Bring On the Pineapple and Bone-In Ham
We're not all born to be fancy chefs, and Kitchen Knife Skills knows it. It's designed for newbies and is therefore realistic. I appreciate that. While I thought I knew how to cut open an avocado, it turns out you can deftly whack your knife into the pit, then twist the knife to loosen and remove it. A couple of previous girlfriends might have swooned had they seen me nonchalantly use that move.
Kitchen Knife Skills: Essentials for the Confident Cook by Open Air Publishing is available in the iTunes App Store for US$4.99.
You've got to admire a person who knows how to wield a knife with confidence -- especially a chef's knife. If you're anything like me, you've stumbled upon some sort of food in the kitchen that needed to be cut up, and because you didn't know what you were doing, you just started hacking away. You probably used the wrong sort of knife, and the technique? Likely messy, even dangerous.
I remember my first pineapple. I cut off the hard skin then hacked the hulk of yellow fruit into slices, which unfortunately kept the tough center rind. How to cut that out? I ended up with a juicy mess all over the counter, and the only saving grace of the endeavor was that I learned you can throw fresh pineapple chunks at most anyone -- and they'll love it because it tastes so much better than anything from a can.
For our meat-eating friends, the same goes for a whole ham or turkey -- while you can hack it up with a caveman-like rock, there's a better way, and the Kitchen Knife Skills app will show you how through words, photos and video.
Inside the Bookish App
First of all, Kitchen Knife Skills: Essentials for a Confident Cook, is part app and part book -- it's more app-like than book-like, and if I have any quibbles at all, it's that the navigation is harder than I expected.
There's a mini tutorial on how to use the app; still, I must admit, sometimes I'd try to swipe left and right to turn pages when I should have been scrolling up and down. Then, when I would get to the end of a chapter, I could tap a rectangle at the bottom to continue on -- but I'd lose track of where I was, physically, within the book. Or app.
The point? You'll likely get a bit confused, too. Get over it. I did -- right after I realized that I could swipe hard from left to right multiple times to expose the chapters and their subtopic pages. So under Fruit, there's a section for Fruit in general. It's followed by Avocado; Citrus; Mango; Papaya; Pears and Apples; Pineapple; Stone Fruit: Peaches, Nectarines and Plums; and Tomato.
Similarly, there are sections on Vegetables, Poultry, Seafood and Red Meat. Each kind of food has a handy tip that shows you how best to cut or chop it up, as well as make sure you're using the right equipment.
How Many Knives?
You actually need just three kinds of knives in your kitchen -- a chef's knife, paring knife and bread knife -- according to the authors. This is covered in the Go-To Gear section, which also defines and identifies different sorts of specialty knives you may want to use, too -- like a boning knife, fillet knife, or cheese knife.
The app also covers cutting boards -- wood or plastic? -- and handy extra gear like kitchen shears (scissors to me) and a box grater -- because sometimes chopping is just not as efficient as grating.
Even though the app shows you proper cutting skills, it's designed for newbies and is therefore practical too. Realistic. We're not all born to be fancy chefs, and the tone of this app knows it. I appreciate that.
Meanwhile, how does the app actually teach you kitchen knife skills?
After showing you photos of different kinds of knives -- it turns out that my go-to chef's knife is a Japanese style that was actually made by Germans -- the app walks you through different kinds of foods and shows you a key method for cutting each.
First, you can watch a high-quality video that shows you how to say, cut up a whole raw chicken. In the app, your video instructor is Sarah Copeland, a food expert and former recipe developer for the Food Network.
In addition to walking you through a process, she will impart handy tips. For instance, you probably understand that buying a chicken whole is more economical than buying it already cut up. Cool. But, once you know what you're doing, it also means that you'll have more control over the size and shape of all the pieces and parts. Nice. I used to think a leg was just a leg. Not any more.
If you don't like a video or just want a quick reference, you can scroll down past the video section and get into the author-bookish section of the app. In the case of the chicken, you could take a guided tour of the anatomy of a raw chicken, check out the kinds of knives and tools you'll want to use, or dive into the illustrated written instructions, like separating the breast from the back. Queasy? Sorry.
You can avoid the meat sections and focus on the fruit and vegetables. For instance, while I thought I knew how to cut open an avocado, it turns out you can deftly whack your knife into the pit, then twist the knife to loosen and remove it. A couple of previous girlfriends might have swooned had they seen me nonchalantly use that move.
New Tricks for Old Knives
The best thing about Kitchen Knife Skills: Essentials for the Confident Cook is that it is thorough with excellent, high-quality photo and video. You learn a few extra tidbits here and there, and you always get just enough detail to keep you moving quickly to clearly learn a new technique.
In that sense, the app is a 100 percent success -- despite initial difficulty learning my way around the app, I have come away with new skills. For instance, I no longer fear the artichoke, much less the Thanksgiving Turkey.
Want to Pitch an App Review?
Is there an app you'd like to suggest for review? Please send your iOS picks to me, and I'll consider giving them a whirl.
And use the Talkback feature below to add your comments!