This is a stub post of sorts for a series of lessons I am preparing for my children on kitchen skills.
Welcome to my kitchen: What says “home” better than a well run kitchen? I suppose there is a bit of irony in the fact that most of what I learned about kitchen management I actually learned in commercial kitchens, but I suppose that is a sign of the times I grew up in. There is so much that goes into creating a efficient, well run kitchen – but the reality is that if you wish to eat well and save money you have to cook and cooking is much easier, safer and more enjoyable in a well run kitchen.
If you were to step into a commercial kitchen you would see more or less exactly what you see in the home kitchen only on a larger scale. The commercial kitchen will have stations where particular activities take place, hand washing, dish washing, cooking, prep stations, storage: dry, refrigerated and frozen, trash disposal. Additionally every activity from selecting the menu to cleaning up at the end of the day is carefully planned, this is the workflow. The home kitchen also has these elements, though they may be a little more difficult to identify. There will be work stations, but they often do double or triple duty. Your kitchen sink is your handwash station and your prep-cleaning station and your dishwashing station. The same counter that you do prep-cutting on will be used for baking. Your workflow will be different, but it should be planned.
Now I don’t pretend that this is the only way to run a kitchen. Kitchens are rather personal things, but there are some universal basics and many more hints, tips and tricks that you can pick up. So let’s start with the basics.
Safety: Before you start there are some safety basics to know. Safety really does come first.
Pregnant, barefoot and in the kitchen? No: safety first when it comes to cooking.
Shoes: You should wear closed toe, sensible, non-skid shoes. If you are working with hot oil I recommend wearing non-porous shoes. There is almost nothing that hurts quite as badly as a grease spill that lands on your foot. Even a drop of hot oil on a sandal shod foot can be painful for days. Dropped knives or cutlery, boiling water all spell disaster on bare feet or feet inadequately protected by open toe shoes or sandals. Avoid high heals or shoes with substandard arch support – if you are on your feet a lot cooking and then cleaning you will want supportive foot wear. Non-skid soles will help keep you from slipping, which in a kitchen with a hot stove could go from embarrassing to disastrous in an instant.
Shirts and blouses: Shirts should be cuffed at the wrist and somewhat trim fitting. If you are wearing a loose fitting long sleeve you should consider wearing sleeve garters or a chef’s jacket. Likewise if you are working with heat you might want to seriously consider a chef’s jacket over short sleeves.
Chef’s Jackets and Aprons: A chef jacket or apron will protect your clothing from spills, flour dust, water, oil and all those little kitchen “incidences”. Chef’s jackets can be purchased from uniform supply stores and some kitchen supply stores – you can also find them online. Aprons can be found nearly everywhere and come in a wide range of designs and colors. Pick something sensible. You can find many really pretty aprons that are very serviceable, but you can find many more that, while super cute, are just not cut our for kitchen work. Aprons come in a variety of styles, look for a butcher, cook, or chef bib style apron. Bistro aprons are designed to be worn with chef’s jackets and those cute little hostess aprons are worn to serve not to cook. Go for a sturdy, comfortable and washable fabric such as cotton twill.
Legs: Be extra careful if you are wearing shorts or a skirt in the kitchen. Hot liquid spills are the biggest concern. A long apron can help save your legs.
Hair: If you have long hair pull it back; if it is really long wear it up. While it is unlikely, it has happened that hair has been caught in mixers and blenders and set ablaze by gas burners. Be safe.
Cooking and baking require heat. Anything hot enough to cook your dinner is hot enough to burn you. So a bit of safety knowledge about hot items and fire is important.
Toasters, stove tops, ovens they all get hot. Exercise common sense while working in the kitchen and use the proper safety equipment.
Equipment for Handling hot things:
Pot holders and oven mitts: Pot holders and oven mitts are absolute necessities in the kitchen. They serve basically the same purpose: to protect your hands from heat. I like having at least two pot holders and one oven mitt available in the kitchen, handy at all times. Pot holders are usually square and most have a decorative side and a Teflon or silicon heat resistant side. Oven mitts are shaped like a mitten and commonly have a heat resistant layer covered with decorative cloth. Most commercial mitts and holders are rated to the temperature to which they protect, but the type you find at your local department store probably won’t be. If you get a padded mitt or holder with at least one side or layer of neoprene (usually rated to 400degrees), silicon(can be rated as high as 500degrees), or Teflon or silicon sprayed cloth (this will only be rated up to about 250) you can pretty much hand any common kitchen duty. I have no idea what the plan, padded cloth would be rated to but my guess is around 200. If you are just pulling a cookie sheet out of the oven that is probably good enough, but if you are doing much more than that spring for the better mitts and pot holder.
A couple notes about using pot-holders and mitts. If they are frayed, burnt, or otherwise damaged they will have the tendency to not protect very well at the damaged spot. Save yourself the pain and replace them. Also be careful to keep your mitts and holders dry. A moist or wet pot holder will not protect your hand, the water in the fibers can turn to steam and really burn you. Keep them dry.
Pot handle covers: If you like to cook in cast-iron you might want to invest in a handle cover for your pots or skillets. These can be very nice especially if you are serving in your caste iron.
Trivets: Protect your surfaces (counters and tables) from being scorched. It is nice to have a couple of them placed in convenient locations in the kitchen.
Splatter screens: Splatter screens are lovely when you are using hot oil, frying chicken, making spaghetti sauce. They can be very useful in keeping your stove top clean and to keep oil from splattering you.
For most fires in the kitchen all you need to do is kill the heat and suffocate the fire. If something is on fire in the oven, turn off the oven and then leave it shut until the fire stops. If there is something in the toaster on fire unplug it and then cover with a wet kitchen towel. For stove top fires turn off the heat and cover the pot or burner. (if your controls are located so that you can’t turn off the heat without burning yourself cover than, kill the heat. Whatever you do NEVER throw water on a kitchen fire, especially an oil fire.
Here is why:
It is also very good to have a fire extinguisher located in the kitchen in an accessible place. If you have a fire that is getting a little out of control then it can save your home. Small fire extinguishers are in theory good for a long time; I have read as long as 15 years. Check the gauge on your extinguisher when you check your fire alarms (most fire departments recommend you do this on the daylight savings switch days). If the gauge is in the “green” zone it should be good to go. You will also want to inspect the rubber hoses and nozzles for wear and deterioration and the handle and top lever for rust or wear. If you see these things replace the extinguisher. If you extinguisher is older than seven years, has no posted expiration date and no gauge you should probably replace it. Once you use the extinguisher you will need to replaced or recharged it. Be sure you know how to use the fire extinguisher, including how to open the clamp if it is wall mounted. You really don’t want to be teaching yourself how to use a fire extinguisher while your kitchen is smoldering. Also, don’t be shy about using it. If you have a fire that is out of control, plastic burning, a big oil fire that is spreading — just use it. They sooner you take action to put the fire out the more likely you are to actually get the fire out and while the dry-chem from a fire extinguisher is a pain to clean up it is better than having a full blown house fire.
If you catch on fire, your hair or clothing, don’t panic. Remember the stop, drop and roll thing. The absolute worst thing you can do is run through the house. If your hair is on fire smoother it with a thick towel or a wet kitchen towel or stop drop and roll if it is getting too exciting. I caught the end of my braid on fire once when I was young and I was able to dunk it in water. Hopefully you won’t have to ever deal with these things, but it is helpful to think about what you should do before you actually need to do something.