A pound of flesh

In Tips and Hints on June 2, 2011 at 11:22 am

He still has all of his fingers

If you have watched more than ten minutes of any cooking show, you have seen chefs teaching novices to peel garlic the “easy way”.  The technique consists of laying the clove of garlic on a hard surface, laying the side of a large chef’s knife over it, and whacking it with the palm or side of the hand.

Please do not try it.

Sure, it is showy and appeals to men for its macho “hit something” and “pointy instrument” value.  But, the worst kitchen accident I have ever seen arose from a newly hired prep chef using the technique to peel the enormous amount of garlic needed for an Italian dish featured for the evening service.

We were all hustling about our own duties when a shriek erupted from a prep area near a slop sink.  The involved chef was holding his hand in a towel over the sink as blood poured from beneath the towel.  We ran to investigate and to see if we could help the poor guy out.  When we peeked under the towel, the palm of his hand hung like a split chicken breast dangling on a meat fork.  He was rushed to a hospital where surgeons did their best to repair the damage.

We never saw the man again, but I often wonder what happened to his cooking career.  He was wonderfully insightful in the kitchen and I never heard a curse word uttered from his lips (which is highly unusual for professional kitchen folk).  He was known to cheerfully tackle the scutwork (like peeling garlic) most of us avoided like the plague.  He would have probably evolved into a fine chef and a fun man to work for.

I now know about the vast network of fine nerves in the palm, particularly those needed for our highly useful opposing thumbs.  He may have gotten back a normal-appearing hand, but it is doubtful (given the state of microsurgery in 1973) that he ever regained full dexterity of his thumb and other fingers.

We had all used the technique and the new guy demonstrated competency to the head chef before he was permitted to use it.  A good head chef will shake down new personnel to appraise their techniques before hiring them, or whenever he/she gives the newbie a new assignment.  (Note:  I cringe when I see amateur cooking competitions, such as Master Chef, where novices compete to slice and dice in timed contests.  It is stupid and the disregard the professional chefs have for their charges is nauseating as they grin and make crude comments to competitors having vulnerable body parts within millimeters of a razor-sharp knife.)

The nearest we could determine, was that he laid a particularly large clove of garlic down (peeling large cloves obviously cuts down on how many one must peel), placed the side of his large (and extremely sharp) chef’s knife over the clove and whacked it with his palm.  Unfortunately, the knife rotated (or he improperly placed it, sharp edge upward) and he struck his palm obliquely on the sharp knife edge.  The knife, not knowing the descending palm was not another cut of meat, dutifully did its job.

There are two, safer (albeit slower) ways to peel garlic.

Method One

Cut the top and root end from the clove using a paring knife that is not razor sharp.  Now, using the tip of the knife, make a slit from the root to the top of the clove in the thickest part of the skin.  The skin will now almost roll off of the clove.  There remains a bit of risk of small cuts.  But if the clove is placed on a work surface, rather than merely holding it, the hand/fingers are pretty protected from cuts.

Method Two

If you have a LOT of garlic to peel (and will not need intact, whole cloves for the dish), use the flat, non-serrated side of a tenderizing mallet to GENTLY whack the clove.  Now, gently remove the peelings.

Just like touching up a knife with a steel firmly planted perpendicular to a cutting board, peeling garlic using any of the above methods is not showy or impressive to watch.  I love cooking and want Phyne Dyning’s readers to love it as well.  The object of Phyne Dyning is to build a non-pretentious legion of foodanistas who are disinterested in being overly showy when preparing and presenting food to family and friends.  The kitchen can be like an exotic lover, fun and exciting…and beyond dangerous under the wrong circumstances.

Now, go forth…and be safe.


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