Eggs Got You Scared? Here’s the Scoop

What annoys me about the coverage of the current egg recall is that it almost always says, “traced to an Iowa farm.” But, proud as I am of my home state, it’s not misguided regionalism that makes me take offense at this statement. It’s the use of the word “farm.” Eggs from chickens raised on true farms are not the issue.

eggs got you scared?Wright County Egg and the rest of serial offender Austin “Jack” DeCoster’s operations linked to this recall are not farms, but factories. They’re the textbook example of everything that’s unhealthy and unsustainable about the industrial model that has hijacked American agriculture.

The conditions in which these chickens “live” are, to put it mildly, inhumane and unsanitary. The variety of salmonella involved in this recall, s. enteritidis, is present in these chickens and infects the eggs even before they form shells. It results from what they are fed and how they live.  Just as disease breaks out when thousands of humans are crammed into a very confined space, so it is for these birds.  Feed them contaminated food, which likely occurred here, and you only exacerbate the problem.

Add to this poor sanitation and handling of the eggs in transit all over the country, and you have the recipe for the thousands who were affected by this outbreak. It takes a large concentration of the bacteria to sicken all but the most seriously compromised immune systems. But if you allow raw fresh eggs to sit for extended periods of time at temperatures above 45 degrees F, a colony of bacteria can double its population roughly every 20 minutes. A single cell can become millions in just 24 hours.

So the Food and Drug Administration is once again scrambling to shut enormous barn doors after the proverbial horses have run off to a couple dozen other states prompting (again) the outcry for stricter government regulations over our food. But industry regulations don’t help much after the fact–just look to the Gulf, where “drill, baby, drill!” turned into “spill, baby, spill!”

The solution, however, is not simply stricter federal oversight, though clearly that’s needed. It’s also a stronger reliance on a smaller, more localized food system – one that doesn’t produce food the same way it produces microchips. This also has the bonus of being easier to regulate as the need arises. Shorter supply chains inside confined geographical regions are easier to oversee and investigate than national or international ones regulated (if at all) by bureaucrats thousands of miles away. They’re also harder for large agro-industrial conglomerates to dominate.

That’s not to say food-borne illnesses can’t occur with eggs from the small, sustainably minded family farmer down the road. They sometimes do, though when an outbreak does occur, it’s isolated and sickens dozens countywide, not thousands nationwide. But outbreaks are far less common because the birds are healthier and the farmers simply care more. They know that it’s not just their own livelihood that depends on the food they produce, but also the health and well-being of their family, friends and neighbors.

Until we achieve that idyllic world, there are a few things you can do to reduce your risk from eggs:

  • Know the source. You should know where your eggs come from and how they were produced. Use our guide to egg labeling and health claims.
  • Keep eggs cool. Refrigerate all eggs immediately upon getting them home (at 45 degrees F or below, but not freezing), and keep them that way until moments before cooking them.
  • Cook eggs thoroughly. I still eat eggs over easy and make Hollandaise from raw yolks, but that’s because I know and trust the farmer who raises my eggs. If you don’t, make sure they’re cooked until the white and yolk are firm–or buy pasteurized eggs.
  • Keep it clean. It’s not just the particular tainted egg that can sicken you, but anything that touches that egg.  If you whisk a few eggs to scramble for breakfast, set the whisk on the cutting board and cut a melon on that cutting board, you can get sick even though your scrambled eggs were cooked until dry. It’s called cross-contamination and it’s is a common cause of food-borne illness.

Meanwhile look for a local source of eggs from a farmer you’ve met and can trust, rather than a factory foreman like Jack DeCoster.

Kurt Michael Friese is the founding leader of Slow Food Iowa, serves on the Slow Food USA National Board of Directors, and is editor and publisher of the local food magazine Edible Iowa River Valley. He’s also Chef and co-owner of the Iowa City restaurant Devotay, a freelance food writer and photographer, and author of A Cook’s Journey: Slow Food in the Heartland.

