Tip #2: Know your knife cuts
Most of what I know about knife work comes directly from Food Network circa 2007. That summer I had a fellowship grant from my university, and rather than use the funds to pursue my self-directed research full time, I spent at least half of every week either watching Food Network or testing my newfound skills. What I learned can be summed up in the most common cuts, pictured above, plus some safety tips I picked up along the way.
- Thinly sliced: This should be between 1/8 and 1/4 inch, depending on how comfortable you are with the knife. The key is even slices so they’ll cook evenly as well. If you find your vegetable/fruit/whatever is too long for your blade, cut it in half or quarters to make it more manageable.
- Rough chop: Again, the goal is to have pieces around the same size for even cooking, but it likely doesn’t matter much how big or small the pieces are. Just cut through in one direction, turn the slices, and cut in the other to make approximate squares for cooking.
- Fine dice: There are two ways accomplish this cut, which results in pieces that sort of melt into the final dish: make small knife cuts in one direction and then cut across them into even pieces, or start with a rough chop and then keep chopping, turning the pile of cuttings every once in a while, until you have uniformly small pieces. I usually go with the latter.
- Julienne: Also called matchsticks, you start with your thin slices and then cut them lengthwise into sticks that are about the same width on all sides (about 1/8 to 1/4 inch again). It’s good for a fancy garnish or a stir-fry (although let’s face it, for stir fry you can just stop at slices most of the time).
- Chiffonade: What matchsticks are to hard vegetables, chiffonade is to leafy greens and herbs. Pile up all the leaves you’re using, roll them into a little cigar, and then slice thinly along the roll to get little strips perfect for sprinkling on the top of a finished dish.
Some other tips:
- A sharp knife is a safe knife so keep your knives sharpened. It may sound counter-intuitive, but when your knife is sharp you don’t have to press down much to cut through things, and if you’re not pressing down the knife is less likely to move unexpectedly and chop a finger.
- Keep your fingertips tucked back when slicing. I usually accomplish this by resting most of my nail on what I’m cutting. It means that if get too into the slicing, you’ll end up cutting your knuckle rather than cutting off your fingertip. Neither one is ideal but at least the knuckle can most likely be fixed with a bandage rather than stitches.
- Go slow. It’s super tempting to speed up as you get more confident but going too fast leads to fingers under the blade and that never ends well.