Kitchen Basics: #1 Knife Skills
As a health coach I spend a lot of time educating others in not only health, but in basic kitchen skills. Oftentimes reducing time spent in the kitchen has more to do with a person’s cooking technique, than with what they are cooking. The kitchen skill I have clients spend most on is knife skills. If you’re going to be following along with my cooking classes, I highly suggest you start here. Knife skills are something everyone can benefit from but is rarely taught in a consistent way. The only exception to this rule are those who receive culinary training.
Here are my steps for good knife technique.
The most common injury that occurs in the kitchen is cutting a finger or hand with a knife. While many think this is from the knife being sharp, the opposite is true. A dull knife means the user has to push harder for the knife to be able to cut through the fruit, vegetable, etc. This pushing causes instability, and for the dull knife to slip off the food instead of going through it. A knife is a tool and it’s job is to cut through things. When a knife is sharpened properly, it cuts through the food with much less effort, drastically reducing the likelihood of it slipping and causing a cut.
Keeping your knives sharp is pretty simple once you get the hang of it. A quick web search can bring up the names of companies near you that offer knife sharpening services. Some places will even come to you. Always remember to check reviews. I bought this electric sharpener a couple of years ago and I love it.
Seriously, I cannot say this often enough. Sharpen. Your. Knives.
Practice Holding Your Hand Properly Not the hand holding your shiny well sharpened blade, your opposite hand. We want to further reduce the chance of finger cutting. Practice curving the tips of the fingers on the hand holding the food you are cutting in towards your palm at a slight angle. You want them to be curved in enough that when you are cutting the knife blade can come flat against your last knuckle. This helps stabilize the knife and further prevents slipping.
Yep, this is a ‘thing’. In culinary school all students must master the art of cutting in various shapes efficiently. Why? Cutting food into uniform shapes allows it to cook, grill, bake, pickle, marinade, etc, evenly. This reduces the chances of overcooking some parts of food while other parts might be undercooked.
The most important styles of cuts, In my opinion, are large dice, medium dice, small dice, batonnet, paysanne, brunoise, julienne, and chiffonade. A quick web search of basic knife cuts will bring up tons of practice sheets. Print one off that resonates with you and place it next to the cutting board. Practice cutting potatoes or carrots until you have a decent grasp of these. When you’re finished, make a hash, add them to a salad, or top a dish with them.
Walking Around With A Knife This seems pretty self-explanatory, but it’s not. My second week of culinary school a student cut another student’s arm right in front of me because she was walking around with her new sharp knife pointing straight out in front of her. When walking around with a knife it should be point sharp tip straight down. If that doesn’t work for you, hold it above your head. Also, always say “behind” when you’re walking behind someone in the kitchen. You never know when they’ll turn around with a knife, hot pan, whatever.
While there are a many skills that necessary in the kitchen, my opinion is that knife skills are one of the most important skills everyone should learn. With very little time and effort, using a knife properly can reduce the time one spends in the kitchen, and increase productivity, while cutting down on common accidents.
Is there a knife safety tip you use in the kitchen that you want to share? Comment below!