(Almost) Traditional Spanish Paella

Perhaps no dish conjures up more images of Spain than paella. Steeped in history and distinctive spices, to prepare this dish is to summon the soul of Spain and the spirit of her people.

For the uninitiated, paella (pronounced “pie-AY-ya”) is kind of a rice casserole, traditionally prepared in a special kind of pan (from which it takes its name) over an open fire. And it’s prepared by men.

Food carries a very strong cultural imperative in Spain, and customs are not swept away merely for the sake of political correctness. Throughout Spain, there are exclusive all-male clubs dedicated entirely to cooking and to the pleasures of the table.

Paella has at least 400 years of history, and its origins are in the province of Valencia, on the southeast coast. There, they grow the medium-grain Valencia rice that absorbs flavors wonderfully and is the key to the dish. The first paellas were made by peasants, using their native rice and whatever was available–often snails, onions, and that curious import from the New World, the tomato.

Since then paella has evolved into an enormous variety of dishes in every region of Spain, as well as the Caribbean, Central and South America, and the Philippines. Many use saffron, but not all, and the countless combinations of ingredients include all manner of shellfish, game, fowl, mushrooms, and finfish.

The traditional method, using the wide, shallow, heavy-bottomed paella pan, cooks slowly over a well-regulated fire. Where Americans might have a clambake, Spanish families have beach cookouts where paella is made amid plenty of wine-fueled arguments about the right way to do it. Controlling the fire, stirring enough but not too much, when to add which ingredients so they cook completely without overcooking; all this is debated throughout the process because every Spanish cook claims to make the best paella. This method takes practice and patience, but is quite rewarding for all who partake.

Now for those who are looking for a shortcut, here’s a simpler method that cooks the rice and the seafood/chicken/chorizo mixture separately so it doesn’t require the constant attention of the traditional method. Breaking with tradition is not a sin of which I am often guilty, but I have to admit that this does produce quite a tasty dish … even if I would be shunned by my fellow male chefs in Spain.

Kurt’s Easy Paella

Starchy, medium-grain rice is the key here. Choose Valencia, Bomba or Calasparra if you can, though arborio is a good, easy-to-find substitute. The chorizo should be the dry-cured, smoked Spanish variety, not the spicier fresh Mexican type. Use a good sherry (never cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink), and look for pimentón in specialty shops – it is sometimes called smoked paprika. If you want a richer-tasting paella, stir in a little cold butter after adding the peas.

1/4 cup Spanish olive oil, divided
2 onions, diced
2 cups chopped fresh tomato (about 3-4 medium)
2 cloves garlic, minced, divided
2 pinches saffron threads
3 cups Valencia rice (arborio is a good substitute)
4 cups  chicken stock, boiling
4 cups boiling water
2 teaspoons salt
2 pounds mussels, washed and debearded
1-1/2 pounds shrimp, peeled (tail left on), split and deveined
1/2 bone-in chicken, cut up (breast halved, leg, thigh, wing)
4 ounces Spanish chorizo, chopped
1/2 cup Oloroso or Amontillado sherry
1 cup fresh peas or thawed frozen peas
1 tablespoon pimentón (smoked paprika)
1/2 cup fresh herbs, chopped (parsley, oregano, rosemary & basil)
6-8 lemon wedges

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion, tomato, 1 tablespoon garlic and saffron, stirring constantly, for 3-4 minutes or until tender but not browned. Add the rice and stir constantly for 2-3 minutes more. Add the boiling stock, boiling water, and salt. Cover, reduce heat, and cook 25 minutes or until the rice is tender.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a saute pan. Sauté remaining 1 tablespoon garlic, mussels, shrimp, chicken, and sausage until the mussels open (depending on the size of your pan, you may need to do this in batches). Deglaze the pan with sherry (add sherry to pan, scraping to loosen any browned bits, and cook until sherry reduces by half). Stir in the peas and pimenton.

