Thursday, December 11, 2008

Pancetta Demonstration

I got away from the paperwork at my desk long enough to make a pass through the kitchen this morning, only to see one of the prep cooks struggling with (and making a mess of) a piece of pancetta that he was to dice. It seems that all our prep cooks struggle with pancetta, so I figure that a lot of readers do too. Here's a whole pancetta.

This demonstration is not really about pancetta, it's about how to dice any cylindrical foodstuff safely, neatly, and efficiently. It's really a tutorial on a fundamental knife skill, one that our prep cooks seem to have missed along the way somehow.

The basis for cutting anything safely is to establish what I call a "stable base," a flat surface that will not rock or roll while you cut. For any cylindrical object such as this pancetta, a cucumber, or the neck of a butternut squash, you do this by taking a slice across the cylinder, as in this photo.

And you end up with a round that will lie flat on your cutting board, like so.

Using the flat surface as your stable base, slice vertically into the round of pancetta. Make the width of your slice the size of the cube that you want to end up with.

Next, lay several vertical slices on their sides in a stack as high as you are comfortable slicing. Three deep is what I am doing here. Notice that by stacking the slices on their sides, I have created yet another stable base for myself. I'm never going to put myself in a situation where the food that I am slicing might roll or shift out from under my knife.

Then slice each stack into batons as wide as the width of the cube that you want to end up with.

Rotate the batons ninety degrees on the cutting board and make your final slices, finishing the cubes.

Here's the end goal: neat, consistent cubes.

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