What are the knife cuts you wield in the kitchen on a daily basis? We partnered with Work Sharp Culinary, purveyor of at-home knife sharpeners, to share the cuts our Test Kitchen Chef Josh Cohen uses on the regular.
Our Test Kitchen is constantly abuzz with all those good kitchen sounds, the comforting ones that make you feel like a meal's being prepared just for you, restaurant-style, even if it's really for the photo shoot du jour. Clanging pots, peeling vegetables, faucets on and off, bowls on marble, forks and knives hitting plates—and the best one of them all?
The chop dice mince of knives to cutting boards or butcher block, with the likes of juicy tomatoes, furled chard, crunchy cucumbers, and more, and you know goodness is getting whipped up in some way. Our Test Kitchen Chef Josh is used to the sound—so much of cooking is prep, and so much of prep is cutting your meat/vegetables/fruit/etc. right. (And I'll admit, even as the main cook I'm sometimes lax about this in my own kitchen, until my husband leans over my shoulder and says: "Smaller.")
Whether you just want to review how to hold a blade for a specific cut, or have never tried to discern between a chop or a dice, now is the time for a refresher.
One thing to keep in mind before you start: The sharper your knife is, the safer you will be in the kitchen, says Josh. Sharp knives lead to more precision, and a cook exerts much less energy with a sharp knife. Your knife should slice right through whatever you are cutting, from the front tip of the knife through to the end of the blade, in a simple motion.
These are the knife cuts Josh uses in the kitchen every day, whether it's on a shoot or for a big event. (He's got a couple tricks up his sleeve!)
The Usual Suspects
Josh says: "This is the most basic technique. The main thing to focus on with slicing is making sure that your hands are in the proper position."
The technique: Your "knife hand" (you know, the one you write with, too) should be gripping the blade of the knife with thumb and forefinger, while the rest of your hand holds the handle of the knife. (It's actually not correct technique to hold the handle of the knife with all 5 fingers.) Your non-cutting hand should be in a "claw" position, with all fingers tucked underneath your palm, including the thumb to keep your fingers safe, and the knuckles of your non-cutting hand should be right up against the blade of the knife itself.
As your non-cutting hand creeps backwards, you slice into the ingredient. The cutting hand uses the full length of the blade, cutting in a rocking motion. Slice through the object, and do not cut directly up and down. You don't need to exert too much downward pressure if your knife is sharp (and it should be!)—simply let the length of the blade do the work.
Josh says: "This is good for potatoes or other vegetables that will be roasted or sautéed, and while I generally don't care whether these items are cut into perfect squares, a medium dice should yield bite-size pieces that are the same size and will cook evenly."
The technique: To make a dice, Josh often starts with a julienne or batonnet (see below) and then cuts across the julienne/batonnet to create square shapes. Cut your ingredient in half to create a flat edge. If your object is round, this will keep your fingers safe. Next, cut long rectangles. Line the rectangles up side by side and cut across them to create a dice.
Dicing an onion is different than dicing any other ingredient, and it's generally one we're dicing a lot. Here's the how to: When you clean the papery skin off an onion, leave the root end intact. Then, when you cut the onion into thin strips, only cut 80% of the way through the length of the onion, leaving that root end intact. This way, the layers of the onion do not fall all over the place and separate. Then, slice across the onion for your dice.
Josh says: "This is good for garlic or if I need to chop herbs very finely."
The technique: Change your grip on the knife for this cut. Hold your non-cutting hand on top of the blade of the knife, and use a quick rocking-chopping motion to mince your ingredient.
The Slightly More Obscure
Josh says: "This technique is used to slice leaves into thin strips—it's great for fresh herbs like basil, and also good for hearty greens like kale or chard."
The technique: Stack leaves on top of one another, roll 'em up like a cigar, and then slice across the "cigar" to create thin strips. The key here is to make sure that your bundle of leaves is rolled as tightly as possible. It's easier to do a few "batches" rather than try to roll all the leaves into one huge bundle.
Josh says: "This is for cutting an item into very thin rectangular strips (julienne) or slightly wider rectangular shapes (batonnet). Julienne/batonnet is often the first step in creating a brunoise or medium dice (see above). Note: I rarely keep an item as a julienne/batonnet—I almost always turn a it into a brunoise/dice."
The technique: Before starting a julienne/batonnet, whatever Josh is cutting may first need to be "squared off." (This is exactly what it sounds like—you cut, say, a potato into a square so it's easier to cut uniformly.) Once the item is squared off, then it gets cut into flat planks, and then the planks get cut into julienne/batonnet.
The Special Ones
Oblique Cut or Roll Cut
Josh says: "I love using this technique for cutting certain vegetables like zucchini or carrots, anything long and round."
The technique: Hold the knife at a diagonal angle, and keep rolling the item a 1/4 or 1/3 turns after each slice. You get fun, pretty, unique shapes.
Josh says: "This yields small flat squares."
The technique: If you have made a batonnet cut (which, as mentioned above, is a step towards a dice that makes long rectangles), then instead of cutting these long rectangles into squares for a dice, you shave off very thin slivers to create the paysanne. According to Josh, it's a technique that's used more in fine dining, to garnish a soup with pretty vegetables or the like.
If there isn't an adage about keeping your knives sharp and how it relates to life, there should be. We partnered with Work Sharp Culinary to show you what knife cuts our Test Kitchen Chef uses every dang day—and why he keeps his knives as sharp as can be to do so. Head here to see Work Sharp's knife sharpeners.