If you’ve ever nicked, sliced, or otherwise cut your finger, then you know just how imperative knife skills are in the kitchen. The proper skill set can help you pull off a fabulous meal without sacrificing any of your digits! Yesterday, I decided to attend a Basic Knife Skills class hosted by a local grocery store chain and boy, am I glad I went! For a cool $50 (I’ve seen Knife Skills classes for cheaper), I learned how to slice, dice, chop, and mince an assortment of vegetables all while preparing 2 easy dishes. Just two hours later and I felt way more confident in the kitchen than I had ever been before. Just goes to show how the right instruction can make a world of difference.
I wanted to share a little bit of what I learned in my Basic Knife Skill class with you. Of course, to cut anything well a quality sharp chef’s knife and a wooden cutting board is required. If you do not have a chef’s knife, invest in one. Properly taken care of, it can last over a decade. Do not try to attempt to use a dull chef’s knife or a bread/paring knife to cut vegetables or meats. These are likely to result in an injury. Remember to sharpen your knives regularly and hone them on the steel rod before every use.
First, lets talk about hand placement. To correctly position your hand on the knife, you will need to pinch the lower portion of the non-sharp side of the blade on your chef’s knife with your thumb and forefinger. Flip your hand over so that the knife is now resting in your palm and wrap the rest of your fingers around the handle. Turn it over and now you’re holding your knife correctly!
Since your other hand will be guiding the food to this very sharp blade, this is where the “claw” hand comes into play. Start by making a C shape with your open hand, but tuck your fingertips under. Place your hand down onto the cutting board and make sure to keep your wrist up and your arm out. With this, you can hold anything from a round onion to a skinny celery stalk to a bunch of cilantro. With the proper “claw” hand and knife placement, there is no way you can cut yourself.
Now on to the fun stuff…types of cuts! We learned how to dice, brunoise, julienne, cut on the bias, chiffonade, and mince. Of course the irregular cuts were the easiest and the uniform cuts more difficult to perfect, but I enjoy a challenge. For dicing, remember “a slice and a slice make a dice”. This is basically cutting a vegetable one way, turning it 90° and cutting it again to create cubes. A dice that is smaller than a 1/4 inch is called a brunoise or fine dice. Julienne is the term for cutting into long strips or rectangular prisms. A julienne strip longer than 2 inches is called a batonnet and smaller than 1/8 inch is called a fine julienne.
A chiffonade is a cut reserved for leafy greens and is performed by rolling the leaves as you would a cigarette and slicing crosswise to create ribbons. For herbs like cilantro or parsley, the preferred cut would be a mince. This produces a very fine cut and with a very sharp knife, none of the precious and tasty essential oils are lost onto the cutting board. Lastly, a bias cut is to cut the produce on the diagonal to create an interesting shape and more surface area.
As the saying goes, practice, practice, practice! With proper form and technique, your knife skills can only get better. Now, what should I prepare?