Place rice in a serving dish or platter and top with shellfish/meat mixture. Be sure to evenly distribute the liquid over the rice.

Sprinkle with pimentón and fresh herbs. Garnish with herb sprigs and lemon wedges.

Serves 12

The Secrets to True ‘Cue

By Kurt Michael Friese

No type of cooking inspires as much passion, competition, obsession, and plain old American hometown pride as barbecue. There are local, regional, and national ‘cue contests that bring together hundreds of pathologically devoted cooks and thousands of BBQ-scarfing chowhounds to debate about which wood to use and to lie about their recipes.


Barbecue may, in fact, be the original way to cook. Historians believe man’s ancestors first ate cooked meat by scavenging in the aftermath of forest fires. More recently, Spanish conquistadors “exploring” tropical islands were fascinated by the aromas coming from the small green-wood grills New World natives called barbacoa. From these origins came the huge variety of barbecue that exists around the world. No other country, though, pursues the ‘cue with such passionate abandon as the United States.

First thing’s first: Barbecuing and grilling are not the same thing. Grilling is done over high, direct heat for a short amount of time, and might even use heat from gas or electricity. Real barbecue requires patience. It’s done over low, indirect heat–usually 200 F to 300 F–and can take from two hours to a couple of days, depending on the size of the meat. True ‘cue also needs smoke from hardwood chunks or chips that have been soaked in water and which impart signature flavor to the meat. This is America’s true slow food.

Because good barbecue needs smoke and an indirect heat source, serious ‘cue aficionados use a smoker to take advantage of an adjacent fire. You can mimic this with a typical backyard grill. For a charcoal grill, pile the coals to one side, add the soaked wood directly to the hot coals, and place the meat on the unheated side. For a gas grill, light a couple of the burners on one side, place soaked hardwood chips in a smoker box or foil pouch over the flames, and set the meat over the unheated side.

While there are many talented barbecue enthusiasts here in Iowa, where I live, it is perhaps a bit surprising that Iowa does not have a rich barbecue tradition all its own. We have all the necessary ingredients: pork and beef, an abundance of hardwoods like oak and hickory, hot summers and hungry people. Still no one particular form is labeled as “Iowa ‘cue,” so we borrow nearly everyone else’s traditions and will barbecue nearly anything that moves and a few things that don’t; any excuse to play in the smoke.

Among the favorites is Texas-style beef brisket. Down there the wood would have to be oak or mesquite, but we have lots of different choices up here and I am especially fond of the fruit and nut woods, which produce sweeter smoke than oak or mesquite. I used cherry and pecan wood to smoke this Barbecued Beef Brisket.

For the beginning ‘cue chef, hardwood chips are sufficient for flavor and ease of use, and used with a smoker box or even a simple foil pouch they can convert any gas grill into a makeshift smoker. Wood chips are available in most grocery stores and anywhere grills are sold. If you want to get serious about your ‘cue, though, Iowa boasts one of the best resources in the country. Check out Hawgeyes BBQ in Ankeny for everything you’ll need and then some.

So here are my secrets to true ‘cue: Low heat, real wood, smoke … and hefty shot of patience.

kurt-thumbKurt Michael Friese is the founding leader of Slow Food Iowa, serves on the Slow Food USANational Board of Directors, and is editor and publisher of the local food magazine Edible Iowa River Valley. He’s also Chef and co-owner of the Iowa City restaurant Devotay, a freelance food writer and photographer, and author of A Cook’s Journey: Slow Food in the Heartland.

Barbecued Beef Brisket

Beef brisket is a tough cut that lends itself to slowly smoking on the barbecue. Soaking the hardwood is crucial for successful barbecue. As you may have learned while camping, wet wood produces lots of smoke–bad for camp-outs but just what you want for barbecue. For beef brisket and other relatively lean cuts, basting is necessary to keep the meat moist; any kind of high-quality beer will work well in this recipe. Hardwood chunks are ideal, since they burn slowly and produce gentle, consistent smoke.


