Knife Skills

(Like the Pantry page, this will be a work in progress.  I would like to get video up to give you even better explanations, but this will take a bit of time.  Thanks for your patience and stay tuned for fun things to come!)

Most chefs have an obsession.  At least one obsession.  It could be technique, equipment, a rare and maybe even secret ingredient? Most have a healthy obsession with their knives.  It’s one of the first things I learned in culinary school; how to have a healthy relationship with my knives.

At Natural Gourmet Institute we spent a ridiculous amount of time cutting produce.  It’s a plant-based curriculum after all.  The result?  Chefs with great knife skills!  (Not to mention creating a bit more OCD in some of us, but that’s for later.)  Most of my colleagues and I were constantly admired by chefs, sous chefs and other cooks at our internships or new jobs for our ability to cut uniformly, accurately and quickly.  (The latter was my biggest weakness.)  It takes time, but it’s worth it.

Why is it worth it?  Because even cuts make for more beautiful and tastier dishes.  If everything is cut evenly, everything cooks evenly.  This is probably not news to you yet we often don’t think about size or uniformity when cooking at home.  To be fair, we have a million and one other things to think about than the perfect dice, but a little bit of practice will take your meals to a whole new level.

We could get into a lengthy conversation about knives, sharpening tools, other kitchen equipment that cut, slice, chop, mince, etc, but I think it’s best to keep it simple.  I’ll list some sources so you can get into the nitty gritty of knives if you wish to.

Let’s start with the most basic and most used knife; the chef’s knife.  It’s also known as a French knife (of course) and is pretty much a multi-purpose knife.  It’s typically 8-12″ in length and about 1.5-2″ wide at the heel (base).  It tapers from there to a point at the tip.  This construction allows for the knife to peel, mince, chop, trim, fillet a fish, break down poultry and otherwise work meat, etc.  To be sure that you have a good knife, check the balance between the blade and the handle.  It should be even and pretty easy for you to hold.  You’ll use this knife for everything…pretty much everything.  Buy a good one.

The second oft used knife is the paring knife.  It’s used mostly for trimming and paring produce.  Its short 2-4″ blade usually resembles that of the chef’s knife.  I’ve seen chefs use the paring knife for dicing brunoise cuts (discussed later) and even in trimming fat from meat.  It’s versatile and it will make your life easier in the kitchen.  Buy a good one.

Buy a good one does not mean buy an expensive one.  There are plenty good quality knives that won’t cost you a 2nd mortgage on your house.  Just get help from people who know what they’re talking about when buying.

Let’s start cutting:

Chop:  When you see the term “roughly chopped” or just chopped, it generally means “cut into pieces about the same size but exact uniformity and dimensions aren’t really important”.  This is probably what most of us usually end up doing.

Mince:  Mincing is cutting into super fine pieces but not necessarily in perfect precision.  Some circles use “mince” as a way of describing a super fine dice.  To be honest, the only thing I really mince in my kitchen is garlic.  It’s a fast and random cut but again, super tiny.  In fact, I usually hit the garlic with the flat side of my knife to ‘crush’ it in a way and remove the skin.  I then slice thinly and from there run the knife over and over and over the garlic until I’m happy with the size.  (I’m righty so my left fingers are resting/guiding the knife at the tip.)

Dice:   There are a few sizes to the basic dice, the beautiful little cubes that can adorn any plate!

Small dice measure 1/4″ all around

Medium dice measure 1/2″ all around

Large dice measure 3/4″ all around

How do you get to those beautiful little cubes?  Well, it largely depends on what you’re cutting.  Some things lend themselves to certain cuts.  Potatoes and carrots get cut into planks first (see image above in the meantime), then rods and then dice.  The onion is a special vegetable and gets its own set of rules.

Brunoise:  Aka very fine dice; 1/8″ all around

Julienne:  Long, rectangular cuts, like rods, 1/8″X1/8″ and usually about 2″ long

Batonet:  Similar to julienne but 1/4″X1/4″ and 2″ long

Decorative Cuts:

Chiffonade:

Match sticks:

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