This is my absolute favorite skill to have as an aspiring chef! It is also the most difficult to master. The ability to toss food in your pan is as visually pleasing as it is practical. Being able to toss food in a pan is essential when making a wok (stir fry) or mixing food into a sauce like gnocchi. Mastering this technique turns you from looking like a casual cook into a master chef!
Step 1) You will need a saute pan, a cutting board, and some sort of food to practice with. A food that is light, but bulky is the easiest to practice with; cheese puffs work very well for this. A saute pan is preferred because its sloping sides, but any pan can be used with enough skill.
Step 2) Place a wet paper towel under your cutting board to secure it on the countertop. Then, place your pan on the cutting board with your choice of food inside.
Now here is the secret to tossing the food. Your main motion is to move the food forward and then pulling back rapidly. The primary motion is NOT moving your pan up and down. This is the biggest mistake people believe they must do to get the food up in the air. This is why we are using the cutting board; your goal is to keep your pan flat on the cutting board without lifting up as you practice.
Step 3) Push the pan forward until the food reaches the forward lip of the pan.
Step 4) In a fluid motion, pull the pan back as your food is brushing up to the forward lip of the pan. The speed at which you do this will be more of a “feel” as to what is correct. Do not be afraid you your food just shifts in the bottom of the pan without getting into the air. This will means that you will either need to move the pan faster or you need to make your motions longer. If your food is flying out of your pan, your dog is probably happily cleaning up the mess, but it also means that your motion forward is too long and you are not pulling back soon enough.
Here are some images to help you better picture what is going on here. This first image is the cutting board technique in slow motion.
Once you master the cutting board technique, you can begin to practice doing this in the air. Here is chef Gordon Ramsay describing the technique as “shoveling snow in midair.”
Once you master tossing food in a pan, you will be impressing your friends and finding that you will be using a wooden spoon far less often!