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The beauty of cooking is that anyone can do it with the proper tools and skills. However, just because you can buy a knife does not necessarily mean you will be able to use it just as easily. This is why it is so important for beginner chefs to fully learn and understand how to use a knife properly in the kitchen.
All the Different Knives
Even as a novice chef you should be able to know the many varieties of knives and what they are used for in the kitchen.
A Chef’s Knife
One of the more versatile multi-purpose knives you will find in a kitchen. It is a great knife as it can be part of a set or used on its own. It is primarily used for cutting and prepping ingredients from the softest of cheeses to raw vegetables.
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A Paring Knife
The paring knife is smaller and more agile than other knives you might have in your set. Its pointed tip makes it perfect for pealing or cutting fruits and vegetables. It can even trim the fat from some pieces of meat.
A Boning Knife
The giveaway is pretty much in the name as the boning knife is the knife to have if you intend on expertly separating meat from the bone. It is also a better choice to peel your fruits and vegetables if the need arises.
A Bread or Serrated Knife
As one of the knife’s names suggests the edge is made serrated in order to cut bread without effectively smooshing it. This need not only be used for bread either, any food with a hard outer layer surrounding a softer inner layer would benefit from being cut with a serrated knife.
A Cleaver Knife
The large thick hatchet-like knife that can cut through meat, bone, and the occasionally tough vegetable. It really is only needed if you intend on cutting meat more often than not, in that case, it is a very handy knife to have in your kitchen.
A Steak Knife
Though it is the last to be mentioned you shouldn’t discredit the steak knife. It is most likely the knife you will find in any kitchen next to the chef’s knife. This is due, once again, to its ability to be used in a variety of ways.
How to Hold a Knife
Now that you know what knives you can expect to encounter in the kitchen it is time you learned the safest and best way to hold them.
The first thing you should do is know which hand is the “cutting” hand and which is the “supporting” hand. This is important to know not only to utilize the knife effectively but to ensure you are holding the knife in the safest possible way.
The cutting hand is the hand that will actually grip the handle of the knife. However, the proper way to grip is not to fully grasp the handle. The best position is to have the palm of your cutting hand grip close to the base of the blade while your thumb and forefinger should grasp just at the start of the blade.
This grip is most commonly referred to as the chef’s grip. This is because it is a more effective grip in handling the weight of the blade, the flexibility, and the chef’s own strength. All of these things should be considered when you decide to pick up a knife to use in your kitchen.
The supporting hand is sometimes referred to as the claw. This is because it is the job of the supporting hand to hold any food item in such a way so as not to accidentally be cut by the knife. To do this you would simply hold your fruit or vegetable and curl your fingers into a sort of claw away from the direction that the blade is cutting.
This ensures that the food item being cut will be stabilized to maximize efficient cutting and the safety of the chef.
Additional Tips for Grip:
Avoid holding any knife with a “death grip.” Before attempting to grip the blade make sure your hand and wrist are relaxed.
Know where all ten of your fingers are positioned. This will prevent any future accidents.
Be aware of the rocking motion of your knife. This can be either front to back or up and down.
How to Chop
Chopping is basically the general term for cutting up food into smaller pieces. Though for such a basic task you would be surprised how many people do it wrong or take too long and effectively turn them off cooking altogether.
Unless you intend on becoming a professional chef that needs to dice their ingredients into precise pieces then a rough chop is fine in your home kitchen as long as the pieces stay relatively the same size.
The most important thing to remember when chopping your food is to initially cut the food in half and then lay it flat side down onto the cutting board. This creates more stability and is a safer way to chop your ingredients. From there you can continue chopping your food until you get your ingredient down the size you require.
How to Dice
Though similar to chopping, dicing tends to be a more precise cut. Effectively turning the odd shapes of fruits and vegetables into the precise cubes of ingredients that you need in a kitchen. This can be done with a large onion to a medium-sized potato. Really any ingredient has the potential to be diced.
To do so you will simply need to cut the fruit or vegetable along its horizontal or vertical line. This is the only way to end up with a diced result. Again, much like the chop cut, you will want to always place the fruit or vegetable flat side down in order to get the most stability from your cut.
From there you will want to make long cuts from the stem to the root around a fourth of an inch thick each. Using your claw hand to guide your cutting hand you’ll want to be sure to stop about a half an inch from the root.
You’ll repeat the same process only this time cutting perpendicular to the cuts you have already made. Thus presenting your final diced ingredient.
How to Slice and Cut
Slicing and cutting deals more with the type of knife you choose for the kind of food you are working with. Though you can use a chef’s knife in most instances to easily slice through a tomato, there are some chefs who prefer the sawing motion of a serrated knife.
Whichever knife you choose the end goal is to have smoothly cut large pieces of food of even thickness.
To start you will want to remove any core that the food may have. Once you have done that lay the food on its side. You’ll want to start from the core end, making equal-size slices using a gentle slicing motion. Once the ingredient becomes too small lay it with its flesh facing down onto your cutting board and simply cut horizontally.
How to Julienne
The longer, slim julienne cut is reserved for those ingredients destined for salads, stir-fry, or amazing garnishes. It is definitely a useful cut for even the most beginner chef to learn in order to add a touch of elegance to your vegetable platters.
When wanting to cut with a julienne style you’ll first want to remove the tough ends of the food you ware working with including any leaves. Depending on the food you will probably want to cut the larger pieces into more manageable sizes.
Place flat onto your cutting board and then with a smooth motion cut from top to bottom. This will produce slender length cuts. If as you work the pieces become too small to cut, simply flip onto its side and continue cutting until finished.
Additional Tips for Different Cuts:
Practice makes perfect. Do not be discouraged if your diced ingredients come out with a more chopped look. With time you will perfect your work.
Always lay flat. When in doubt it is best to err on the side of laying your ingredients flat on the cutting board before proceeding with any type of cut unless it specifically calls for something different. This will not only ensure stability but safety as well.
While the skills of being able to use your knife set effectively in your kitchen can be exciting it is important that you are aware of your surroundings and are always safe.
If you can manage to take the time to learn how to use your knives correctly you can soon be on a path to become a more professional chef in your own kitchen.