Learn the best techniques for cutting, slicing, dicing and chopping your favorite foods for delectable gourmet effect.
Ever walk into the kitchen section of your favorite store, only to stand in awe at the endless variety of knives? Whether it’s a $500 knife block or a gorgeous set of fine Japanese cutlery, you wonder why anyone would need to spend so much money on such simple kitchen tools. And yet, many of the most renowned chefs in the world swear by their knife sets.
Still, buying a state-of-the-art, full tang knife won’t turn you into a culinary master overnight, and it certainly won’t land you a spot on Chopped. First, it’s important to understand the basics of cutting ingredients. Does it matter if I dice or chop? Should I shave or mince my garlic? And what exactly does it mean to julienne?
The presentation, flavor and overall appeal of your dishes can be enhanced with a little attention to cutting detail and preparation. With smart technique and the right style of knife, you’ll be serving up a finely finished dish.
First on the chopping block: the essentials
Before we discuss cutting style and strategy, let’s consider the types of blade knives any home chef should own. For everyday chopping and slicing tasks—think vegetables, fruits, meats, poultry, cheeses and the like—it’s smart to stick with just 3 basic blades.
- The Chef’s Knife: Deal with any dicing, mincing or chopping task with this absolute essential. A chef’s or cook’s knife is typically in the 8” range and is used for everything from carving meat to crushing garlic. Consider it the ultimate multi tool in the kitchen. Guess what? We're launching an 8 inch chef's knife soon. Stay tuned!
- The Paring Knife: Prepping ingredients for a stir fry? How about a juicy apple in the morning? The paring knife is perfect for more delicate jobs, such as julienning carrots (imagine the size of a matchstick) or peeling the skin of a cooked potato with pinpoint precision.
- The Serrated Knife: You may not use this scary-looking tool too often, but when you do, it’s a godsend. Featuring a jagged saw-like edge, a serrated knife helps you slice thick breads, cut through cakes, carve up watermelons and perform other heavy duty tasks.
Are there other ‘types’ of knives? Sure. But stick with these three blade varieties, and you’ll be able to handle any popular dish.
Next on the cutting board: presentation
One of the key reasons why a chef requires so many knives is to keep up appearances. Food doesn’t just taste good—it needs to look appealing. And oftentimes, those two aspects go hand-in-hand.
Think of it this way. Would you ever toss an entire onion into your salad? Could you imagine yourself eating a whole slab of skirt steak, rather than those long, juicy individual cuts?
Visual details matter. More importantly, the right cut helps you control texture and balance various ingredients properly per each recipe. Here are a few top chef secrets for improving the overall texture, flavor and appearance of your favorite foods.
- Julienning: If you’re preparing a crisp summer salad or similar healthy meal, avoid large, chunky pieces of food. Instead, you can achieve a perfectly crunchy bite—and classy look—by cutting carrots, zucchini, squash and other foods into skinny matchsticks.
- Dicing: Perhaps the ‘dice’ is underrated in the world of gourmet cuisine. But in the average person’s home, it’s an essential technique for balancing flavor and ensuring even cooking. For your stews, soups, salads and more, strive for uniform cube-shaped pieces. Unlike a traditional ‘chop,’ which is more practical, the ‘dice’ is prettier.
- Meat-Cutting: We thought we’d give this a mention, since beef slicing technique is such a commonly debated topic. Experts agree you should always use a chef’s knife. Approach at a 45° angle, slicing across (or against) the grain, as opposed to parallel with it. This will yield a juicier, more tender result nearly every time.
Once you’ve mastered these basic slicing and dicing strategies, you’re well on your way to churning out impeccable plates every night of the week.
The final slice? Choose wisely.
In the market for a new knife? Be mindful of the types of qualities that go into a categorically 'good' knife.
First, make sure you always seek out knives with full tang blades, and go for those that fit your hands. Depending on your unique size and strength, some utensils may make you feel uncomfortable. Look for general balance, good grip, a strong, contoured handle and other qualities that make you feel empowered in the kitchen.
When all else fails: stick with the French, German, or Japanese manufactured knives (at least that’s what the pros say). Each of these countries has a long history with knife manufacturing and use local, high quality metals.
Until next time, happy chopping!