Crash Course Cooking: Knife Skills

Photo Courtesy: Eliot Gentiluomo

Knives 101:

Always make sure your knives are sharp. The sharper the better. You are more likely to cut yourself with a dull knife then with a sharp one. Sharp knives are much easier to control because they will easily cut what you want where you want.

There are three main knives you need for most of the work. 

  •  6-8-inch chef knife: this is used to do a majority of the cutting. It is the easiest to handle and most versatile.
  • Paring knife: these have about a two- to three-inch-long blade and are used for tasks such as peeling, coring, deveining, and de-seeding. It is also very handy for herbs.
  • Bread knife: this is a long, serrated knife. It’s good for breads and anything with soft flesh, such as tomatoes.

How to properly hold a chef knife:

Hold the knife with your dominant hand with your thumb and pointer finger at the base of the blade (closest to the handle). Then, loosely grip the handle with your hand. The knife should be stable but able to move. Do not grip tightly, this will wear out your wrist quickly. Do not put your pointer finger on the top edge of the blade.

How to properly hold the food when using a chef knife:

With your non-dominant hand, create a claw and place it on top of the food to stabilize it against the cutting board. Make sure to keep your fingertips curled under your knuckle slightly.

When cutting, only your middle finger joint should touch the side of the blade. Also make sure you are cutting on a proper flat cutting board and if it is a round fruit or vegetable create a flat part (often just by cutting the item in half) so that the food does not roll away from you while cutting.

Common Terminology:

Chop: To chop an item means to cut into pieces about one inch or larger and does not have to be uniform. Often in a recipe it will give an approximate size for some, and usually it’s about 1 or ½ inch pieces.

Strip cuts: cut slices lengthwise then lay them flat stacked on top of each other and slice lengthwise again to make the sticks. Larger sticks for things like french-fries, or julienne for smaller items or garnishes.

Dice: there are three different sizes of dice from ½ inch – 1/8-inch square pieces. To dice, start by cutting thin slices lengthwise. After that, lay them flat stacked on top of each other and slice lengthwise again to make the sticks. Lastly, crosswise to create small cubes.

Chiffonade: a technique of rolling leafy greens and slicing the roll in thin sections. This is most often used with herbs for garnish.

Mince: to chop an item in the as small a piece you can, often used for garlic, onion or shallots.