Kitchen Traumas

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For serious butchers, Cecchini recommends a chain–mail–like glove of intricate metal links, to protect the hand holding the meat. And if ever you’re staring down an entire cow with the end goal of a single filet, splurge on a full chain mail apron that will repel even the biggest slips. While the culinary armor will guard against stray slices, it’s also essential to keep both the butt of the knife and the palm of your hand clean and dry at all times. Animal fat acts like a lubricant, turning a meat cleaver into a one–chop killer.

One of the most popular cuts—a chicken breast halved horizontally for scaloppine—also just happens to be one of the most daunting. It begins with a chicken breast only three quarters of an inch to one inch thick, which then gets sliced in half laterally to form two roughly one–quarter–inch to half–inch cutlets. Add slippery chicken juices and fatty skin to the equation, and you have a potential disaster. But Lobel has crafted a technique that allows you to slice your scaloppina and eat it, too.

First, wrap a clean sponge with foil or waxed paper. Place the sponge atop the chicken breast, and then place your hand on top of the sponge. Using the sponge as a barrier between your hand and the chicken, make one or two long, smooth cuts to halve the breast. Born in the butcher shop, this technique is easy to adopt at home.

Organization and storage also promote a secure kitchen environment. Gesualdi forbids his charges to store anything above eye level: Pulling something (and especially anything hot) down toward you can create a dangerous opportunity for spills, splashes, and burns. And when placing food in sauté pans or deep fryers, always face the items away from your body, to send any splashes in that same direction.

Here’s a no–brainer: Never leave knives in the sink. Soapy water hides sharp blades. Even if you know there are knives lurking in your suds, your sous–chef—or sister—may not. When it comes to working with swirling blenders and vacuumlike meat grinders, trading vanity for safety is a must: Always tie back long hair, if for no other reason than hygiene. And avoid wearing dangling earrings around fast–moving equipment. Much like long hair, baubles become easy prey for appliances operating at swift speeds.

You’ll avoid many accidents with such measures in place. But if the best–laid plans should fail and you’re left with a red river or blistered extremities, take a tip from Kilbourn Gordon III, MD, an emergency physician for nearly three decades and currently the medical director of the Fairfield Urgent Care Center in Fairfield, Connecticut.

In the event of a burn, the fastest way to dull the pain is to run the affected area under cool water for 15 to 20 minutes. This quick fix will soothe burns due to oil, sugar, and hot pans or ovens. Depending on the severity of the burn, follow–up treatment may be needed, with the most extreme cases requiring immediate emergency room attention.

In addition to burns, Dr. Gordon sees a lot of one–centimeter cuts on the left index finger, directly above the nail near the tip of the finger. The culprit? A chef’s knife and some overeager slicing and dicing. To judge whether a cut needs only disinfecting and bandaging at home rather than an ER visit, Dr. Gordon suggests examining whether the skin can be slightly pulled apart. If it separates, stitches are required. One step worse than a laceration is a “skin avulsion of the finger,” which is medical–speak for a missing piece. In that case, if the severed bit can’t be stitched back onto the finger, the ER caregiver will apply coagulating material to stop the bleeding before bandaging the wound.

With all the dangers that lurk around every kitchen corner, it’s a wonder that helmets aren’t mandatory equipment. Ultimately, at home or on the line, it’s about being in control and being hyperaware of your own actions so that human error is minimized. And at the end of the day, Cecchini says, the most important thing is to understand the relationship you share with your blade: “A knife will respect you if you’re good with it, but it will never be your friend.”

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