  • Whole wing
  • Wing segments, for game day wings (I usually cut the wing tip off, despite the photo above)
  • Frenched wing segments, for fancy game day wings
  • Bone-in thigh
  • Boneless, skinless thigh
  • Drumstick
  • Bones (for stock)

Tips for Freezing Chicken

  • Decide what parts you want before you get started then chop away. 
  • Lay the parts out on a half sheet pan lined with parchment, cover with plastic, and put the whole pan into the freezer for 30 minutes to an hour to freeze any exterior liquid. After 30 minutes or so, pull the pan out and drop your chicken parts into freezer bags. You could probably skip the 30-minute step if you like but since I put several pieces of chicken into one freezer bag, it keeps them from sticking together. If you have a vacuum sealer, now is a great time to use it.
  • I freeze them based on part; boneless breasts together, bone-in breasts together, tenders together, etc. 
  • If you don’t want to make stock right away, drop the bones into a plastic bag and freeze them.
  • I almost always break down my wings into segments (wing tips go in with my bones for stock) and freeze 8 wing segments (two chickens) to a bag. That makes a great game-day snack for one (or two if I make something else with it). If I’m feeding more people, I use more bags.
  • Always label your bags. Once they’re frozen, they’re hard to tell apart.
  • Always date your bags with the date you freeze them. The USDA recommends storing chicken in the freezer for a max of 9 months so don’t buy more than you can use in that time period.
  • Buy at least two chickens at a time and get all the work done at once. You can buy more, depending on the size of your family and how much you like chicken.
It takes a lot of trial and error at first and I won’t lie to you, it’s not easy. You have to learn how to break down a chicken (learn that trick here). Then you have to figure out how you’ll use all the parts to know how you want to freeze them. But with some practice and determination, you’ll be well on your way to reducing your monthly food budget. You’ll master it before you know it and you’ll be glad you made the change.

The first practical exam I took in culinary school was all about knife cuts. We spent a couple weeks learning and practicing the precise size and knife technique for a dozen different classical French vegetable cuts. Then I spent eight months practicing five of those cuts for competition. Compliments are few and far between in classical culinary competitions but one of the best I received was when those French & German Master Chefs I talked about before turned my eight tournéed potatoes out on the table, checking for consistent sizes among all eight. They picked them up, examined them on all sides, then one of them looked at me and said, “you’ve done this before, yes?” In other words, “you’ve practiced a lot, yes?”

“Yes, chef.”

For our written exam in Knife Skills, we had to know each classic cut’s name and dimensions. For the practical portion, we had to execute them but without a model or ruler in front of us. We were given a piece of parchment paper and told to produce two ounces of each cut, place them on the parchment, and label them. As we finished, my chef instructor walked the room with a ruler and measured everyone’s little piles of carrots and potatoes. Our grade depended on how accurate our cuts were.

Let’s move on to ten common classic French knife cuts. Here’s an example of the models we used when we practiced so you can get a visual image of what I’m describing.

  1. Tourné – Looks like a seven-sided football. It’s 2-inches long, 1-inch thick at the center, and it’s rounded to 1/2-inch thick at the ends. Each of the seven sides should be the same size and perfectly smooth from end to end, indicating that you made the cut with one long motion without stopping in the middle of the cut. This requires the tourné knife I showed you way back when we talked about knives. I practiced this cut until my hand cramped and I couldn’t do it any longer. Every. Single. Day. For weeks. 
  2. Paysanne – This cut can be square, round (think sliced carrots), or triangle. We focused on square and its dimensions are 1/2″x1/2″x1/8″.
  3. Large Dice – Cube shaped; 3/4″x3/4″x3/4″
  4. Medium Dice – Cube shaped; 1/2″x1/2″x1/2″
  5. Small Dice – Cube shaped; 1/4″x1/4″x1/4″
  6. Brunoise – Cube shaped; 1/8″x1/8″x1/8″
  7. Fine Brunoise – Cube shaped; 1/16″x1/16″x1/16″
  8. Batonnet – Shaped like a matchstick; 1/4″x1/4″x2″ long
  9. Julienne – Shaped like a matchstick; 1/8″x1/8″x2″ long
  10. Fine Julienne – Shaped like a matchstick; 1/16″x1/16″x2″ long
So what’s the big deal? Why are the French so uptight about their knife cuts? Several reasons but it all narrows down to one idea; they take pride in their food. It should look perfect and it should be cooked perfectly. It’s impossible to cook food properly if you have about 326 pieces of brunoise carrots in a pan and they’re all different sizes. 
Clearly, it’s not as imperative that all your carrots are exactly 1/8″x1/8″x1/8″ but you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t put in enough effort to get your vegetable cuts somewhere close to the same size.  I’m definitely not as precise when cooking at home (as you’ll see below) but I at least make an effort.
Here is a photo demonstration on the easiest way to efficiently get the most frequently used knife cuts. I’m using my chef’s knife and only using the back third of the blade, closest to the handle. Keep the tip of the knife on the board and raise the back to slice in to the carrot. You can raise the whole knife and keep it parallel to the board (blade facing down at the board) and slice through if you’re comfortable but I find it easier for newbies to keep the tip on the board. Does that make sense?

