Knife Cutting Skills
Ok, I am laughing as I write this post. I am a self-proclaimed cook who has always learned by doing and absorbing knowledge from all around me. I could not pinpoint the moment I became “good” in the kitchen. I have always quite simply just enjoyed myself in the kitchen since I was a little girl. As the years trudged on, I picked up tips and tricks along the way. I guess that is why I am laughing about this post. Honestly, I would never deem myself an expert at knife cutting skills, but per my interns’ request we decided to bust out some “tutorial” pics for you. Maybe it will prove useful to some of you, and some of you may just have a good giggle, as your knowledge my easily surpass my own. So bare with me while I put on my “professional cook” hat and try to break down some skills for you. And I will try to not cause a myriad of typos with my laughter.
Yep, step numero uno is ALWAYS start with a sharp knife. You WILL notice a difference. The job will go easier and quicker with a freshly sharpened tool. It is funny, but I really discovered this truth after cooking at Sam’s. I had apparently been lazy about sharpening my old blades, but had not noticed their gradual dulling until I started chopping with Sam’s knives when she was a newlywed. Oh my goodness, a sharp knife really makes the whole process way more pleasureable!
A lot of “cooking” terminology has become second nature, but the longer I cook and invite people into the kitchen, the more I discover that a ton of my regular vocabulary for recipes is foreign to people. So, Let’s break down paring, mincing, and slicing…along with what tools to use.
The tiny knife above is called a paring knife. I used it here to trim the ends of a sweet potato and then remove it’s skin. Yes, you could use a vegetable peeler, but I figured I should keep it old school for a “knife lesson” since some of you may not know the purpose for such a tiny knife. As you can see in the picture, I use my thumb as a guide.
Now onto the heavy duty chef’s knife to power through the dense flesh of the sweet potato. The size and the shape (thicker to wider) of the chef’s knife helps you to make short work of this job by giving you a nice rocking motion as you start near the tip and pressure the back down while pushing slightly forward.
Onto mincing. I always prefer to use a chef’s knife for this job as well. Haha, actually, the chef’s knife is my favorite because of it’s shape. I love the rocking motion and that the thickness of the blade protects my knuckles on the handle from hitting and scraping on the cutting board.
Basically, to mince means to cut up tiny. I first use the blade to slice the garlic.
After the garlic is sliced, I reposition my left hand to rest on top of the blade as I “run the knife through” my garlic. This simply means that while I keep the pointy tip end of my blade in constant contact with the cutting board, I lift my handle up and down while slightly pivoting from left to right on each downward stroke. After running through the garlic once, I wipe my blade clean and and begin the process again. I run through the garlic at least 4 more times before it is evenly minced.
Using the chef’s knife still, I conquered a bell pepper to show you some slicing skills. For me, cutting anything in the kitchen is about time and consistency. I want to figure out the quickest way to tackle whatever fruit or vegetable I am prepping, and I want the cut to be as uniform as possible so that they cook evenly.
I personally have found that prepping bell peppers requires a bit of hands-on tactics. I hate wasting anything, so slicing the pepper in half and pulling upward on the seed cluster until the stem itself pops off, keeps me from loosing any of the flesh around the stem.
Once the seeds and ribs are removed (those just turn into yucky mush if cooked), I position my knife for some downward with a slight forward motion from tip to stern. With the pepper half on it’s side, I am able to get control of how thick I want my slices. Also, the jagged interior gives me a lot more traction than the shiny, smooth skin of the pepper…so cutting it this way proves faster.
As I cut, I roll my pepper to accommodate more cuts.
Slicing done, I can show you a few more tactics.
Where you saw me pare the skin away from the sweet potato, now I am using the paring knife to work over an apple.
I literally always cut my apples this way, whether for my kid’s lunch or for a basic apple pie or sauce. It is fast! Slicing down one side of the core, I pivot the apple to cut down the other three sides of the core. It leaves me some nice chunks with flat edges (an ideal when cutting since they do not roll around). You can cut these chunks into slices, or you can pick them up and pare them into small chunks. Notice again that I am using my thumb as a guide when doing this. I like these small chunks/slices for pie and apple sauce because they are uniform in size and will cook evenly.
Ok, have I lost you yet? Aka, is this already stuff you know? Gahh, that is probably true for most of you. Again, I am no expert, and am writing this per request (aka I am NOT resting on any laurels).
Maybe this one will be new to you. Grimace. Making garlic paste.
After first mincing the garlic like I did above, I sprinkle a bit of sea salt into my garlic and then use the chef’s knife at a severe angle to work the mince into a paste. Pressing down firmly, I pull the blade towards me. When I say firmly…I mean it. Can you see my fingers buckling?? LOL
Working it over a few times, pressing and scraping, creates a lovely garlic paste for flavor.
Moving onto a basic dice. Using the chef’s knife, I tackled a bell pepper in a similar fashion to what I did before.
The only difference is that I cut thicker slices. (Whoops! Did you catch my error below? Do you see me slicing with the skin side up?? See, I am no expert…I get going and forget….but know that cutting on this side will be slower and you will be in danger of slipping the knife on the slick skin.)
Lining my slices up, I work my point again. As opposed to a mince where I put my left hand on top of the blade, I keep my hand on the slices with my fingers curled (nobody wants the tip of a finger in their food!…ok, that was too graphic.) Working that rocking motion, I keep the tip in contact with the board while I move my handle up and down. As I go, I move my handle slightly forward with every downward stroke in order to give my peppers a nice dice. They will be perfect for sauteing.
Last three I am going to tackle.
Remember that sweet potato that I pared earlier. Well, now I am cubing it. Basically, I take those thick slices and cut them into large stick shapes that I then cut into large squares. I usually call anything cut between a 1/2″ to 1″ squares a cube cut.
Now for a basic slice.
With a tomato in particular, I use the tip of my slicing knife (or a paring knife if you are willing to dirty two knives for the job) and cut around the stem at a slight angle until it can simply be popped out.
Using a very sharp slicing knife (tomatoes are so soft that a dull knife will cause them to squeeze out all their juice and seeds), I start at the top of the tomato close to the tip of my knife. Again, I use that motion of moving my blade down while simultaneously moving it forward. Trust me, that forward motion gives your slices more power as you use the full potential of your blade. Wow, that totally sounded samurai!!
At last we reach the chiffonade. Fancy sounding, I know. It simply means cutting herbs or leafy greens in long thin strips.
I start by picking my leaves (here basil) and stacking them.
Then I roll them into a tight little package.
Taking my chef’s knife, I do that downward/forward motion while moving my knife only subtly to the right. Remember to not pick up the tip of your knife! It is your best friend in controlling how far you are moving your knife along the item you are cutting.
Wow, that was a long-winded post!
Hope it may have proven helpful to you in one way or another!
Happy zesting up your meals and keep your digits safe as you perfect your knife skills!
Photos Credit to: Jessica Helton