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Kitchen Techniques of Greek Island Cooking

It's important in Greek cooking to have the freshest ingredients available. Other than the pure nutritional value, you can't beat the taste of fresh vegetables and meats. In this section you will find ways to clean and prepare the freshest of ingredients as well as some of my own tips and shortcuts for cooking the Greek way.

Special Thanks have to go to my daughter Mary, who was so patient with me and took on the gruesome task of drawing the diagrams. Thanks Mary.

Plucking and Cleaning Chicken and Game Birds

Get yourself a pot or pan, larger than the bird that you want to clean and fill it 2/3 with plain water. Bring the water to a boil them set the pot into a large sink, or even outside on your porch, depending on where you want to work. Note that this does get messy, so have a large work- space available. Lay the bird into the hot water and let it soak for a few minutes, using a wooden spoon or dowel to submerge it.

Now lift the bird out of the water and begin to pull the feathers off with your hands. It will be hot, so be careful. Though slightly uncomfortable, you may want to try wearing plastic gloves for this. Continue to dip the bird into the hot water and pulling off the feathers until they are all gone. Some birds have very fine feathers that are almost impossible to get off. Don't worry about them as they can be burned off later with a flame from a candle.

And now for the fun part! Set the plucked bird down on a cutting board. Cut off the neck, head and feet. Feel for the bottom of the breastbone and cut from there all the way down and to the back. Remove the organs from the inside cavity, taking care not to rupture the small green sac of bile as this would ruin the meat with its bitterness. Wash the bird inside and out and pat dry.

How to Skin and Clean an Eel

An Eel is a very slippery creature, so hold it down by the head on a solid work surface with a towel. With a sharp knife, make an incision around the neck, just below the head. The thick filmy skin will separate. Grip the skin with a pair of pliers, and pull it down the length of the eel to the tail and cut it off.

Make a slit down the length of the stomach and pull out the innards. Rinse the eel well under cold running water. Cut off the head and slice the body into pieces.

How To Clean Squid

Although you can purchase frozen squid that has already been cleaned and cut into rings, using fresh is always best.

To clean a squid, you must first remove the elastic, gray skin from the body of it. Its easily done by using a paring knife and just scraping down the sides of it. The skin will come up and then using your fingers just peel it off and discard.

Cut the head away from the body just above the eyes.  Cut off the tentacles from the rest of the head, just under the eys.  If you break the ink sac while doing this, don't worry.  Just rinse the squid under cold running water while discarding the head and inards.  There is a small bony beak in the center of the tentacles, which can be squeezed out easily. The tentacles are completely edible.

The body cavity contains a quill like cartilage. Pull this out and then squeeze out any jelly like insides. Rinse the squid under cold running water and let drain.

How To Skin and Clean A Moray Eel

Moray Eels are ferocious looking animals. Their bodies are much thicker than fresh water or smaller salt-water eels and their teeth are razor sharp.

Begin by hanging up the Moray from its head from a sturdy structure. You will need two rods from wooden dowels or pieces of bamboo reed. Don’t use your hands as you may get stuck with a broken piece of spine. Take the rods in one hand and arrange them front and back around the Moray. With your other hand, clamp the rods together, so you are forming a sort of vice around the neck of the eel. Now, holding firmly, pull the rods down the length of the body. Move the rods back to the neck and again, pull down the length. Continue doing this until a clump of bone forms at the tail. This clump is composed of the finer bones along the spine so by doing this, your meat will be that much cleaner.

While the eel is still hanging, make an incision around the neck, just below the head. The thick filmy skin will separate. Grip the skin on both sides of the body with pliers, and pull it down the length of the eel to the tail.

Lay the Moray down on a sturdy work surface and use a cloth towel to hold it down while you’re working. Cut off the peeled skin and the knob of bones at the tail. Slice down the stomach of the eel and remove the innards. Rinse the eel under cold running water. Return it to your work surface and cut off the head at the neck and slice the body into pieces, about 1 inch thick.

Folding Phyllo Pastry into Triangles

Lay a stack of phyllo sheets on a cutting board and cut them into 3" x 10" strips.   Phyllo dries out very quickly, so keep it covered with a slightly dampened cloth until you're ready to use it.

Using 2 layers of cut phyllo, put 1 tablespoon of filling about 2 inches away from the bottom edge.  Fold the bottom corner, forming a right angle, over the filling.  Continue to fold up the pastry and filling into right angles - or 'flag style' until it is a neat little wrapped package.

Following recipe instructions,  place the triangles on a greased cookie sheet, seam side down and brush them with butter, or olive oil.

The actual size of the triangles can be altered to accommodate more filling if you wish.  Just cut the strips into bigger pieces.


Stuffing Grape Leaves

The recipes for Stuffed Grape Leaves - Vegetarian or Stuffed Grape Leaves with Meat call for a bit of special technique in rolling up the delicate packages of stuffing.

The best grape leaves to use are the tender, fresh ones that grow on the vines in the summer months before the vines begin to bear fruit.  Here in the Islands, the village women will harvest the small leaves and preserve them in brine so that the traditional dish,  Dolmathes can be enjoyed year-through.  Since most of us don't have grape vines growing in our yard, you can check out a Greek specialty shop or market that will have the preserved leaves.

Either way, fresh leaves or preserved, begin by rinsing them well under running water and setting them aside to drain.  Place a grape leaf in the palm of your hand 'veins up'.  Put a tablespoon of the stuffing mixture into the center of the leaf.  Fold in each side over the stuffing, then fold up the bottom so it resembles an envelope, and roll it up into a parcel. Be patient, as it takes time and practice to learn how to roll these babies up.

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