Basic Knife Skills
If you’ve ever wondered how to use a knife without hacking the living daylights out of your food (or fingers)–or pondered the correct way to hold a sharp knife while cutting–keep reading. We’ve compiled a short list of quick tips to improve your skills, learn some basic cuts, and start rockin’ your technique.
Oh, and there are a couple of terrific recipes below that will give you the opportunity to practice your new skills.
Go grab a knife from the kitchen. We’ll wait…
Tips for Your Grip
While it might feel natural to wrap your entire hand around the handle of a knife, resist that urge. Instead, “choke up” on the handle, gripping it near the blade with the last three fingers of your hand. That leaves your thumb and forefinger free to hold the blade, just above the handle. Don’t use a death grip on the knife! Just relax and let the blade do the work.
It might feel awkward at first. But, as with anything, the more you do it, the easier it will be. And it really is the most efficient way to get stuff done.
the weight of the knife + the sharpness of the blade + the strength of your arm = the easiest cutting
What to do with Your Other Hand
Obviously, you have to hold the food while you cut it.
So ideally, you’ll position the fingertips of your other hand (the “helping” hand) curled under your knuckles. Your fingertips help prevent the food from moving, while your knuckles help prevent your fingers from getting cut. This finger position is called the “bear claw.” The side of the blade might rub lightly against your knuckles, but your fingers remain safely out of the way.
And unless you’re wildly flailing the knife around (PLEASE DON’T DO THAT), your knuckles will be safe too.
Learning a few basic cuts can be a huge help with food prep. While there are many other types of cuts, these are the ones used most often in standard recipes.
Chopping is used when food doesn’t have to be cut into precise pieces. Any type of food can be chopped, but with herbs as an exmple, hold them in a bunch and trim off and discard thick stems (or thow ’em in a pot of soup–there’s a ton of flavor in there). Grab all the leaves together and cut through them a few times. The goal is bite-size pieces or smaller.
To slice any fruit or vegetable, simply line your knife across the end of the food and cut down. Continue the length of the food. Creating uniform sized slices assures they cook at the same rate, or that they look nice if you’re serving the food uncooked.
Julienne simply means to cut food into thin, matchstick strips. First, create a flat base by cutting off a thin slice from a rounded edge of a carrot (for instance); place cut side down for stability. Cut the food into ⅛ʺ-thick slices the length of the food. Stack the slices on top of each other and again cut lengthwise into ⅛ʺ-thick strips. Now, cut strips crosswise to desired length.
Dicing is cutting food into nice, evenly sized, ⅛ʺ to ¼” cubes.
How to dice an onion. This works for other larger spherical foods too!
Cut food in half through the stem and place the cut side down. Hold the food with the palm of your hand, fingers outstretched, while carefully cutting, like this:
- Turn the knife on its side and hold it parallel to the cutting board. Make a horizontal cut toward–but not through–the root end. For smaller cubes, repeat this step a couple of times. The more cuts you make, the smaller your cubes will be.
- Now, turn the knife so the sharp edge is straight down. Make vertical cuts toward the root, again without cutting through the root.
- Finally, reposition the food and cut ACROSS the other cuts to create cubes.
To mince means to cut food the same as dicing, but into even tinier pieces; you’re NOT going for perfect little cubes when you mince. This is often done for aromatic ingredients like garlic or fresh ginger. For garlic, set the clove on a cutting board, place the broad side of a large knife blade over it, and smash down. Remove the papery skin and chop, chop, chop, making sure all pieces are really tiny (that’s mincing). The finer the mince, the more flavorful it will be.
What kind of knife should you use?
The French Chef has a large, curved blade. This shape makes it easy to rock the blade, creating a quick back-and-forth motion. It’ll make you look and feel like a professional chef.
The Cook’s Knife is smaller (but not too small) with less curve to its blade. It’s versatile, offers easy control, and is just plain fun to use.
Either knife will do a terrific job; it’s really just a matter of preference.
REMEMBER THIS: Quality doesn’t have to cost a fortune! You can get great knives without forking out a lot of money!
Why does knowing basic knife skills matter anyway?
- Learning how to hold a knife correctly means you’ll have better control. It helps prevent slippage and accidents.
- If cutting and dicing take forever, then prep work seems exhausting. Becoming comfortable with the basics makes you more efficient. And prepping becomes almost effortless.
- If your food is cut into evenly sized pieces, it will cook evenly and look good. Simple as that.
To learn more, read our Knife Skills Guide.
As a home cook, combining this know-how with the ability to sharpen your own knives (check out Rada’s Quick Edge Knife Sharpener) will allow you to cut almost anything–without cutting yourself. PLUS you’ll feel like you’ve really accomplished something!
To try out your cool new knife skills, make the recipes shown below.
Sharpen your basic knife skills with these recipes.
Raw Zucchini Rolls are a refreshing side dish, appetizer, or light lunch. While they have an Asian flair, they will taste great with just about anything you’re serving.
Raw Zucchini Rolls
Soak ¼ C. raw cashews in water overnight. The next day, drain them and toss into a food processor along with 1½ tsp. rice vinegar and ½ of an avocado until a soft chunky paste forms. Stir in red pepper flakes, salt, and black pepper to taste. Set aside.
Cut long thin strips from the length of 2 zucchini; blot dry. Julienne 1 carrot and ½ of a seedless cucumber. Slice 2 radishes into half moons.
Put a spoonful of the cashew mixture along the length of each zucchini strip. Add some of the carrot, cucumber, and radishes as well as a little cilantro. Roll up each strip and sprinkle with sesame seed. Press to secure or hold together with toothpicks.
A mango is ripe and ready to eat when the color turns from green to orange or red, depending on the variety. The skin should give a little when pressed gently.
For this fresh mango salsa, combine mango, tomatoes, onion, and jalapeño with yummy cilantro and lime. The base of the salad includes baby spinach and bagged broccoli slaw mix. Add a few other ingredients and you’re ready to eat.
Mango Salsa Chicken Salad
1 mango, peeled, seeded & diced
2 plum tomatoes, diced
½ onion, finely chopped
1 jalapeño, seeded & minced
¼ C. cilantro, chopped
2½ T. lime juice
8 C. baby spinach
2 C. shredded broccoli slaw mix
2 C. diced cooked chicken
1 C. diced bell pepper, any color
2 T. dried sweetened cranberries
2 T. chopped pecans
Chipotle chile powder and ground cumin, optional
Your favorite zesty lime vinaigrette
Make the salsa by mixing the mango, tomatoes, onion, jalapeño, cilantro, and lime juice in a bowl; set aside for at least 5 minutes to let the flavors mingle.
For the salad, in a big bowl, combine the spinach, broccoli slaw mix, chicken, bell pepper, cranberries, and pecans. Sprinkle with chipotle chile powder and cumin, if using. Toss together.
To serve, top the salad with the salsa and drizzle the vinaigrette over the top or serve it on the side.
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