Peel your carrot and lop off the two ends.

(Man, I cut off some usable product. Shame on me.)

Cut your carrot into 2-inch(ish) pieces.

I like to start with the fat one first. Cut off a 1/4-inch plank. Notice the flat end (where I sliced off the plank) is facing to the right.

Now roll your carrot so that the cut side is flat against the board. This will keep your carrot from rolling around while you cut the rest of the planks.

Continue cutting 1/4-inch planks and let them fall to the right of your knife.

Once the planks are cut from all three of your carrot pieces, slice your batonnets. Stack two or three planks together and cut 1/4-inch pieces from them.

Here’s a photo of all the stages together. Once I cut my batonnets, I was able to cut them into a brunoise by turning the batonnets and slicing them into 1/4-inch cubes. I clearly didn’t pay much attention to detail when making my cuts, I’m a little embarrassed at how bad they are! You’d think I’d have a little more pride since I’m putting them online for scrutiny but apparently not. These are fine for general cooking but I’ll always be in competition mode when slicing veggies and these wouldn’t fly! Sheesh. *Palm to forehead*

The same method is used for cutting potatoes, celery (sort of), beets, turnips, parsnips, squash, eggplant,… anything where the result you want is a dice or a matchstick-ish cut. Just adjust the size of your planks based on the final size you want.

As you’ve heard me say before, stick with a good method. The more you use proper knife skills, the better you’ll get and the less time you’ll spend prepping food in the kitchen. I promise.

Previous Post:  Knife Skills

It took a lot of establishing information but it’s finally time to move our lessons into the kitchen. In culinary school, the first thing you do in the kitchen is learn how to properly use a knife so that’s where we’ll start, also. To properly use a knife, you first have to know how to hold one. Holding a small knife is pretty intuitive so I’ll focus where people tend to go wrong… with large knives. If you haven’t read my post all about knives, you might want to check it out.

Today, we’ll focus on chef’s and santoku knives since the method is the same for both and they’re more likely to be mishandled than any other. A good knife is weighted so that if you hold it properly, it will be evenly balanced and easier to control. The image below (which was kindly loaned to me from the good people at Fante’s in Philadelphia) is the perfect illustration.

Wrap your hand around the handle where it meets the blade. Your index finger should rest on one side of the blade while your thumb is pressed against the opposite side. This will give you optimal control.

The longer you’ve used knives with a different technique, the harder it will be to transition to using a better grip but I highly encourage you to stick with it. People are often afraid of cutting themselves but sliding your hand closer to the center of the blade will give you more control and the less likely you’ll be to make a mistake. I can not stress enough how important it is to have a sharp knife for cutting vegetables. Not only will it require less muscle to get through the tough cuts, you’re actually less likely to cut yourself if you keep your knife sharp. True story.

Let’s use this technique to cut an onion. This isn’t the only way to cut an onion but it’s the way we were required to do it for ACF competitions (for speed and accuracy) so it’s been beat into me.

Slice the onion in half, going through the root. 

Slice off the end opposite of the root. This is when I find it easiest to peel off the dry, outer layers.

This is where it gets a little difficult to explain in photos. Lay the onion flat on the cutting board with the sliced end facing toward your knife blade. Place your left hand on top for support (see below) and, starting closest to the cutting board, slowly cut slices through the onion that are parallel to the board. Slices should be as wide as you want your final onion pieces and should end about an inch before you reach the root of the onion. It’s important to not use a sawing motion, that creates a lot of room for cutting yourself. Instead, start with the widest part of the knife at the tip of the onion (like in photo 1). Pull the handle toward you as you slice into the onion toward the root, creating one long cutting motion. You’re simultaneously pulling the knife toward you and through the onion, toward the root.

