Are you worried about chopping your fingers off whenever you step foot in your kitchen?
Well, knife skills are a MUST KNOW skill in the kitchen, and they will seriously help you feel not only more confident in the kitchen, but also help you cook efficiently and more safely.
Basic Cutting Techniques
While the below list is not exclusive to every style of cutting that a chef will use on a day to day basis in the kitchen, this is a great list to get yourself started in feeling more comfortable working through recipes and working with a variety of vegetables and herbs.
- Rough Chop (Everyone is familiar with this one)
Julienne is a technique used to chop your vegetables such as carrots, celery, cucumbers, or potatoes into fine rectangular shapes similar to that of a match stick. By official definition, a julienne should be 2in x 2mm x 2mm. If you’d like larger strips, the process is the same, however the technical name changes from julienne to batonnet.
Dicing is a technique used to chop your vegetables into (mostly) uniformed cubes or blocks. This one takes time to perfect and your cuts aren’t always going to be perfect, but with practice you will feel so accomplished looking at your cutting board. A main reason to use this style of cutting is of course for uniformity, either for aesthetic reasons, or to help in evenly cooking your vegetables for something like rice pilaf or soups.
Brunoise, like dicing is a technique used to chop your vegetables into uniformed cubes of blocks. However, this style is more of a fine dice. To achieve this fine dice, it’s best to first julienne your vegetable of choice, and then rotate 90 degrees and begin to dice those beautiful fine strips into 2mm x 2mm cubes.
Chiffonade is a favorite of ours, and it is mainly used for herbs like basil or leafy green vegetables such as spinach, or Swiss chard. This technique is achieved by stacking your leaves in a pile, and rolling them tightly together. Once you have a nice tight bunch of greens, finely slice perpendicular. This is great for sandwiches or a garnish to your favorite soups, pastas, or even pizza.
When you hear the term mince, at least in the United States, you probably immediately think of garlic. Most recipes when cooking suggest (and yes suggest because when cooking you can do whatever you prefer) to mince your garlic cloves for best result. Due to that, we will use garlic as a prime example for how to mince. First, take your fresh garlic cloves, and crush the cloves to remove the papery “skin”. Next, rough chop your garlic into manageable pieces. Last, while keeping your knife tip to the cutting board, use a rocking motion to go back and forth over your garlic pieces. Continue this motion until your garlic is “minced” or in very fine pieces.
A rough chop is just doing your best to cut your vegetables into somewhat even and manageable pieces. This is usually used in stews or homemade soups where you don’t care what the pieces look like. Also, if you are juicing or blending these ingredients up, the original shapes don’t matter, so don’t waste your time making them perfect!
Practice Makes Perfect!
One thing that is always going to be true is that practice makes perfect in the kitchen. Unless you are a prodigy (which is possible), you are going to need a bit of practice before you really get comfortable with your knives. Take your time, and make sure to keep those blades sharp!
Knives – What Should I Use?
As there are plenty of knife techniques that apply to different vegetables, and different meats; There are plenty of different styles of knives, that work better in different scenarios. The most important factor when working with knives is make sure your knives are SHARP. A dull blade is far more dangerous than a sharp blade. That is because a sharp knife when handled properly will do its job, and cut your food, while a dull blade is more likely to slip, causing more accidents and issues. While we understand high quality knives are not always a priority and can get quite expensive; I would recommend buy one or two quality knives and taking care of them. I’ll make a post on proper knife care later, but for now, if you’re interested, check this link out here.
Here’s a great post that has a variety of options for all budgets on chef knives.
The Big 3
The top three knives that I would recommend to any home chef that works with a variety of food, from bone-in meats, to vegetables and herbs, to homemade cakes.
- Chef Knife – At least 8 inches
- Boning Knife
- Paring Knife
A Chef Knife is one of the most versatile knives to have in your kitchen “arsenal”. Usually ranging from 6 to 14 inches, I’d say the sweet spot is 8-10 inches. This knife can be used to chop, dice, and julienne your vegetables, herbs and even be useful in disjointing meats, and slicing up steaks, chicken breast, and many other cuts of meat. Also, if you don’t have a large slicing knife, this can also be used to cut through cakes and make nice even slices. I would not recommend using this knife for trying to break bones, slicing bread, or trying to cut anything that is super dense.
A Boning Knife is another great tool to have in your arsenal. Typically a boning knife has a very sharp point with a relatively narrow blade and ranges from 5-6 inches on average. This blade is great for removing bones from meat, cutting off pieces of fat from your chicken or beef, and are very good for long slices or scoring of meat. These blades can come in a stiff blade which is best for beef or pork, or flexible blades which are great for fish and chicken. I would not recommend using this knife for trying to chop bones, mincing, or chopping up your vegetables.
A Paring Knife is my last “mandatory” utility knife that I highly recommend to have in your kitchen. A paring knife is a smaller short blade knife, usually from 3-4 inches long and is used for intricate cutting, peeling and even dicing in some cases. These knives are great for working with fruits, and smaller meats and fish, such as deveining shrimp. I would not recommend using this knife for slicing large meats, bread, or deboning meats.
That was quite a bit of info, but hopefully it will help a few people feel a bit more confident in the kitchen. Knowing how to use your tools properly and safely will really increase your confidence when you’re working. Practicing new techniques can also be a huge confidence booster, and a great way to show off to your friends and family when having a get together. Everyone likes seeing evenly chopped vegetables, whether its carrot sticks along side some buffalo wings, or cucumber slices with ranch.
Let me know what you think, and as always I welcome your feedback!