Knife Skills 101
Greetings, plant-lovin’ foodies! As you know, I share new and delicious recipes each Sunday here on the ol’ Crispy Sage blog. But, I am expanding things a little bit because some of you have questions, or are looking for tips on healthy living or cooking at home.
So, welcome to your mid-week low-down on all things healthy, happy, plant-based living-ness.
We are going to kick this thing off with a little knife-skills 101 lesson.
Why? Because a great knife and some basic technique can be the most powerful and valuable tool in any chef’s arsenal – professional or at home.
Getting started: your tools
First things first, you need a really good chef’s knife. I’m not talking the knives that come in your $100 variety knife block from JC Penney.
If you haven’t done it already, I recommend visiting your local culinary/kitchen retailer where you can try out each chef’s knife and take it for a test drive, but on a potato. You need a knife that fits comfortably in your hand, feels balanced and natural, and will last you for a while.
This is an important investment. And while you can buy otherworldly chef’s knives for thousands of dollars, a decent home-chef-worthy knive doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. I use a Global 8” chef’s knife, and it costs about $110.
Second, the type of cutting board you use is very important. You want wood or a wood composite. Any other material will dull your knife, which quickly turns food preparation into a labor-intensive chore.
I use a wood composite cutting board from Sur la Table – the board is indestructible, dish washer safe, and gentle on my knife. (If you do cook with meat, be sure to have a separate cutting board that is ONLY for meats to avoid contamination.)
Keepin’ it sharp: basic knife care
When I say that I baby my chef’s knife, I mean that I’m borderline ridiculous. You don’t have to take things to the extreme to get a lot of mileage out of your knife, but be sure to follow these three basic steps for optimal knife care.
- Never put your knife in the dishwasher. Always hand wash, hand dry, and put it away immediately. You want to avoid bumps that could dull or dent the blade. Plus, hand washing prevents rusting, discoloring, and scratches.
- Don’t use your knife to scrape chopped produce off the board. This will dull your blade, and could lead to uneven wear. Invest in a $6 dough scraper. It not only saves your knife, but it holds a heck of a lot more and speeds things up in the kitchen.
- Keep the tip of your knife in contact with the board when you’re chopping. Picking the knife up and jamming it down on the cutting board dulls and damages the blade quickly. If it’s making a loud noise, you’re being too rough.
And, the number one rule when it comes to knives…NEVER TRY TO CATCH A FALLING KNIFE.
If a knife starts to slip off the counter, jump back and let it go. Another knife will cost $100, but another finger will cost a heck of a lot more. In a recent knife skills class, despite repeated warnings from the head chef, someone instinctively reached for a falling knife and cut his hand pretty badly in the process. No blood in the kitchen, please.
When you’re using a chef’s knife (which is the knife I use 99% of the time), you want to use a pinch grip. This gives you the most control over your blade, and helps to keep your hand from getting tired.
Index finger and thumb pinch the base of the blade, remaining three fingers curl around the handle.
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Make sure you use this grip when you’re testing driving your knives at the store, too. You want to find a handle and a blade that fit with your hand. Is it comfortable? Is it easy to hold? Is the weight right?
Your knife grip will give you maximum control over your blade. But, your other hand serves as a guide. Using a curled finger grip keeps your digits attached to your hand, and the flat part of your knuckle gives your knife something to rest against as you cut.
The best grip has your index, middle, and ring finger curled on top of your produce with your pinkie and thumb fingers holding things in place.
Finally, your goal whether you’re mincing, chopping, dicing, julienne-ing, or chiffonade-ing, is consistency. You want all of your finished pieces to be the same size. This results in an even texture and consistent cooking. If you have some large chunks and some small chunks, you’ll have a mixture of under and over cooked pieces. Yuck!
A quick onion tip, cut your onion top off, cut it in half from top to bottom, and leave the ends on your onion. Peel the skin back, and chop. Leaving the ends on mean your onion won’t fall apart as you’re dicing it, which means less work for your guide hand.
Here are a few other tidbits:
- Cut your least pungent items first, and work your way to your most pungent. You don’t want your strawberries tasting like raw onion.
- Before you start cooking, get all of your produce cut and measured. It’s known as mise en place in the culinary world, which means “putting in place” or having everything ready ahead of time. You don’t want to ignore what’s in your skillet to chop another onion. So, just knock it out ahead of time, and then start cooking. This is true of baking, too.
- When you’re cutting leaves, like basil or kale, stack the leaves, roll them up, and then cut them. This gives you more control of the size of the cuts and makes it much easier to cut a bunch of leaves all at once.
- Use the flat of your blade to pound on garlic and release the skin, or to crush items. Use the base of your palm to hit the flat of your blade, and always avoid the sharp end.
What are some of your knife questions or tips? Comment below with things you’ve learned or just can’t seem to master. I want to hear from you!