I failed to show how I hold the onion with my left hand in the above photos so I thought I’d add this one from a previous shoot. Apply just enough pressure to hold the onion in place but not so much that it makes it more difficult to run your knife through it.

Here’s what your onion should look like so far. Notice the cut lines running parallel to the board.

Next, make slices perpendicular to the cutting board, starting at the end of the onion farthest from you and working toward you. Curl your fingers in just a bit and rest the side of the blade of the knife against your fingers. This will allow you to use your fingers as a guide to ensure you cut exactly where you want to cut. Keep your fingertips curled in to avoid a trip to the ER! Keep the tip of your knife about one inch from the root. Otherwise, the onion won’t stay together for the rest of your cuts.

 Here’s what your onion now looks like. A few of my onion pieces have already jumped ship.

Now you can cut cut across your previous slices to finish dicing most of your onion.

Cut until the end of your previous slices. Remember how we didn’t cut the inch of the onion closest to the root? We’ll take care of it now.

 Turn the onion down so it’s flat on the board.

 Cut slices.

Turn the slices and slice through them to dice them. You can also tackle that last root part of the onion now.

Repeat the above step with the other half of your onion.

I hope this all makes sense, let me know if it doesn’t. Learning to use your knife properly is difficult at first but I know from experience that it make a difference. Stick with it and you’ll be amazed at how fast you can chop through veggies!

Next Post: Classic French Knife Cuts
Previous Post: How to Effectively Organize Your Recipes

A few posts ago, I talked about how I don’t plan meals before going to the grocery store or farmer’s market. Instead, I let sales on meat and produce influence what I buy and what I cook for the week. What I failed to tell you, however, is how I decide what I’ll cook. Sometimes a single ingredient will whet my appetite for a particular dish but often I need a little inspiration. I used to buy what’s on sale then review cookbooks and online recipes when I got home but technology has changed things. Before I get to my current method, you need a little back story…

A few years ago, I started typing up all my recipes in Evernote. I loved how Evernote synced across all my devices (computer, tablet, phone), which meant I could access any recipe from any device and could even pull up my Evernote account from any computer with internet access. I got about 80 or so recipes transferred to Evernote before the shine wore off. I still used Evernote for other purposes, especially when opening the restaurant, but I was no longer as committed to using it to organize all my recipes.

Then I found Tastebook. It functions similar to Evernote for me, only its specific function is recipe storage so it has some features Evernote doesn’t (like a shopping list). I started migrating all my recipes from Evernote to Tastebook. This took a while because the Tastebook interface is very specific; you put ingredients in a certain place, instructions in a certain place, upload photos to a certain place, etc. That meant I couldn’t just copy and paste. Plus, there was no app to download to my computer like with Evernote so internet access was required to look up a recipe. My OCD-like tendencies loved that every recipe was formatted the same but I wasn’t sure if the time it took produced much return on investment. Predictably, the shine wore off even quicker with Tastebook. I got less than 60 recipes imported.

Then came Pinterest and it rocked my world. I spent hours browsing food boards and pinning like crazy. I was inspired by some pins and appalled by others but I pinned them all. I didn’t believe that mixing 4 wet ingredients together, pouring it over chicken thighs, and baking it for 30 minutes could really produce the “most delicious chicken you’ve ever tasted” but who was I to judge? So I pinned it and maybe I’d try it later.

After a while, I had a couple people tell me they tried a dish I pinned (not an inspirational pin, one of those “no way that works but I’m pinning it anyway” pins) and how horrible it was. That’s when I realized that because I work with food for a living, some people expect every recipe I pin to work. They don’t know my intent for pinning something, they just see a dish pinned by a chef. So I stopped pinning food. Instead, I opted to open the pin and take screen shots of recipes on my phone. When Pinterest eventually released “secret boards”, I made one for recipes. Good thing because the camera roll on my phone quickly climbed to about 7,000 photos.

