You've probably seen chefs on television wielding their enormous knives and chopping onions with the precision of a surgeon and the speed of a NASCAR driver. Though it's fun to watch, it's not realistic to think that a home cook could work her way up to this level, or would want to if she could. That doesn't mean, however, that you can't hone your knife skills and become truly comfortable and confident holding your chef's knife. With these tips, you can be mowing through your mirepoix in no time.
Buying The Right Knives
Most knife sets come with far more knives than is necessary for the home cook. You will need a few different knives depending on what you intend to be doing with them, but entire sets are oftentimes unnecessary.
The most important knife in any cook's arsenal is the chef's knife. Usually in the 10-inch range, this is the most frequently used of any knife and is the go-to whenever chopping, dicing or mincing is needed. Next on the list is a paring knife. These smaller and more precise knives are perfect for peeling many fruits, as well as performing more delicate procedures. Last is a serrated knife for cutting bread and other edibles.
If you deal with a lot of meat and fish at your house, then a boning or filet knife may be necessary, and, if you feel confident in your skills, a cleaver is great for many tasks, but a chef's knife, a paring knife and a serrated knife will work for most people.
Dull Knife Equals Shorter Fingers
The single biggest cause of kitchen accidents is dull knives. Whereas sharp blades can be controlled and actually go where they're being directed, dull blades tend to slide and land where they're not wanted, such as an unfortunately placed pinkie. This can be prevented by properly maintaining your knives. Do not store them in a cluttered drawer. Make sure they have enough room to sit without knocking up against their neighbors. Never chop on a countertop or glass cutting board. Wood and plastic are the best options. Lastly, never wash them in the dishwasher. This can cause them to rust, which makes maintaining them impossible.
Even with proper maintenance, knives will go dull. The regular application of a honing steel, that long rod you probably have in your drawer and never use, will help. Simply hold the steel in your non dominant hand and, making sure you're not too close to anybody, act as if you are cutting thin slices off of it with your knife, changing sides with each swipe. Eventually, however, it will be necessary to get them professionally sharpened. Your local knife shop will likely do this for you.
Basic Chopping Words
Now that you've chosen a knife that is right for you and is adequately sharpened, here are a few terms you are likely to come across:
Dice: This is a relatively vague term. It usually refers to cutting meat or vegetables into ?- to ½-inch cubes. The most important aspect of dicing is not the size of the cube, but that the size is consistent among all of the cubes.
Mince: Even smaller than a dice, mincing means cutting until the individual pieces are barely distinguishable from each other.
Chiffonade: It may sound fancy, and therefore intimidating, but this is about as basic as cuts get. It refers to a way to chop herbs or other greens so that they are shredded into ribbons. Simply pile as many leaves as you want on top of each other, and roll them up like a cigar. Cut thin, even slices across the width of the bundle.
Julienne: When you chop a vegetable into long thin sticks often referred to as "matchsticks," it is known as julienne. Though different vegetables are shaped differently, the procedure is basically the same for all. Cut the vegetable lengthwise into panels, and then stack the panels on top of each other and cut them again into sticks.
By knowing the knives you need and how to care for them, you can reduce kitchen accidents and produce meals that look as good as they taste.
There are essentially four parts which should be considered when contemplating the purchase of a professional grade kitchen or chefs knife. Consisting of a blade, cutting edge, handle, and bolster or shoulder, the construction and materials of a knife are important considerations when considering the purchase of kitchen cutlery.