Good knife skills are important, largely because the size, shape and consistency of each cut determines cooking time, and thereby the taste, texture and presentation of a dish.
Imagine how carrots taste, look and feel differently when sliced, chopped or minced.
Or of how garlic is so incredibly different when whole, sliced, chopped, minced or smashed.
Practicing knife skills is a mentally and spiritually therapeutic exercise. Take the opportunity to appreciate the rhythm of your work and the beauty of both the knife and the food.
Of course there are chef-y terms, specific sizes and particular shapes you should practice if you want to be technically correct. In culinary school, students spend hours and hours learning each cut, which they must perform perfectly and then very quickly.
Here is a handy chart:
- Julienne 5-7cm x W 0.1mm x H 0.1mm
- Vinchy 2 mm thick slices
- Paysanne 1cm x W 1cm x H 0.2mm
- Rough julienne 5-7cm x W 0.2mm x H 0.2mm
- Baton 5cm x W 0.5mm x H 0.5mm
- Bouqet garni between brunoise – jardinaire
- Brunoise 5mm x W 5mm x H 5mm
- Jardinaire 0.5mm x W 0.5mm x H 0.2mm
- Macedoine 1Cm x W 1Cm x H 1Cm
- Chiffonade sliced 0.1-0.2 mm thick
- Printaniere shape
- Demidoff 0.2 cm thick
- Mirepoix 2mm x W 2mm x H 2mm
- Bouqet matignon ( see picture )
When cutting, always hold the knife with your dominant hand, using the fingertips of your opposite hand to hold the object you are cutting. Curl your fingers inward toward your palm with your thumb well away from the blade, using your knuckles as a guide for the knife. When held properly, the blade will rest lightly against your knuckles, ensuring a consistent cut and intact, whole fingertips.
A mince is a very fine, even cut appropriate for herbs, garlic and shallots. Use it when you want the object to be physically minimized in the dish.
Julienne or battonet are long, rectangular cuts of even length and width. Julienne produces thin strips appropriate for garnish (crudités), or frying (french fries). Battonet can be used similarly, but produces a thicker cut. To julienne vegetables of an uneven shape, such as a carrot, trim the vegetable so that the sides are straight, which will make future cuts much easier. Slice the vegetable lengthwise, then stack the slices, align the edges, and make parallel cuts of the same thickness through the stack.
A dice is a cube shaped cut used in making everything from croutons to soup and salads. It is perhaps the most familiar, although most frequently poorly executed shape. Dice an onion too big, you may have salsa rather than dip; slice it too small and you may have charred bits rather than savory silkiness.
There are four basic sizes of dice. To master the cut, properly julienne the fruit or vegetable, then cut crosswise at evenly spaced intervals to make a cube. Brunoise is a very small dice, precisely 1/8 inch on each side. Small dice is a bit larger at ¼ inch, while medium dice is 1/3 inch and large dice is ¾ inch.
A chiffonade cut produces long thin ribbons of leafy vegetables or herbs and is frequently used for garnish. To chiffonade basil leaves, stack the leaves on top of each other, then make fine parallel cuts across the leaves to produce fine shreds.
If you learn better in black and white, here is another chart of basic knife cuts. If you want to be a great cook, you really do need to get these down!
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