USDA Steering Organics to the Center of the Plate

By Kurt Michael Friese

Among the many unique aspects of living in Iowa is our first-in-the-nation caucus system. Three years ago this week, on an outing with other campaign volunteers to plant trees for Earth Day, I had the honor of meeting a skinny, unknown, African-American, freshman senator from Illinois who had the audacity to believe he could be elected president. I had about three minutes to determine firsthand whether I wanted him to succeed.

So I asked him why, despite Iowa being an “agricultural state,” none of the candidates on either side were talking about agriculture. He told me he expected they would be, but that he preferred to talk about food and health. He then quoted chapter and verse from the previous weekend’s New York Times Sunday Magazine feature by Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

OK, I liked this guy.

When Barack Obama won the Iowa Caucuses and the White House, I had high hopes that our agricultural system would change overnight. Then he appointed Iowa’s former governor, Tom Vilsack, to head the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and my heart sank. Vilsack’s an OK guy, but he always had a politician’s tendency to ride the fence, and any time he did something helpful for sustainable agriculture, he did two more things for Monsanto or Tyson.

Then Vilsack appointed Kathleen Merrigan as deputy secretary, and hope sprouted once again. Merrigan helped develop USDA’s organic labeling rules while head of the Agricultural Marketing Service from 1999-2001, and later ran the Tufts University Agriculture, Food and Environment Program that gave rise to the Community Food Security Coalition.

A recent San Francisco Chronicle article reports how Merrigan, speaking on behalf of the Obama Administration, “outlined a broad array of efforts to elevate organic and local farming to a prominence never seen before at the sprawling U.S. Department of Agriculture.”

After roughly six decades of being the U.S. Department of Agribusiness, Merrigan is trying to put the “culture” back in the department. Her goals include stricter enforcement of the USDA organic label, more support for the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program to connect local farmers with consumers, and improving access to fresh, healthy food in so-called “food deserts.” These goals may sound like dinner table talk for some circles, but they’re a radical departure from the past and a gutsy move on Merrigan’s part. As the Chronicle put it, “Big growers were not thrilled.”

While a few decades late and far from a panacea, the USDA’s apparent epiphany is welcome news for those who care about real food. I believe a few useful next steps might be:

  • Capping the subsidy system, both in terms of amounts doled out and who gets them. Today 75% of the subsidies in the U.S. go to the largest 10% of farms. In Texas, the No. 1 state in receiving federal subsidies, 72% of farms do not receive government subsidies at all.
  • Refocusing on healthy food and land stewardship. Today the crop that receives the most subsidies is corn/feed grain; more than twice any other crop. This has created an overabundance of cheap corn and contributed to skyrocketing high fructose corn syrup consumption (along with early onset diabetes and childhood obesity). It’s also why ground- and water-polluting CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) can afford to stay in business.
  • Moving the school lunch program out of the auspices of the USDA and into a joint program of the Department of Education and Health and Human Services. I believe this program should be administered by people who are inclined put the health and well-being of children before the interests of agribusiness giants.

While we’re at it, there are always a few cabinet shuffles around the presidential midterm. Why not elevate Ms. Merrigan to Mr. Vilsack’s job? We can always hope.

kurt-thumbKurt Michael Friese is the founding leader of Slow Food Iowa, serves on the Slow Food USA National Board of Directors, and is editor and publisher of the local food magazine Edible Iowa River Valley. He’s also Chef and co-owner of the Iowa City restaurant Devotay, a freelance food writer and photographer, and author of A Cook’s Journey: Slow Food in the Heartland.

