Adventures in Culinary School: Knife Skills

This is probably as basic lesson for most people, but it is a great fundamental skill. If practiced, you’ll never go to the emergency room with a massive cut or missing finger; which is always a plus.

Let’s start with the onion, since I am ALWAYS cutting onions. Sorry, I have no special tip to avoiding crying while cutting them. Every tip I have ever heard never works so I just cut them as fast as possible and get them in the pan.

Start by cutting the onion in half through the root at the bottom of the onion.  The top of the onion is where all the outside skin bunches together.The hand holding the onion or whatever item you are cutting should be in the shape of a claw, where your fingers are rounded over the object. When ever I am cutting I hear Jim Carey in my head saying “THE CLAW”.

You do NOT want your finger tips sticking out to be cut. The hardest part of THE CLAW for me to get used to is tucking in my thumb as well. It makes it harder to stabilize the object and my first tendency is to stick the thumb out there to steady the object but STOP that’s how you loose a finger tip. It isn’t the most comfortable position for your hand but that is better then no thumb.

If you are having a hard time stabilizing a round object, cut a straight slice out of one side and place it face down on the cutting board, the object wont move because the side is no longer round. For example, when you cut an onion in half, the flat side keeps it from moving. The same could be said for a cucumber or carrot or anything that rolls around on a cutting board.

See the CLAW as I chop off the top of this onion. Perfect form.  With the top removed, the onion peels easily. Because the bottom of the onion is still attached to the onion, when I chop it, the onion holds together so pieces aren’t falling off as I make my initial slices before I begin to dice.

To get my onion pieces diced the same size, the first two cuts I make are through the middle of the onion and I make sure my finger tips are clear of the knife. You can see from the picture below, my knife doesn’t cut all the way through the onion, I stop just before I get to the root. Stop wherever you feel comfortable. My second cut will be just above this cut.In my next round of cutting, I change the knife technique to “The Tunnel”. I steady the object and the knife goes into the tunnel I have created with my hand. Again, I don’t go all the way through the bottom of the onion, I stop just before I reach the root, so the onion holds together while you cut. Again, go as far back as you feel comfortable.After your onion is prepped for dicing, you go back to the CLAW and chop away.. Remember, tuck those fingers in and keep your claw hand steady. That’s dicing an Onion! Easy and no bloody stubs.

Next up GARLIC! I LOVE garlic, I usually add an extra 3 cloves so I am always chopping it up. The best way to chop garlic is to crush it first, peel it, then chop. Put the blade of the knife on the garlic and smash it with the palm of your hand.The peel will come easily off and half of the chopping work is already done.

When I chop the garlic, I add pressure and steady the knife by placing my palm on the spine of the blade. This allows me to chop the garlic quickly.  Make sure you chop your garlic as small as you can get it, you don’t want people to chew on huge chunks while they are eating because that is never pleasant. In the picture below there are still large chunks, I chopped this much much smaller for the recipe that I was making.These techniques can be used for all your chopping and dicing needs. Below I am chopping potatoes at super speed while my claw stays steady and my fingers are tucked out of the way of the blade.Once I started focusing on these techniques, I have avoided cutting myself not to mention I am a speed chopper now because I always know my fingers are out of harms way.

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