I’ve no idea how it works today, but when I went to cooking school sometime in the late Bronze Age, virtually all programs were grounded exclusively in French cuisine and students were expected to show up with a kit that included a “turning knife.”
A turning knife, if you’ve never heard of one, is like a paring knife, only the blade is crooked as if it were a bird’s beak. It’s not for slicing and dicing; instead, it’s used for a form of torture known as “turning” vegetables: A technique, once common in classic French restaurants, involving tricks such as sculpting spiral patterns into mushroom caps and cutting carrots, potatoes, zucchini and the like into miniature football shapes with precisely seven lengthwise sides. I can see how this might become an amusing game if, say, one were to be held captive for months in the bowels of a pirate ship; however, if you’re someone like me, whose ultimate goal it is to put dinner on the table, then nothing could be a more pretentious waste of time or pain in the wrist. I practised my vegetable turning for the final exams, and the minute they were over, I chucked that quack-nosed knife into a drawer where it lay, untouched, for more than 15 years.
Then one day, not long ago, when I was losing a battle with both hopeless potato peelers in the house, my hand, quite accidentally, fell upon that long-forgotten turning knife. I pulled it out, gave it a hard, resentful stare and then I gave it a second chance. With it, I lopped off the ends of a potato and, in a few swift flicks, pared around the potato until it was beautifully bald and bevelled. The sides weren’t exactly even, but what did I care? The peeling job was a dream: smooth and easy, thanks to the blade’s curve. Later, I tried the turning knife on baby potatoes, too (notoriously difficult with a peeler, but a vital step if you’re planning to poach them in garlic butter) and the results were equally uplifting. What had once seemed to me a frivolous and ostentatious chef-only instrument, in the blink of an eye, became a beloved staple of my home kitchen.
Wuesthof Classic Peeling Knife, $85.00; visit wusthof.ca for retailers.Report Typo/Error
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