Slow Movement

By Kurt Michael Friese

I may have been the first in my family to “go pro” becoming a chef, but my life has always revolved around food. Growing up, the conversation over Saturday lunch was inevitably about what was for dinner – who was making what, where it would be procured, whether to sauté or steam the carrots or broccoli. In fourth grade I met the boy who would become my best man and godfather to my son at the lunch table discussing what was in our brown bags. So it’s not entirely surprising that I became passionate about the Slow Food organization early on.

slow-food-postSlow Food International started over 20 years ago when an Italian food and wine journalist named Carlo Petrini learned that McDonald’s was coming to his country (and even worse, to Rome). So he organized a protest. With the help of other media friends they staged a march that drew nearly 100,000 people to eat traditional penne pommadoro and lament the assault on their culture that McDonald’s represented.

The upshot of that protest was a budding organization named in opposition to the fast food that had provoked its birth. What began simply as a group of gourmands wary of the threat to their beloved cuisine quickly became a global movement of environmentally conscious foodies. Concerns over food security and food justice were soon added to the list. Today there are over 100,000 members joining together in local chapters called convivia (including the one I founded in Iowa) in 129 countries around the world promoting “good, clean and fair food for all.”

From the national and international level to the individual local chapters, Slow Food uses a wide variety of activities to educate and inform on the importance of real fresh food and the centrality of the farm, the kitchen and the table in our everyday lives.

Preserving Diversity

One of Slow Food’s core agendas is to save real food before it becomes a quaint memory. During the time that Slow Food has been in existence, its Ark of Taste program has cataloged and reinvigorated hundreds of foods in danger of extinction. That may sound exaggerated, but the statistics are startling. 93 percent of American food product diversity has been lost since 1900 (75 percent of European food product diversity disappeared during the same time period). Thirty-three percent of livestock varieties have vanished or are near vanishing and nearly 30,000 vegetable varieties have become extinct in the last century; one more is lost every six hours. Another important Slow Food program, Renewing America’s Food Traditions (RAFT), brings together food producers, chefs and consumers in identifying and preserving America’s unique foods and traditions.

Strengthening Small Farmers and Artisans

Small farmers and artisans, often struggling to remain economically stable, produce many of the foods spotlighted by these initiatives. Through programs like Terra Madre and Presidia, Slow Food helps strengthen these small producers committed to responsible and sustainable food production. The Terra Madre network and biennial conference brings together farmers, food producers, cooks, activists and academics to put their heads together, learn from and help one another, while Presidia provides a support network to artisan producers to help keep their production viable.

Fighting for the Health of Our Children

But Slow Food has a direct impact on our health too. Last fall, in an initiative that brought back memories of that fated cafeteria table, Slow Food USA brought the nation’s attention to the problem of unhealthy school lunches. Its Time for Lunch campaign and the Labor Day “Eat-Ins” around the country (think old-fashioned activism with a hot dish to share) raised awareness, and had an arguable influence on Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move campaign for healthier kids. Taken with the USDA’s “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative, it’s clear that Slow Food’s ideals are beginning to hit the mainstream.

Getting Connected

Members of Slow Food get connected through their local chapters, made up of people who care—and are curious—about the link between food, agriculture, health and the environment. Convivia gatherings can be social, educational or political in nature (or, in many cases, all three at the same time), and members also have access to regional, national and international events that celebrate good, clean, fair food.

The most profound benefit to joining Slow Food, though, is becoming part of the growing movement that is actively leading the way in changing how America eats.

Kurt Michael Friese is the founding leader of Slow Food Iowa, serves on the Slow Food USA National Board of Directors, and is editor and publisher of the local food magazine Edible Iowa River Valley. He’s also Chef and co-owner of the Iowa City restaurant Devotay, a freelance food writer and photographer, and author of A Cook’s Journey: Slow Food in the Heartland.

