Today I’m participating in the Ultimate Blog Swap. You’ll find me posting over at Coupon Cutting Mom about frittata, one of my favorite quick meals, and I’m excited to welcome Alexis from Feeding My Sunshine to Relishments:
Alexis is a culinary school graduate, major foodie and stay-at-home mom to 2 little ones. She blogs over at Feeding My Sunshine and shares recipes, tips, and family stories. She is also writing about her Real Food journey this summer and is excited to focus on homemade, unprocessed meals for her family.
I am so very excited to be guest posting here at Relishments today! If you follow a flexitarian diet like Emily, or just like to include a lot of vegetables in your meals, I can bet you are doing a lot of chopping and dicing. Food processors and mandolines can make your work easy, but to me there is nothing better than a great knife and a cutting board. Cooking is a kind of mediation for me and I enjoy the rhythm of the process. If you are new to the kitchen, or would like to be faster and safer while prepping your meals, you might find the following basic knife skills to be helpful.
Choosing a Knife
There are so many possibilities when purchasing a knife, it can be a bit overwhelming. I know that matching sets of knives in wooden blocks are very popular (I have a nice set myself) but the most important knife, and really the only one you need, is the Chef’s knife. In addition to my Chef’s knife, I use a paring knife and a serrated knife most often.
When choosing the right Chef’s knife, go to a store that allows you to handle the knife before you buy. Some have larger handles, wider blades and have different weights and lengths. I have small hands, so I prefer a lighter, thinner 10″ knife that works better with my size. Get a feel for what works for you and what you prefer, then you can invest in a knife you will use forever. Proper Knife Grip It is important to have a good hold on your knife while you are cutting and the best way to do that is to get as close to the blade as possible with your grip. Hold the blade tightly with your thumb and forefinger, then curve the rest of your fingers around the handle. Most of the power and direction will come from those first two fingers, which is also similar to how I remember learning to hold a golf club.
Setting Up Your Cutting Station
Whether you are using a plastic or wood cutting board, make sure the size of it is large enough to accommodate the size of your knife. If your knife is larger than your board, you run the risk of getting the blade caught on the edge of the board or your counter. This is not good for safety, so it is better to use a board larger than your knife.
Wet a dish cloth or rag with water, squeeze out all the liquid then lay the cloth underneath your cutting board. This will stabilize your board to your counter so it doesn’t move around as you cut. It is especially important to do this if you are using a plastic cutting board, a thinner, lightweight board, or are on a slippery counter surface.
Protecting Your Fingers
Just as it is important to stabilize your cutting board, it is also important to stabilize whatever you are cutting to protect your fingers. If possible, cut vegetables (like onions or carrots) in half before chopping and lay the cut side down on the board. This prevents the vegetable from rolling around while you are are cutting. You can also slice just a smidge off the side to give the vegetable a flat surface if you want to keep it mostly round (like in the picture below). When you start going fast, a rolling veggie could cause some serious damage.
Another great tip to protect your fingers is to tuck your fingertips under while you chop. When you do this, your knuckles rest on the blade as you chop and your fingertips curl underneath. With your knuckles on the blade, you know exactly where the knife is at all times. This takes some practice to get used to. If you keep working at it, you can easily be chopping away and then look up from your board without any danger of cutting yourself.
Best Method for Chopping
This next tip pretty much goes hand in hand with last tip for protecting your fingers. To chop safely and efficiently, keep your knife on the board. When your knife stays on your cutting board, you know exactly where it is at all times. If you get distracted by something, you’re less likely to accidentally bring the knife down on a precious finger! To keep your knife on the board, use a rocking motion when chopping, similar to the movement of a locomotive. This keeps your hand nice and steady and makes for better, smoother cuts.
Keep It Sharp
The final and most important knife skill is not really a skill at all – make sure your knife stay stays sharp! When your knife is sharp, you can be confident that it will go where you want it to go. Have you ever used a dull knife on a tomato, only to have it slide right off? This can get you into trouble and slow you down. It can also damage your product. Say you tried again with that dull knife on the tomato. If you can get the knife to actually make a cut, the tomato has probably been bruised and smashed in order for the knife to pierce the skin. Not so good for your attempt at a pretty caprese salad.
A sharp knife is helpful for all cutting, but especially for delicate herbs. You want to slice through your product gently, not bash it into the board to break apart. The best way to see if you are using proper cutting technique and a sharp knife is to look at your cutting board after you chop green herbs (like my cilantro below). How much green is left on the board? A little bit of color is reasonable, but if there is a dark green stain on your cutting board, you probably need your knife sharpened so you can go easier on your herbs.
While a honing steel (or sharpening stick) is helpful to smooth your knife, it doesn’t help sharpen a dull blade. The best way to do this is find a professional. Call your local cooking store or culinary school to see if they have any referrals for knife sharpening. Near me, you can hire a man to come to your house, take your knives to sharpen and then return them good as new. Now after writing this post, I think I’m going to give him a call…
Hopefully these simple tips will help you make fresh, tasty meals with increased speed, safety and quality. Enjoy!