Thursday, 22 May 2008
A sharp knife, I’ve realised, is one of the most useful tools for the frugal cook. Being able to slice foods wafer thin not only makes them look more voluminous but often improves their texture and taste.
Take cheese. If you cut yourself a 50g chunk of cheddar - a reasonable sized portion - it looks pretty mean. But if you sliced off 50g of cheese in fine slices with a sharp knife or Scandinavian-style cheese slicer you’d immediately feel you’d got more on your plate.
Same with a tomato. Cut it into four and it looks small. Slice it thinly and you feel you’ve got twice as much.
The Italians are past masters at stretching a joint by cutting meat wafer-thin and arranging it on a platter with some simple meat juices or sauce spooned over. You need to rest a joint to be able to do this so don’t take your roast straight from the oven to the table.
I’ve also recently bought a mandolin (above) a razor-sharp slicer which cuts even finer slices than I can manage with a knife (with a little added finger if you're not careful). Below is a fennel salad I made from a small fennel bulb which was easily enough for two. It’s based on a salad they make in our local fish restaurant Fishworks. You dress the fennel with oil and lemon juice and season it with finely chopped chilli and mint. It’s a great salad to serve with tinned tuna, those tubs of crayfish or thawed frozen prawns (the small North Sea ones are much better value than king prawns)
The authentic Japanese mandolins are not cheap but I found this one in my local kitchen shop for £7.95 - about the price of a decent knife.