One of the things we complain about most in cooking school is the French obsession with turning vegetables. Turning vegetables means to pare down vegetables into even, identical shapes, usually ovals with 7 sides. It's very traditional and very French, I don't remember many restaurants in the States serving turned vegetables.
Needless to say, this is a great waste of time and food. Like one of our chefs said, you usually end up paring away the best part of the vegetable and are left with the tough center (like with carrots). The only benefits seem to be 1) visual and 2) maybe for sautèeing, as you can shake the pan to easily roll the vegetables around during browning or glazing.
So far, we've turned carrots, potatoes, turnips, apples, zucchini, artichoke bottoms, and mushrooms. Though difficult at first, we can do them semi-evenly now. Except for the dreaded mushrooms.
We had to turn mushrooms only once, for a stuffed chicken breast recipe. For mushrooms, you obviously cannot turn them into little ovals. So to make our lives more difficult, some long-dead French chef decided that turning mushrooms meant a swirl pattern!
All the chefs have acknowledged that this technique is difficult, and the chef we had in practical couldn't help me much- he's left-handed and I just couldn't reverse the technique correctly. My classmates had difficulties as well, most of us ended up cheating by making patterns on the mushrooms with the points of our knives. My attempts at turning mushrooms resulted in chunks of mushrooms falling off and nothing resembling the correct finished product. Turning mushrooms became the butt of most of our jokes at school.
Fast forward- I had accidentally purchased too many mushrooms at the market the other day. I decided that today was the day I would master mushroom turning. Although the mushrooms were a little soft (firm white button ones are the best), many butchered mushrooms later, I think got the technique down. You cannot imagine how happy I was when I finally understood how to do it. It's still not perfect, the pattern is not even and I need to curve in a little more, but I think the steepest part of the learning curve is over.
For those who are brave enough to attempt this at home, here are my pedestrian instructions:
- Get firm mushrooms, do not wash (you're basically skinning the mushrooms and can rinse them afterward if you like) or remove stems
- Sharpen your paring knife
- Hold paring knife in right hand, first 3 fingers directly on the blade near the middle (thumb on one side, next two fingers on the other)
- Hold mushroom in left hand with your thumb-middle fingers
- Lightly press a small "X" on the very top middle of the mushroom as your guiding point
- Hold knife almost parallel to the floor, and mushroom turned so that the guiding point is facing the 2 o'clock direction
- Find the guiding point you made on the mushroom, insert blade here, and slowly turn wrist towards your body to the base of the mushroom, it should curve and look kind of like a ). Do this very gently, you are almost scoring and do not want to cut through the mushroom. While doing this, turn the mushroom away from your body with your left hand to help the curve.
- Shift mushroom slightly toward you and start second curve before the first.
- Continue until you go all the way around the mushroom, you should be able to peel off the "skin" or outer layer, to reveal the pattern underneath.
- Congratulate yourself on mastering a useless technique!