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How to Chiffonade Basil (or Any Leafy Herb)

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Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: Chiffonade sounds fancy, but that's only because it's French. In reality, it's a simple technique that works for any leafy herb. 


Basil Chiffonade

The term "chiffonade" -- which roughly translates to "made of rags" -- is one of those bits of cooking lingo, like confit or sous-vide, that intimidates by its very sound. But in terms of actual difficulty, chiffonade comes in at about a 1 out of 10.

The chiffonade technique is commonly used for basil, mint, or lettuces, and it'll make your leafy greens of any size look like a pretty, fluffy pile of ribbon. Here's how to do it:

First, stack your leaves. Start small: You'll want around 10 leaves at a time, according to Fine Cooking, though with a bit of practice you can make your stacks even bigger. We like to layer bigger leaves at the bottom and smaller ones on top.

More: Don't stop your knife hacks here -- here's the easiest way to slice cherry tomatoes.  

Basil Chiffonade

Next, roll the stack lengthwise, as tightly as possible. It should look like a cigar.

Basil Chiffonade

Now you're ready to slice across the cigar. You'll need a very sharp blade: Our Test Kitchen Manager Allison says that the knife of choice in culinary school was a paring knife, which you'd pull towards you while cutting with just the tip of the blade, to get a very precise, super-thin chiffonade. We usually use a bigger blade, like a chef's knife, and employ a more traditional slicing motion. Allison also keeps things tidy by removing the tips first, and discarding them (or using them for less-exact garnishes).

Basil Chiffonade

Either way, the closer the cuts, the thinner and more delicate your chiffonade will be. Continue slicing until you reach the stem. 

Basil Chiffonade  Basil Chiffonade

To avoid the "paper doll" effect -- where the strips stick together -- Allison recommends following through completely with your knife, with a slight forward motion once the entire blade makes contact with the board. 

More: Put that beautiful basil chiffonade to use with these recipe suggestions.

If you're worried about browning, chiffonade your herbs just before you use them. And then voilà, you've got a lovely addition to salads, pastasfish, or even fruit -- before you could even say sous-vide. 

Basil Chiffonade

How do you use your chiffonaded herbs? Do you have any tips for achieving perfect ribbons? Tell us in the comments!

Photos by James Ransom

Tags: Kitchen confidence, knife skills, chiffonade

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