The thing about pinning recipes or saving them to your phone (or both) is that you can never find anything. Even if you remember a recipe you pinned 17 months ago, you’ll probably never find it. I knew there had to be another option. That brought me back to Evernote. I had an idea and I needed to test it out. I went to my “Recipes” notebook and created a new note. I added the 4 photos from my phone that made up a single recipe and saved it to that single note. It totally worked. This new method meant I could also create notes for all the recipes I took photos of and had no idea what to do with (from magazines while waiting in the doctor’s office, from a cookbook at my grandmother’s house,…).

That brings me to today. I haven’t yet moved all the photos from my camera roll on my phone to Evernote but I’m well on my way. To date, I have 528 recipes saved. Now when I’m strolling through the meat section and see a sale on sirloin, I open Evernote on my phone, search for sirloin. In a few seconds I’m reviewing every recipe I have that includes sirloin. This has revolutionized my grocery shopping because now I’m not just buying sale items and hoping I have the right things at home to make a great dinner out of it. I leave the grocery store knowing what I’m making for dinner all week and buying any ingredients I need.

Evernote also makes an Evernote Food app, specifically for recipes and meals and all that. It syncs with the original Evernote app but I haven’t messed around with it at all. The original Evernote works for me but it may not be the best option for you. Tastebook is still a great tool so I’ll break down the pros and cons of each, then show you how I use Evernote.


  • Easy to use interface
  • Add an ingredient to your shopping list from within a recipe
  • Easily email shopping list
  • The in-app search allows you to search for recipes from several really good sources (Saveur, Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, Martha Stewart, popular blogs, etc.) and save the recipes to your account
  • Turn your online recipe collection into a printed cookbook with just a few clicks.
  • Easy to print or email recipes
  • Can’t create a new recipe from a mobile device
  • Can’t copy and paste a recipe
  • Takes a while to type each recipe
  • Limited format options
  • Internet required to add or recall recipes

  • Save a photo as a recipe
  • Tag each recipe for quick searches later
  • Open formatting within note
  • Recognizes and searches text in photos (with Evernote Pro only)
  • Easy to print or email notes
  • Can give others access to your notebooks (and set permissions)
  • Limited upload space per month (more with Evernote Pro but still limited)
  • Search feature not always reliable
  • The search is too good. If I search “beef”, it will pull up every recipe that contains beef stock.
Weighing the pros and cons of each, Evernote easily won out for me. Here’s how I use it to save photos of recipes from my phone, which I find easier than adding them through the app on my computer. This demo is on an iPhone but I’m sure the steps on other phones are similar. Today, let’s add a recipe I found for a copycat Dairy Queen Blizzard from BraveTart. I’m slightly obsessed with Blizzards and since all the DQs around me closed and the other fast food equivalents can’t compare, I need a recipe. The girl at BraveTart is a talented pastry chef with an impressive dedication to detail so I can’t wait to try this one.
Step 1:  
First, I edited out any unwanted details by opening each photo in my Camera Roll. You can skip this step if you don’t mind the browser banner at the top and botom of your photo. You know I have OCDish tendencies so I edit the photos to make them seamless. Most of the time.

Step 2:

Go to your recipes notebook in Evernote. This is important, make sure you’re in the right notebook. Any new note you create will automatically default to the notebook you’re currently in. I made the mistake of adding over 80 recipes to the wrong notebook and had to transfer them all later. Total time killer.

Hit the + in the upper right-hand corner to create a new note.

Step 3:  Add recipe

If you want to type the recipe, click in the body and start typing then skip to Step 7.

If you want to add photos as the recipe, tap the camera icon to add a photo.

Step 4:

Tap ‘Choose Existing’ if you’ve already saved the photo to your camera roll.

Tap ‘Take Photo’ if you haven’t.

Step 4.5: Take the photo.

Note: if you need to take several photos, take them from the camera on your phone (not within the Evernote app). Otherwise, you’ll have to keep repeating Steps 3 through 4.5 for each photo.

Step 5:  Add photo

If you’re adding just one photo, you can simply tap that photo to add it to the note and skip to Step 7. If you’re adding several photos, click the icon in the bottom left-hand corner.

Step 6:  Select multiple photos

Tap each photo you want to add. You’ll see a checkmark appear over each photo you select. Make sure you select them in the order you want them to appear on the note… if you select the last one first, that one will appear first on the note.

When you’ve selected all your photos, click “Add Selected Photos” at the bottom.

Step 7:  Add title

Add a title to your note. If you want to add tags or change the notebook, click on the “i” in the top right. If not, hit “Close” and you’re done.

