November 3, 2014
I consider myself fairly proficient in the kitchen, and have been for several years now. Even though my focus on healthier eating has really only been in the last year+, doesn’t mean I haven’t been cooking all this time; it was just a different way of cooking. At any rate, since I thought I knew my way around the kitchen all these years, I was pretty surprised when I found out I had been using my knife the wrong way all these years, and I had been using the wrong knives for the majority of my cooking. A couple of months back already, geez I meant to write about this a lot earlier, I finally decided to take a knife skills class, because even though I didn’t think I was doing things wrong, I figured I could do things better. What I learned in that short 2 hour class though, blew my mind and my skills and proficiency in the kitchen have vastly improved in the last couple of months because of it.
While a blog post pales in comparison to real-life instruction, I figured it could definitely help a few of you out there, or at least inspire you to take a class of your own to get the real deal tips which will help make you faster and smoother during meal prep.
The very first thing I learned is that I’ve been holding my knife wrong all these years. Like most people, I had been holding the whole handle in my palm, using my index finger for leverage on top of the blade (major no-no), and the rest of my fingers wrapped around the handle. Wrong! This is how you hold a knife.
You begin by grabbing the very edge of the blade closest to the handle with your thumb and forefinger, and then wrap your remaining three fingers around the handle. From the other side, it should look like this.
This positioning will give you the best control of the knife while chopping, leaving you less prone to injury, and more prone to chopping shit up correctly! By the way, I also learned that I had been using the wrong knife this whole time. I have 2 big chef knives that I always found too heavy, so rarely used them, preferring the smaller blade knives used only for odd tasks like filleting fish. Turns out the reason these large blade knives always felt cumbersome was because I was holding them wrong. Doh! I’ve switched to only using my big chef’s knife too. A larger blade also gives you more reach and leverage when you’re chopping.
When chopping, you want to use a rocking motion, trying to keep the tip of your blade on your cutting board at all times, and gently lifting the knife up and rocking it down with a rolling type motion. Here’s a good video that shows you how to hold and rock the knife back and forth. This technique takes lots of practice, and even a couple of months later I’m still not super speedy, and I still sometimes naturally want to hold the knife the old way. But with continued practice I’m getting faster and faster, and what’s more important, I’m slicing things properly and much “prettier.”
Besides spending time going over basic knife holding and chopping skills, we spent a good portion of the class just practicing. There were about 10 of us in the class, and she put out several types of knives for us to try out, and had a wide array of produce to practice our chopping and dicing skills on. She shared a few ingenious tips too, including how to cut a carrot. When she was demonstrating her carrot slicing, I asked her why she was chopping them at a diagonal. Assuming it was for show, she actually revealed that it was so they wouldn’t roll off the cutting board. Anyone who has been chopping round carrot pieces for years can confirm that many round pieces roll right off the board and on to the floor. The diagonal cut stops that. This tip alone was worth the cost of the $40 class! Another great tip for chopping tomatoes. Instead of slicing skin first, pierce the tomato with the tip of the knife to easily slice it in half. Then rest the tomato, skin side down, and slice the flesh first. Because the skin is so delicate, even a super sharp knife at times has trouble slicing through it first. By slicing the heartier flesh first, you get some force going and are able to easily cut through the skin. For years I’ve been painstakingly pulling leaves off of parsley and cilantro stems, and it turns out that was totally unnecessary. Just grab a few stems, roll them together, and start chopping leaves and stems together, while holding onto the ends of the stems. When you have chopped down to where it’s mostly stems and few leaves, stop and toss the rest. Continue mincing so that the leaves and stems get chopped finely all together, and no one’s the wiser. In addition to practicing and prepping an actual meal while we were there, I also finally learned the proper technique on how to dice an onion, and here’s another great video to show you how.
I have to admit, I expected to learn a few more secret chef’s tricks on how to make myself faster or prevent silly problems like stopping foods from sticking to my knife, but really, I learned that chopping and dicing is pretty simple, it just takes practice. There aren’t always short-cuts for everything, and even classically trained chefs still have starchy foods stick to their knives. It was a great class that I’m so glad I took, even if it just taught me how to properly hold my knife and how to slice a non-rolling carrot!
Tomorrow I’ll share a recipe for the yummy salad I’m shown making in this post, and later in the week I’ll share some of my favorite, use everyday kitchen items, so you can start making your Christmas lists. But first, do you have any other knife skills tips and tricks to share? If so, please leave a comment!