The idea behind using knives in the kitchen may seem simple enough – cut up meat or vegetables in preparation for cooking, ensuring that the preparer ends the mission with the same amount of fingers and blood as starting it. But without some basic kitchen knife skills, that’s easier said than done.

As well as the inherent dangers in dealing with very sharp objects, like everything there is an art to the form. Learning how properly to de-seed peppers, cut up a carrot, peel a potato and finely chop an onion will enable you to work quicker, safer, cause less stress on the muscles of the arm, and let’s face it, impress anyone watching.

Mastering these skills can improve your enthusiasm no end. If it takes ages to peel an onion then preparing an entire casserole is going to kill your love of cooking completely. There are entire books and DVDs devoted to what are increasingly important skills mastered over years as home cooking continues its storming comeback, but remember, as in all things, safety is paramount.

The gear

You can buy specialist knives for slicing, dicing and chopping, but if you’re on a budget there are three which, with a bit of practice, can see you through every important action in the kitchen that involves a knife.

Chef’s knife

Chef knivesCommonly in eight or 10-inch formats, this is the daddy of all knives. With its strong handle, tapered blade and sharp tip, it can conquer practically any vegetable put in front of it.

Utility knife

Utility knivesSmall and nippy, these are about four inches long and tend to be used for smaller and more intricate chopping and cutting.

Serrated edge

Bread knivesWhen a slice of bread needs cutting or a pineapple needs opening, there is no better tool in the kitchen than to make short work of tough hides.

The Grip

Mastering kitchen knife skills - the grip
Notice how the finger and thumb are grasping the blade

The best way to hold the knife is above the handle, with the thumb and forefinger either side on the blade. This is probably the opposite of years of habit, when most people wrap their hand around the handle as if they’re going to drive it up into someone’s gut in a gangster movie. This best utilises weight, sharpness and arm strength.

Somewhat paradoxically, a dull blade is a more dangerous blade. If it’s sharp, then it cuts through the food with ease, leading to less pressure being inserted.

It should also be at approximately the same height as your elbows to maximise body weight.

The other hand

Mastering kitchen knife skills - the other hand
The claw-like position of the opposing hand keeps the fingertips safely away from the blade

While it’s generally your writing hand that has the knife in its fingers, the other hand plays an equally important role. With the fingers in a claw-like stance, or even pressing down on it with the fingertips, it feeds the food to be cut through to the knife ( which moves in a rocking motion) and helps prevent sudden rolling of veg or meat off the boad and to goodness only knows where. It takes practice to feed it across in equal parts so that the sliced food seems of a required equal thickness.

If you are feeding a carrot through to the knife then leave plenty of stem so that you’re not following the root with a finger.

Further Reading

Mastering Knife Skills: The Essential Guide to the Most Important Tools in Your Kitchen (with DVD)

Norman Weinstein’s Mastering Knife Skills is a classic of its type, and this hardcover version with accompanying DVD is great for both beginners and more experienced chefs who are looking to up their game in the kitchen.

Beautifully-illustrated, the book will walk you through all the skills you need, from slicing to dicing, mincing to filleting. It’s informative, full of useful tips, and surprisingly readable. Your kitchen knife skills will be taken to the next level in no time.

 

 

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