The Humble Root

By Kurt Michael Friese

When researching the history and lore of a particular food, something I do with perhaps more frequency than the average person, one of my favorite resources to turn to is the late Waverly Root, an American journalist assigned to Paris for most of his career, and his indispensable Food: An Authoritative Visual History and Dictionary of the Foods of the World. And, honestly, how could I not turn to Root when writing about three often overlooked winter vegetables: turnips, parsnips and rutabagas? Despite the fact that in our modern day they play second fiddle to carrots, these three are wonderful, hearty winter fare, delicious in a mash with other root vegetables, in soups and stews, or roasted in the oven until crisp and savory. They are also well appreciated in the lean months because of their long shelf life and low cost.

root-veggies-postTurnips. In his tome, Root describes the “lowly” turnip as having been both maligned and revered throughout history; albeit mostly maligned. According to Root, in the Middle Ages “It became popular to pelt unpopular persons with turnips (tomatoes being not yet available), which would seem to indicate scant esteem for the turnip, though it was perhaps more respected than its target.” Would have hurt more than tomatoes, too. Don’t let their unpopularity deter you though; when young, turnips (which are white-skinned with a stripe of scarlet-purple) are tender and sweet. Sautéed in a knob of butter with a sprinkle of salt and pepper, they’re divine.

Rutabagas. Of the three underdog root vegetables, the rutabaga my be the most maligned of them all; indeed Mr. Root tells us that they were “more popular a century ago than now.” But they are tasty in soups and stews. Rutabagas are firmer and sweeter and similar to turnips in appearance, the main difference being a sort of muted hue of both white and purple. When I was a child, my mother used to make a favorite dish called Rötmös, which was simply a half-and-half mix of mashed potatoes and mashed rutabaga served with a sweet pea cream sauce. Good for growing boys.

Parsnips. Parsnips seem to get a bit more respect, perhaps because they look like pale, cream-colored carrots. Europeans have been cultivating them for millennia, and brought them to the Americas in the 17th century. When fresh and young (you’ll want to avoid overly large ones as they’ll have a fibrous core), they’re sweet with an earthy, herbal undertone that pairs beautifully with flavors like garlic and rosemary.

In a season where it can be tough to find “seasonal” vegetables, these three hardy choices will stand you in good stead until the peas and asparagus arrive. And I’m reasonably sure Mr. Root would agree.

Kurt Michael Friese is the founding leader of Slow Food Iowa, serves on the Slow Food USA National Board of Directors, and is editor and publisher of the local food magazine Edible Iowa River Valley. He’s also Chef and co-owner of the Iowa City restaurant Devotay, a freelance food writer and photographer, and author of A Cook’s Journey: Slow Food in the Heartland.

Garlic Parsnip Fries

Let the parsnip stand in for the potato in these healthy oven fries. Parsnips have an earthy sweetness, making them an interesting alternative to same-old, same-old spud fries. These, with sliced garlic and Parmesan, are downright addictive.


Knife Skills 101: Choosing and Using a Knife

The knife:  No other tool is so elemental, so representative of the cook than the well-honed blade. It is, in essence, the extension of a cook’s hand and in every culture a kitchen is simply not a kitchen without one. Yet few tools in the contemporary American home are treated so casually. If you’re one of those home cooks who has a handful of knives, purchased God-knows-when, stored in a drawer with the can opener and that gadget you got for Christmas, it’s time to change your ways.

Let’s get over the first hurdle right off the bat: yes, good knives are expensive. I suggest, though, that unless you happen to be a carpenter there will be no tool in your life that you will use more often, and that your knives should command a certain respect, even reverence. A well-made knife, well-cared for, is something you will leave to your grandchildren and they to theirs – a once in many lifetimes purchase.

knife-skills-postThe Lineup

There is disagreement among chefs as to how many kitchen knives are absolutely necessary. One school holds that you need a different knife for each specific task. A few chefs believe they can do any job with just one or two. I fall squarely in the middle. While I own perhaps 30 knives, I consider just four of them to be indispensable and another to be nearly so:

Chef’s knife — The “chef’s” knife, or French knife, is the one that probably comes to mind when you think of a kitchen knife. It has a wide hilt and a straight, sharp edge that tapers to a point.  Chef’s knives range in length from 6 to 14 inches, but an 8- to 10-inch blade is sufficient for nearly any task.

