By Lucas Darcy
One thing that I have gotten better at since I've started cooking is chopping my vegetables, and cutting meat. By no means am I the best at it yet but I have improved my skills. I want to show you how to hone your knife skills and get on the road to better chopping. Like any skill cutting ingredients takes time to learn and master. Start slow so you learn at an upward curve, and so you do not harm yourself. I see professional cut themselves all the time on TV, so even the pros do it. This is why you must be very careful. With that being said, let's get into it!
Why is this important?
Chopping food quickly is important to, pardon my pun, cut down on recipe time. Cooking can take a long time, patience, and attention. So being able to chop your vegetables quicker means more time to do other tasks and complete your recipes faster. Plus it looks really cool when you can chop up some vegetables very quickly.
Another reason you want to improve your chopping skills is to improve your dishes. Being able to cut vegetables and meat evenly means that everything will be cooked evenly. When I was first cooking I would always burn pieces of onion because I had cut them to small. Which is another reason to learn how to chop your food. Stop wasting those pieces of overcooked onion or chicken.
Your knife and cutting surface:
A chef's knife is my favorite but can be one of the hardest to use because of its size. The reason I like chef's knives so much is because they can be used to cut almost anything. A chef's knife can be anywhere from5"-12" long. I recommend an 8" chef's knife because it is the perfect size to cut both large ingredients and smaller ingredients. You may also want a paring knife which is somewhere around 3" long. Paring knives are nice to learn with because of their small size.
As for cutting boards you may want to go with wooden or plastic. Never cut on a class surface as it will damage your knife and you don't want that. Both plastic and wood cutting boards are fine. You should make sure you cut meat and vegetables on separate cutting boards or wash the board in-between uses.
How do I hold the knife?
Now we are getting somewhere, are you a righty or a lefty? Take your dominant hand and grip the knife almost like you're holding a hammer. You have never held a hammer? Place the handle of the knife between your thumb and index finger against your palm. Please tell me you have the blade pointed away from you and you're not holding it backwards. Okay now that your holding the knife the right way you're ready to get chopping.
Let's not cut off your fingers, okay?
When you're about ready to get chopping just hold the vegetable however you want. Unless you want to keep all of your fingers, in that case make a claw like hand with your free hand. The whole purpose of the claw hand is to save your finger from being cut. It is also pretty simply to move your fingers with the blade when you are in full claw mode. I'm not saying you won't cut your fingers but I am saying you're less likely to. If you keep it slow while you are still learning you should be just fine.
Don't Sweat the Technique:
So now you're furiously grasping your onion with your claw hand and with the perfect grip on the knife with the other hand. But how do you chop!? I thought that is what you were going to teach me!? Okay, okay I'm getting there. Keep the tip of the knife pointed down into the cutting board. Then you're going to use a rocking movement from the tip of the knife down to the base. This is the technique pretty straightforward. continue doing so until you have chopped through your first vegetable. Keeping a steady motion and smooth cuts you should have even cuts. With time you will gain speed and skill.
You taught me how to use the knife, not cut anything:
I didn't say I was done, did I!? When cutting vegetables, cut them down the center, down the root or stem. Then remove the stem or root by chopping it off with your newly learned skills. Once the root is gone you can continue chopping the rest of the vegetable. These steps will work with most vegetables. However, these steps can depend on the vegetable that your cutting so I recommend you look into how to cut a specific vegetable in a specific way that you want. I could write about 100 different posts about each different vegetable.
As for cutting meat that is tender and juicy you will want to cut across the grain of the meat. The grain of the meat is the muscle fibers. The grain is most noticeable in something like steak where you can clearly see which direction the grain is. If you cut across the grain your meat will not be as chewy. This is just another reason to get better at cutting and chopping.
Don't Worry I am Finally done:
So now you're basically like the fruit ninja and can chop things but simply throwing them in the air and slicing them. Well maybe not the fruit ninja, but at least you can get in the kitchen and start cutting up some ingredients to go in your awesome recipes. Just to recap take a chef's knife, hold it like a hammer, make a claw, rock the knife through the ingredient, and cut down the middle or across the grain. These are all helpful tips to get you in the kitchen chopping.