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Knife Skills: Can You Cut It?

Tuesday, 2 October 2012 | Tags: , , , ,

After 69 episodes of Anna & Kristina's Grocery Bag, you'd think we'd have learned how to chop like a professional chef. But for the first time, we get a lesson in knife skills from Chef Julian Bond of the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts. Let's get chopping!

The Basics

Chopping is a basic fundamental skill that a chef has to perfect, much like mastering a golf swing. Good cutting technique will give you consistent size, which in turn will ensure even cooking.

If you can’t do the precision cut called for in a recipe, aim for consistent size, which will make sure your food is evenly cooked.

Many recipes provide loose descriptions of how ingredients should be cut (e.g. strips, bite-sized, chunks), but others are very precise. The most common cuts are:

  • Dice: cubes, 3/4″ x 3/4″ x 3/4″, or 2cm3 

  • Medium Dice: cubes, 1/2″ x 1/2″ x 1/2″ or 1cm3

  • Mince/small dice: cubes, 1/4″ x 1/4″ x 1/4″ or 5mm3

  • Macedoine: cubes, 1/4″ x 1/4″ x 1/4″ or 5mm3, typically for vegetables like carrot, onion, turnip, beets, celery

  • Brunoise: cubes 1/8″ x 1/8″ x 1/8″ or 3mm3

  • Fine Brunoise: cubes 1/16″ x 1/16″ x 1/16″ or 2mm3, often a garnish for consommé, carrot, onion, turnip, celery

  • Julienne: aka matchsticks, 1/8″ x 1/8″ x 2 1/2″ or 3mm x 3mm x 4cm

  • Batonnet: sticks, 1/2″ x 1/2″ x 2 1/2-3″ or 1cm x 1cm x 4cm

  • Allumette: sticks, 1/4″ × 1/4″ × 2 1/2′ or 6mm x 6mm x 4cm

  • Jardinière: sticks, 1/8″ x 1/8″ x 3/4″ or 3mm x 3mm x 2cm

  • Paysanne: thin pieces, 1/32″-1/16″ or 1-2mm, squares, triangles, circles, or half rounds depending on the natural shape of the vegetable.

  • Chiffonade: finely sliced or shredded green leafy vegetables or herbs.

Chopping Tips from Chef Julian Bond

  • If your cutting board tends to slide while you are chopping, place a damp towel underneath the board to keep it in place.

  • When cutting something round or cylindrical you should square it off to prevent slipping. Start by either cutting the piece in half or cutting off a thin slice or to create a flat, stable surface to work from.

  • Chopping is more than sense of sight. It’s also sense of touch. With practice and proper technique, you should be able to chop without looking.

  • Your non-knife hand is just as important as your knife hand. Use the claw technique, keeping fingers curled inward and gripping the food with the fingernails. This way, fingers stay out of harm’s way and the side of the knife blade actually rests against the first knuckle of the guiding hand, which helps keep the blade perpendicular to the cutting board.

  • The chopping motion is like a locomotive. Imagine you’re arm is the motion of train wheels and remember follow-through. To chop an onion, leave the root on until the very end. The root holds it all together making it easier to chop.

  • Start slow and practice and you will improve your speed with time.

Knife Safety

  • Always carry a knife with the tip down at your side, not pointing out.

  • To pass a knife to someone, place it down on the cutting board or counter so they have control over how they pick it up.

  • Never drop a knife in a dishpan because you risk banging the edge on the sink and someone who can’t see the knife in the water may reach in and cut themselves.

  • Avoid resting your knife at the edge of the cutting board or counter as you could knock it to the ground. If a knife does fall, just back away and let it hit the ground, as that is the safest. Don’t try to catch it!

  • Be sure to use a sharpened knife. Dull knives will not only make chopping more difficult, but also can easily slip and cause injuries.

  • Use a knife that you are accustomed to and practice on soft foods. Take it easy at first, and then graduate to harder foods.

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