Preparing food for yourself and your family can be a joy and not so much of a chore if you have the right tools and the right knowledge. Here are some skills you can begin using right away to make your time in the kitchen more efficient and pleasurable.
First we need to talk about knives. Using the right knife for the job will make it amazingly easy to complete the task at hand easily and with the style of a true professional. Everyone has their own preferences in regard to what works best for them, so make it a point to try out all the different cooking knives to see which works best for you. For the very basics, have a paring knife, or a chef’s knife (Also known as a Cook’s knife), and a tomato, vegetable, or other serrated edge knife on hand. Grab some vegetables and let’s get started!
Brunoise – This is a method similar to dicing a vegetable that will give a uniform size and shape, usually on the very small side. Prepare your vegetable by washing it and trimming it into straight right angles. It should resemble a flat piece of paper, or a square depending on what type of vegetable it is. Now you want lengthwise in very thin strips. A chef’s knife is best for this as the angle really helps keep the knife stable and you can use a “rocking” motion with the blade to maintain steady small strips. Once you have the strips, put them in a straight line with each other and use your knife to slice across horizontally for confetti-like pieces of vegetable.
Chiffonade – To chiffonade is to finely cut strips, or ribbons, or leafy vegetables or herbs. This is a commonly used technique for making cole slaw. To chiffonade lettuce or cabbage use a lettuce knife, or chef’s knife and cut a washed head into quarters and remove the hard center core. Then thinly slice the quarters across the grain. For quit chiffonade tips, roll up and thinly slice large greens such as spinach or chard. For smaller leaves such as fresh herbs, stack them first and then roll and slice across the grain.
Chop – When you aren’t worried about the shape or uniformity of your vegetables, chopping is a quick skill. Trim and wash your vegetables and peel if needed. Many prefer to use a cleaver when chopping, but a chef’s knife works well too. Grasp the handle with three fingers and put your forefinger and thumb on the opposite sides of the blade and set the tip of the knife on the cutting surface. Use a rocking motion slice down through the vegetables using the full length of the knife. Use your other hand to push the vegetable towards the knife. This makes it more efficient than moving the knife, just make sure and keep your hands out of the way!
Dice – To dice a vegetable, is to cut it into a cube that usually ranges from 1/4 to 3/4 of a square inch. This makes the vegetables really nice for soups, stews, and salads. Trim your vegetable into a square making sure the sides are straight and at right angles. Hold your knife vertically and slice the vegetables lengthwise. Now stack the vertical cut pieces together and slice them crosswise which will cut them into perfect pieces of “dice”.
Julienne – This is a technique for cutting vegetables into fine sticks for use in salads or as garnishments. Trim the vegetable into a cubed or flat sqare with the desired end length of the strip in mind. Hold your knife vertically and slice thin panels. Take the panels and neatly stack them and cut them lengthwise to create uniform matchsticks. A larger method of this, used for fruit and vegetable trays or salads is called a baton.
Peel – Many vegetables and fruits need to have their outer layer peeled before preparing to serve. There are specially made knives for this called a peeling knife, or you can use a paring knife. With a peeling knife, hold the fruit/vegetable and place the sharp side of the blade onto the item and stroke it across and away from you. Repeat this move until entire peel is removed. When peeling with a paring or other knife, hold the item you are going to peel and place the blade so that the sharp edge is just touching the surface so that when you pull the blade down, it will remove the peel instead of cutting into the item. For onions and shallots, make a small cut into the first layer of the vegetable and remove that along with the rest of the peel.
Mince – To mince a fruit or vegetable is to cut or chop it into very small pieces. A chef’s knife is good to use for this. Cut the piece you are mincing in half from the root to the tip. Start with one half and slice vertically from the root to the end down, making as many slices as you can. Do not cut through the root though as the root is acting as an anchor to help hold your cutting together. When you have finished all the parallel slices, hold the blade horizontally against the item and cut through several more times. This will create a grid that you can then slice into very small pieces.
Slice – When creating slices of food made of bread or pastry, a thin serrated knife is the best. Bread knives are made specifically to cut through the softest or crustiest pieces of bread without crushing the softness or creating too many crumbs. For slicing other food, a cook’s or chef’s knife works great. It’s usually helpful to keep the knife stable by placing the tip of the knife on the cutting surface and then feeding the food into the cutting area with your other hand.
Now that you’ve learned all the different cutting styles, find some recipes that call for different types of cutting and see how much easier it is to create a masterpiece to serve to your friends or family!
Use the Right Knife
When it comes to all the different cutting techniques, having the proper blade for the job makes it much easier and more enjoyable. Typically, every kitchen should have a paring knife, utility knife, and a chef’s knife. A cleaver is optional. You’ll find as you practice these different cutting techniques that you will gain a preference for which knife is right for you for the job. For example, a serrated utility knife will cut some fruits and vegetables much easier than a plain edge blade, but would be too rough for finer embellishing techniques. Whatever kitchen knives you use, make sure you keep them sharp for safety!