Learning proper chopping techniques is essential for every cook, whether you’re a home cook or heading into a professional kitchen. These knife skills will aid your cooking across the board, whether you're grilling steak kebabs, roasting vegetables, or making chicken noodle soup.
There’s some truth to the saying that people “eat with their eyes” first, and pretty food tastes better. But more importantly, these knife cuts help you achieve even cooking times for all of your food. Even if you’re just cooking for yourself and don’t want to spend time perfecting each cut, the important thing to remember is to keep everything the same size for even cooking.
The best vegetables to practice on are whatever is cheapest, like carrots, potatoes, and celery. Wash and peel your vegetable (if necessary) and then slice off a bit of the sides to turn the round vegetables into rectangles. Once you have flat surfaces to work with, you can start practicing knife cuts.
Half the battle of achieving good knife skills is having a sharp knife. Use a chef knife that you’re comfortable with (click here for more information on chef knives). Knife injuries in the kitchen happen when you put too much pressure on a dull knife, at which point it can slip and cut you. Most knife blocks come with a steel; while running your knife against the steel is a good way to keep it sharp while you’re cooking, it won’t actually sharpen a dull knife. To maintain the sharpness of your knife for the long run, use a whetstone or an automatic knife sharpener.
Whatever knife you’re using, you’ll want to be careful while practicing these methods. Tuck in the fingers of the hand you hold the vegetables with(make a claw) while you cut, so they don’t get in the way!
There are a few knife cuts you won’t ever have to learn, like the cocotte, which is a small torpedo shape that was very popular in classic French cuisine. It’s a neat trick to learn, but this is actually a very wasteful knife cut. While this round shape is a bit outdated, there are a few knife cuts that every cook should know.
(Credit: Flickr/Stacy Spensley)
Slicing herbs is tricky business; going over herbs a few times with your knife will bruise them. Use the chiffonade to finely slice herbs in one go. Stack up the herbs and roll them into a small, tight bundle before slicing.
One of the most used cuts in the home kitchen. This medium cube cut is used for stocks, soups, stews, and braising. As long as they’re all about the same size, chopped vegetables don’t have to be perfect.
Julie Ruggirello is the Recipe Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @TDMRecipeEditor.