Mastering the Art of Butchery with Chef Jonathan Waxman
Jonathan Waxman, chef, and owner of New York City's Barbuto, has garnered many superlatives during his culinary career: "One of the country's greatest chefs", king of roast chicken and even "the Obi-Wan Kenobi of Top Chef Masters". Monday night, Waxman shared one of his many talents - and favorite aspects of cooking - with ICE recreational students: butchery.
When we arrived at class, Waxman announced that we would be preparing proteins ranging from lamb to pheasant - but first, we went back to basics. "Jacques Pepin says the most important thing to learn is how to cook an omelet. I say it's how to cut an onion". Waxman explained that knives are shaped like a boat, which means we should chop using a gentle rocking motion. Our non-chopping hand should be shaped "like a crab", walking delicately backward as the knife approaches.
After reviewing the essential slippery onion, Waxman taught us how to debone striped bass (the bones in the fins are poisonous), a leg of lamb (cut away from the body), pheasant (avoid piercing the "oyster") and that all-time classic, the chicken. Regardless of the protein, Chef Waxman insisted that it's important to use your cutting hand to feel for the bones and joints (closing your eyes may help) before diving in with a knife. He also assured us, again and again, "these are unnatural movements", and that even he has to remind himself to practice proper knife technique. Yet one of the most memorable skills shared by Waxman didn't even require a knife. He charged us with the task of sautéing pasta, a Ligurian technique that browns pasta before adding liquid, adding extra crunch and flavor to this essential Italian foodstuff.