Step 8:  Add tags

If you upgrade to Evernote Pro ($5/month or $45/year), the app will search text within your photos so you don’t need to go crazy with tags. That said, I also tag things that are not mentioned in the recipe. For example, all my cakes say they’re cakes in the title so I never tag “cake”. But it doesn’t say “dessert” so I tag dessert in every sweet recipe I save, including fruit dishes. I tag “breakfast” for all breakfast dishes. I could write a whole post on tags. Not now, maybe later.

If you don’t upgrade to Evernote Pro, you need to tag your recipes well and the more tags, the better. In addition to the examples I gave above, you should also tag the top 1 or 2 items within the recipe. Don’t just tag “chicken”, get a little more specific. If it’s a recipe for a whole chicken, tag “whole chicken”. If it’s chicken breast, tag “chicken breast”. This will make a significant difference in your search results when you’re looking for dinner ideas.

Step 9: Review

There’s my Blizzard recipe! I don’t have the words to convey just how excited I am to try it. My expectations are high and devastation is looming if it doesn’t taste like DQ’s.

Now let’s pretend you’re at the grocery store and good quality chocolate is on sale. If everything was right with the world, it would be a punishable crime to walk past chocolate on sale. It’s not, of course, but you still buy some. Just in case. You open Evernote to get some ideas and you find a recipe you’ve never made but always wanted to. In this case, a very French chocolate cake with an oozy salted caramel center (I actually found this one on a French site). You decide you’re going to make it. At this point, tap the little star to the left of the title to save it to your Favorites. Now it’s saved in your Favorites, which you can access from the Evernote main screen.

I keep my Favorites clear… all that’s in there are the recipes I plan on making this week. Once I’ve made them, I remove them from Favorites. This prevents me from looking at the package of beef tips in my fridge and thinking, “what was I going to make with this?” I just go to my Favorites and after a short process of elimination, I’ve found my recipe. The more items in “Favorites”, the longer the process of elimination.

I know this system won’t work for everyone but it’s perfect for me. I’m not down with spending hours creating fancy menu boards with corresponding recipe binders and detailed shopping lists. I used to do a version of that but my grocery bill is so much less when I shop for sales instead of set menus.
I’m curious… what works for you? Is there something else you use that I haven’t tried yet?
Next Post:  Knife Skills
Previous Post:  Weights & Measurements

This is the last time (for a while, at least) that I’ll try and sell you on converting to weight measurements instead of volume for cooking. As you can tell, I’m pretty passionate about it. I think it’s significant and important so lend me your ear for a few minutes to explain why.

It’s Accurate
1 cup of all purpose flour can weigh anywhere from 3 1/2 oz to 6 oz, depending on who’s measuring, how hard they scoop, how tightly the flour is packed in the measuring cup, whether or not the flour is sifted, etc. I don’t think I need to tell you how much difference that can make in your baked goods.

Same goes for eggs; most amateur recipes call for a quantity of eggs as opposed to weight. This might be accurate if everyone who uses said recipe buys “large” eggs from a grocery store (which are very consistent in size) but that’s not always the case. Some people buy “extra large.” And if you get your eggs straight from the chicken, you can forget about consistency. My grandparents look out for the sweet, old lady across the street. Her son-in-law has a farm and when he comes into town to check on her, he often brings a dozen fresh eggs to my grandparents. I occasionally end up with some. When you open the carton, there are all kinds of sizes and they weigh anywhere from 1 1/4 oz to 2 3/8 oz each. Measuring my recipes by weight ensures I’ll use the right amount no matter what size eggs I have.

At this point, you might be wondering if all that really matters. You have a favorite cookie recipe you’ve been making for years, measuring with cups and spoons, and they’re always perfect. But have you ever tasted an outstanding cookie made by a friend, asked for the recipe, made a batch, but they didn’t taste as good as your friend’s? Better yet, have you read reviews for an online recipe that has mostly positive reviews but peppered in are comments like, “I don’t know what went wrong but this was terrible”? There are only two explanations; improper technique or inconsistent measuring. You can eliminate half the chance for error using a more accurate method for measuring. We’ll eliminate the other half as we progress through the lessons and learn proper technique.