Boning Knife — A boning knife is smaller, with a 6-inch blade roughly as wide as the handle and a straight edge that curves up toward the tip.

Paring Knife — The paring knife is smaller still, 3 to 5 inches long and narrow as the handle, and is used for finer, more intricate work.

Serrated Knife — The serrated knife comes in many shapes and sizes, but I prefer one about 8 inches long that’s offset to prevent scraping one’s knuckles on the cutting board.

The Desert Island Knife — Then there’s the knife that has been essential in Asian kitchens for centuries and is now gaining is gaining popularity in the West. What the Japanese call a “santoku” has come to be known as a “snub” in professional American kitchens because of the rounded shape of the tip. It is versatile and light, and in the “desert island” scenario, this would be the knife I would choose.

The Brand

Saying, “A knife is a knife” is like saying, “a car is a car.” Sure the car will get you there, but how safely, how comfortably, how efficiently? Just as you choose a car that fits your needs and style, you’ll want to choose the brand of knife that’s right for you. In most professional kitchens you’ll find chefs who swear by one of three brands: Henkels, Wüsthof-Trident, or Global. Those who like the German knives, the Henkels and the Wüsthofs, like them for their classic style, their balance, their long lasting edge and their weight. These knives are fairly hefty and, for some, that’s a good thing. Conversely, the Japanese Globals are much lighter and thinner, and are made from one piece of steel from handle to tip. This not only adds strength, but is also more sanitary since there are no little crevices to hold bacteria. The folks at Wüsthof have recently followed suit with their Culinaire line, honed from single pieces of high carbon stainless steel.

In general, which of these three you choose is a matter of taste; try each and decide which feels best. (One important factor to keep in mind, though, is that while Henkels and Wüsthofs are guaranteed for life, the Globals have no guarantee at all.)

Keeping the Edge

Keeping a knife sharp is vital. I recommend using a three-stone sharpening system (my favorite is the one made by Norton Abrasives available, among other places, at and a good steel. The sharpening stones—one coarse, one medium and one fine—you’ll use every few months to really hone the edge. The steel, on the other hand (the metal stick you see chefs rubbing against their knives at the roast beef carving station during Sunday brunch), you’ll want to use every time you pull your knives out to removes the burrs and the wire edge that can be produced from hard use. Make sure you a steel coated with industrial diamond dust; it will last forever and all the care it needs is an occasional wash with warm soapy water.

Cutting Surfaces

Now that you’ve got nice, sharp knifes you need a suitable surface to cut on. I recommend hardwood because it gives the knives something meaty to bite into—which makes it safer for you and healthier for the knives. Hardwood does require a bit more care, though. After using, wash your board with an antibacterial soap (by hand, never in a machine) and dry it right away; a little water won’t hurt, but a lot of water and heat will ruin the wood. If the crevices on the board get too deep, give it a light sanding (once a year ought to do it) and you’ll have a fresh surface.


Once you’ve chosen the right blades and the right board, there’s the small matter of knowing how to use them. We’ll be back with Knife Skills 102: The Basic Cuts in a bit (you can also see videos of mincing and dicing in Kitchen Tips Video Clips), but for now let’s cover the basics of safe slicing. The golden rule is to curl your fingers back towards your palm and keep the blade of the knife flush up against the stretch of fingers between your first and second knuckles. It’s awkward at first, but with practice becomes almost second nature.

Kurt Michael Friese is the founding leader of Slow Food Iowa, serves on the Slow Food USA National Board of Directors, and is editor and publisher of the local food magazine Edible Iowa River Valley. He’s also Chef and co-owner of the Iowa City restaurant Devotay, a freelance food writer and photographer, and author of A Cook’s Journey: Slow Food in the Heartland.