26 January 2011

Cutting board

While we're on the subject, let's talk cutting boards. I'm not going to ask you to go out and spend a fortune on them. I have one large one that I bought in a store for like $17. This is one of those things that takes a little more work to get your hands on for cheap, but again, it's well worth it.

I was in Florida at the time, and at a friend's house. He had a beautiful kitchen. Viking range, gorgeous marble counter tops, one of those huge sinks that you can easily wash a large stock pot in with no trouble at all, and enormous windows to let in the heavenly Florida sunshine. He even had the Henckles knives that I'd been eyeing at the store!

And then I saw his cutting boards. They were glass. Glass with pretty patterns on.


Having any kind of knife, cruddy or otherwise, and using a glass cutting board, your counter tops, or a hard plastic cutting boards (yes, they're not /as bad/ as glass, but they're pretty up there) is like seeing a really hot guy at a cocktail party, and then having him turn around to see that his face looks like he fell off the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.

Aside from the annoying loud tapping noise that happens every time the knife hits the glass cutting board (and the gut-wrenching feeling that you're going to shatter the thing), you're wrecking your knife. This goes for using the counter to cut on. Or a plate. I think I just imagined my own personal hell: a person using a small tiny paring knife to cut up a mountain of vegetables, doing it on a ceramic plate that's sat atop a glass cutting board. Also, it's a plate from a tea cup and plate dealie, so there's no flat surface. Also, the cutting board is 1 inch square. Oh. And there's a giant knife block behind the person, with actual knives in.

Anyone who likes to cook will likely be cringing right now.

Let me explain a couple of things, and hopefully it will all make sense in the end. A cutting board is for a couple of things. First and foremost, it protects your knives from getting damaged. When your knife constantly is hitting hard surfaces (counter top, glass cutting board, dinner plate, etc.), the pointy tip that makes the edge is slamming against a surface that it's not meant to encounter, and over a very short time, the knife's edge warps, bends, or even shatters (in tiny little places; it's not instantly noticeable). A cutting board will also protect your counter top. Finally, a decent sized cutting board means that you're not dirtying up a million little bowls and such while you're cooking.

I know you've seen the shows on TV or the Internet where everything is neatly placed into bowls, which the chef tips into the cooking vessel. The reason they do it this way is that on TV, you want the ingredients to be in stark enough contrast to each other that you can easily identify them. Realistically, you'll notice that folk who have a large cutting board will tend to use it as a space to park the prepped veggies.

Suppose I'm making a potato soup. I set the pot on the stove over medium heat, and quickly chop an onion. If I'm making a bit more, I chop two. It shouldn't take me but a minute or two. By the time the onions are chopped, the pot is pre-heated. I heave the onions into the pot, and throw in a teaspoon or so of oil, and stir everything around. I drop down the heat to medium low, and let the onions simmer away. While that's going, I peel and chop my potatoes. For two people, I'll use two to three potatoes. For each additional person, I'll add an extra potato. Point is that while I'm chopping the potatoes, I want space enough for the potatoes to hang out while I finish the job of chopping them. Were I to have one of those dainty little cutting boards, I'd need to find a bowl where the potatoes can park. With my large cutting board, I keep everything in one place, and it's easy enough to lift the whole do, and carry it over to the stove when the veg are ready to go in.

This goes double for when I'm making more complex things, like vegetable soups, where your aromatics alone end up being three to five ingredients (onions, celery, carrots, garlic, bell peppers, etc etc), to say nothing of the veg to follow. Again, I want a place for all the different veggies to hang out so that I'm not constantly bumbling around, looking for containers for everything.

What material should you get?

Whatever you can afford that's not glass or hard plastic or marble. Stick with wood, or plastic. Try to avoid one with ridges around the side, because it makes sliding vegetables from the board to the sink a pain in the butt. Instead, try to get one that's completely flat. Trawl your local department stores for sales on them.

If you insist on getting one of those horrible flexible cutting boards, please use them as sort of liners for your larger cutting board. They're too thin to protect your knives. The first cutting board I bought was plastic. That was three years ago, and I'm still using it quite happily to this day. It's about 1/2 inch thick, and very large. I've got plenty of space for whatever I'm prepping. Later, I bought a small wooden one to supplement the plastic one, because I found myself wanting to wash just the little guy when chopping just one small onion, or one clove of garlic. For anything more than that, I pull out the big dog.

Make sure your cutting board is, at the very least, the size of a standard sized sheet of paper. Get one (initially) that's relatively cheap, so that you're not worried about damaging it with repeated use. Anywhere between $10 - $30 is a reasonable amount to spend on one, because you will use it so frequently. This one is about the size of a cookie sheet, and is around $11. Even if you live in a small apartment, get a decent sized cutting board. It's worth the space.

Life will be good.