It’s Easy
When scaling a restaurant recipe down for personal use or scaling a test recipe up for large production, weight is the easiest method. Here’s a practical example, get out your calculator. My recipe for crab cakes at the restaurant yields 48 crab cakes but I want to make 8 for dinner at home. I divide 48 by 8 to get the magic number I need to divide each ingredient by; in this case, 6. The original recipe calls for 3 oz panko bread crumbs (approximately 1 1/3 cups). Check out the difference in volume vs weight when scaling it down from 48 to 8 crab cakes:

Volume: 1 1/3 cups (1.333…) divided by 6 is 0.222166… cups. 

Weight: 3 oz divided by 6 = 1/2 oz.  

(Did I lose you? Forgive me, I’m a total math nerd.) Weight clearly wins in both ease and accuracy, unless you’re confident you can accurately measure 0.2221666… cups. While it’s not always that much easier to break down a recipe by weight, it’s never harder.

It’s Fast
Using the original crab cake recipe above and measuring by volume requires a mixing bowl, 1 cup & 1/3 cup measures for bread crumbs, plus 1/2 cup & 1/4 cup measures for other ingredients. That means I have to sift through my equipment to find all the correct sizes. And if I used the 1/4 cup measure earlier for another recipe, I have to wash it before I get started. Then I have 5 things to wash when I’m done.

Using the same recipe but measuring by weight, I need one bowl and a scale. I don’t have to hunt down a bunch of equipment and I don’t have as much to clean up and put away. Just imagine what a difference this makes when turning my kitchen into a mini cookie factory in December.

Like most people, I measured by volume for years and years and accumulated a lot of recipes. I also have recipes passed down from previous generations that are all measured by volume. I used scales professionally and I wondered if it was worth the effort to convert all my home recipes. So the next time I made biscuits, I measured the ingredients like usual, then weighed them as I tossed them into my mixing bowl. I recorded the weights on the recipe in my phone (which, thanks to Evernote, syncs with my computer), and the work was done. It was very little effort and completely worth it. I do that as I prepare each old recipe and also for new ones I try. I still don’t have all my recipes converted and that’s okay… it’ll happen over time.

I went back and forth about whether I should include volume measurements on recipes I post on the blog and ultimately, I decided I should. As much as it pains me, most of the free world still measures using volume and as hard as I work to perfect my recipes, it would be senseless to limit their usefulness to the 3 people who measure by weight and stumble across this blog. However, I may occasionally post professional recipes that were originally recorded by weight without volume measurements. Consider yourself warned.

Oz vs Fl Oz
Two little letters can send you scaling in the wrong direction and really ruin your day when you’re trying a new recipe. I would do you a disservice by not addressing them here. When you see “fl” before “oz” on anything, it means “fluid ounces” and is therefore referring to volume and not weight. There are a few ingredients that are said to weigh the same as their mass; meaning if you weighed out 8 ounces and measured 8 fluid ounces, you’d get the same amount of product. Because of differences in manufacturing, I don’t trust that to be accurate enough anymore so I don’t think it’s worth exploring here.

It’s a shame that whoever named Imperial measurements used the word “ounce” for two different units of measure because it really confuses people. When we opened 180, we made a great sauce that my boss created when he was at another restaurant. He gave me the recipe and I made it about a dozen times while we tested recipes and for formal menu tastings, always without a hitch. When we hired our staff, I went through three different Sauciers (the most important position in our kitchen) who couldn’t get it right. My boss thought there was something wrong with the recipe but I had made it so many times, I knew it was accurate. I even waited until everyone went home one night before we opened and whipped out a batch, just to make sure. It was perfect. It wasn’t until the third Saucier made it incorrectly that I realized they were all measuring incorrectly. The recipe was written using ounces and all three of them (all culinary school graduates, by the way) measured using fluid ounces. The moral of the story; stay alert.

In a slightly related topic, I created a handy little measurement chart that you can put up next to your Meat Temperature Guide. It’s a visual that should help you convert volume measurements. Plus, it looks better than some alternatives. There are two options; I like the gray one but it takes a lot of ink to print so I made a white one, too. Enjoy!

Printable Gray Conversion Chart
Printable White Conversion Chart

I stumbled across a blog that has become my new favorite. It’s called Bravetart and I loooove it. The author also prefers weight to volume and her post as to why is much more eloquent (and less wordy) than mine. Check her out.

Next Post:  How to Effectively Organize Your Recipes
Previous Post:  How to Stock Your Pantry, Part 3