Monday, 12 November 2012

How To Use Kitchen Knives

Using Kitchen Knives

Learning how to use kitchen knives properly helps you to get kitchen tasks completed more quickly and more easily.  Understanding the best way to use your knives will also make sure that your food is cooked evenly and looks as good and tempting on the dish as it will be delicious to eat. No less important is that proper kitchen knife use will keep these important culinary tools in tip-top condition for longer and mean that you should never have to run for the first aid box in the middle of preparing a meal!

Original Photo by zronnyz. Permission: CC-BY-2.0
No doubt you'll be familiar with the traditional image of a professional chef slicing up carrots so fast that her hands and the knife are nothing but a blur. Fortunately, that is mostly flash and style and the speed is only necessary if you are catering for literally hundreds of hungry diners. For yourself, your family and your dinner parties, your focus should be on the end-product; the final quality of your cut. With practice, you'll also gain a little speed but let that come with time. 
Once you have understood the best kitchen knife technique it is just a question of a little time and a lot of practice before you will feel confident and capable when using knives in any kitchen job.
The basic techniques are:
  • chopping
  • dicing
  • and slicing
So let's take a look at each in turn and then we'll learn about caring for your kitchen knives. So many people today seem keen to make savings that they purchase poor quality knives and don't value them enough to look after them properly. That's a mistake. It is worth spending a little more on a good set of knives and then taking proper care of them. It is a saving in the long run. I have a knife (the carving knife which we only use for the Sunday roast) which belonged to my great-grandmother - and it's still going strong!

How to Chop

Not all knives are made equal. You should choose the knife you mean to use carefully. For a start, the knife should be comfortable for you to use. The main things to consider are the balance of weight between the blade and the handle and the 'feel' of it when you have it gripped. You should then consider the length of the blade. About eight inches is a good general guide for most culinary chopping. The third factor is no less important than the previous two; your blade must be sharp. If there are any signs of cracking or chipping along the cutting edge you should either have the knife re-ground and sharpened - or replace it with a better knife!
Photo by William Ross. Permission: CC-BY-2.0

So, once you have chosen the right knife for the job, the next thing is to use the right technique. This can be summarised in four simple steps:
  • Hold the item to be chopped so that it is steady and not likely to slip. Tuck your finger ends under you knuckles which will make it almost impossible to cut yourself, even if using the sharpest knife.
  • Now position the tip of the knife down onto the chopping board with the blade elevated over the item to be chopped. It should be more or less at the height of your knuckles.
  • Now simply bring the knife-blade down to chop. They key is to be confident and move the blade smoothly and evenly. You shouldn't have to apply too much force if the blade is properly sharp.
  • Repeat this process, each time moving your fingers back and keeping the cuts equal. Don't go too fast at first. Take your time. Speed  will come with practice.

Choosing a Chopping Knife

Chopping knives can be divided into three basic types:
  • If you have a fine quality 'chef's knife' (which will set you back - take a deep breath - a few hundred pounds) then you can use that for anything, including chopping.
  • Serrated knives are also used for chopping but only for chocolate or other compound materials.
  • For fruit, the best choice is probably a 'santoku' knife.

How to Slice

Slicing food is such a fundamental kitchen practice that we rarely stop to think about it. However, there are ways to improve your use of the kitchen knife to make your slicing more efficient and effective.
A very important factor with slicing is to make sure that your ingredients are not only clean but also dry. Slicing wet food is not only tricky but potentially dangerous if the blade should slip.
Sliced Zucchini. Photo by Amy Stephenson. CC-BY-2.0

Any good, sharp kitchen knife can be used for slicing but if you are wanting to slice something especially thinly, then again I would recommend the 'santoku' knife.
Different ingredients require different approaches when it comes to slicing.
  1. Stuff such as fruits (apples, pears, oranges, melon and so on) together with potatoes and indeed almost any semi-spherical ingredient should always first be cut into halves. 
  2. Put the ingredient onto the chopping board with the cut side facing downwards. This will ensure that it remains stable and you get a good, even slice.
  3. Other foodstuffs, such as the longer root vegetables (carrots, parsnips and so on) are typically easier to slice whole. The same applies to smaller fruits and vegetables that are easy to hold between thumb and forefinger.

Dicing Techniques

Dicing food is not one of the most difficult tasks in the kitchen but the proper technique for achieving it is one of the most misunderstood. Dicing is simply the act of cutting something into cubes. Normally, you will want the cubes to be of a uniform size as well as shape. Typically, the cubed pieces will be quite small, less than a square inch or so. Not only can this be aesthetically pleasing but it also ensure that the food is properly and evenly cooked.
Diced Pumpkin. Photo: Sankarshan Mukhopadhyay. Permission: CC-BY-2.0

The best blade for dicing food is unequivocally found on a good quality, well sharpened, chef's knife. I would recommend that the blade should be no less than six inches in length.
So, here is the best technique for dicing ingredients with a chef's knife:
  1. You should hold the knife correctly for this, with your forefinger extended over the blunt side of the blade for stability and guidance.
  2. Again, make sure all your ingredients are clean and dry, peeled if necessary or desirable.
  3. Half the ingredient, placing the flat side down.
  4. Slice down with straight edges to form a rectangular shape.
  5. Now slice through, making nice, even cuts.
  6. Take these slices, turn and stack them and slice again.
  7. Repeat this one more time and you will have perfect little cubes! Dicing done.

How To Use A Chef's Knife

Specialist Kitchen Knife Techniques

There are a number of specialist techniques that you can use to add extra flair for a special occasion the two most useful are the julienne and the chiffonade.

Julienne cutting

Julienne. Photo by Stacy Spensley. Permission CC-BY-2.0
Using the same principles of cutting practice as detailed before, to cut a 'julienne' simply slice the the ingredient either longways of slightly diagonally across to get a piece that is more than a slice and not a cube but a slender strip.
This gives a very stylish look to even the most mundane vegetables such as carrots or cucumber.
The technique is easy and several creative variations can be discovered.

Chiffonade cutting

Chiffonade. Photo by Stacy Spensley. Permission CC-BY-2.0
This is a technique best used for leafy vegetables such as cabbage, kale and spinach. 
Make a pile of the leaves and then roll them up tightly.
 Finally, treat the completed roll of leaves just as you would any other vegetable for slicing.
 The result is a lovely, curled cut of leaves. It's great for presenting salads or cooked leaves equally.

Taking Care of Your Kitchen Knives

It is important to take proper care of your kitchen knives if you are to get the most from them. There is nothing complicated about it but it must not be neglected.

If you invest in a decent set of knives then it is worth looking after them. they may well become usable family heirlooms in time!

So these are some simple tips you can use to keep your knives in tip-top condition and ready to work for you whenever you need them:

  1. Always wash your kitchen knives by hand and dry them thoroughly straight after washing. This will keep them sharp for longer and prevent any danger of corrosion.
  2. Don't keep your knives in a drawer where they will clatter against one another. this can cause irreparable damage. Keep them either in a knife block or on a magnetic strip mounted on the wall.
  3. Have them professionally sharpened once or twice a year.

Choosing Kitchen Knives

Choosing your knives is to some extent a matter of personal choice. they key factor to bear in mind is the quality of the manufacture. Always purchase the best you can afford with the expectation that they will last not only a lifetime but possibly many lifetimes.

Excellent Knives From Amazon:

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