With the boat show season upon us, the time for new crew is perhaps a twinkle in the captain’s eye. In my next few columns, we’ll take a look at some culinary fundamentals that every chef should know and practice daily. These skills can make or break a career as a professional yacht chef, and mastering them will help a chef impress from Day One on board.
First things first
When given a recipe, break it down. The first thing is to pull the ingredients called for in the recipe. The French term for this is “mise en place” (pronounced meez ahn plas), which literally means “set in place.”
On a yacht, having everything in its place is fundamental and key for a successful galley operation. There simply isn’t room to spread things out and use a whole counter, as chefs in restaurants do. So working and living on yachts already forces us into practicing this organizational skill.
Mise en place is the culinary fundamental of gathering the items needed to make a recipe – and not just gathering everything, but having it ready, weighed and prepped.
Be sure to follow the exact instructions. If the recipe says “small dice the onions,” then small dice. Put each ingredient in separate containers next to the work space. Once all the ingredients are on hand, then the chef can begin the recipe – not before.
The right cut
Another culinary fundamental involves knife skills. A successful chef needs to know and practice the different cuts in order to develop uniformity in cooking.
I walked into the galley once expecting the chef to have everything prepped and ready to go in small containers. Instead, the pot of soup had been started but some of the main ingredients still lay on the counter needing to be chopped and diced.
The chef didn’t square off the carrots and dice them.When this happens, there is a risk that some items will get cooked far too much while others don’t get cooked enough. For a soup, this simply won’t work – and it didn’t. Some carrots were not even cooked, while the celery was indeed mushy.
The harder the vegetable, the longer it takes to cook. Dicing for a smaller surface will allow these harder vegetables to cook faster. Let’s say you are cutting up parsnips or carrots for a soup. First peel and cut off the ends, then square off your vegetables into 2-inch pieces. Simply make a thin slice on one side so that it is flat. Do that on all four sides so that your parsnip or carrot now looks like an elongated rectangle.
Here are the measurements for some various cuts. Most are based on the idea of the Julienne, or matchstick, cut.
Julienne (thin matchstick): 1/16 by 1/16 by 2 inches.
Small dice: 1/8 x 1/8 x 1/8 inch. (Simply gather julienne cuts and chop them into this size.)
Bruinoise: 1/16 x 1/16 x 1/16 inch. (This is the smallest julienne dice.)
Baton: 1/2 by 1/2 by 2 1/2 inches. (This cut is used to give height or linear depth to a dish. Looks like batons.)
Batonette: 1/4 by 1/4 by 2 inches. (This is a stick cut like the Baton, but smaller.)
Medium dice: 1/4 by 1/4 by 1/4 inch. (This is like the Batonnet cut, but in cubes.)
Large dice: 1/2 by 1/2 by 1/2 inch. (Think cubed cheese for crudités.)
Paysanne: 1/2 by 1/2 by 1/8 inch. (Think large dice, but sliced thinner, flatter and more square.)
Chiffonade: This is used for herbs, spinach, leafy items. Stack them uniformly, then roll them up tight and slice thin.
These cuts will take time and practice to master. There will be waste, but with the waste comes great stock. Just toss the discards into your next soup for wonderful flavor.
Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine, and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years. Comment at email@example.com.