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Q&A -- Basic Knife Skills


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#1 eGCI Team

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Posted 11 August 2003 - 10:11 PM

Please post questions relevant to Basic Knife Skills here.

#2 oraklet

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Posted 12 August 2003 - 01:48 AM

a very nice treatise, and great photos. i've got a few minor suggestions:

1) a few weeks ago, i wanted to find out which of my chef's knifes actually served best for what. i found that the monster-size (a 12" old sabatier) was great for chopping parsley, onions etc., cutting iceberg salad and for coarser cuts of potatos, carrots, as well as for splitting large objects. on the other hand, it didn't serve very well for batonnets, juliennes, brunoise etc., and that's where my ancient french 8" came in, because it has a very light blade (it's probably c. 120 years old, and with a rat tail tang). whereas the big knife has a thick blade which almost crushes its way through the object, the light knife really cuts. the second best knife for that (better than the santoku) was my 8" victorinox, which is a cheap knife with a stamped blade. so perhaps it would be good to advice anyone to have 2 chef's knives, one heavy and big, and one that's light?

2) i noticed that your bread knife was long, and that's great. my humble advice would be for one with a slightly curved edge, like on a victorinox. much easier to work with, i think.
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#3 Malawry

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Posted 12 August 2003 - 04:41 AM

I have that same bread knife. Love love love it.

Great class, Zilla. I never mastered the fluted mushroom and was really impressed that you included it.

At the restaurant where I worked we went through a lot of mangos. The method you showed of cutting a mango is all right for some applications but we used our mangos julienned for a salad and brunoised for a salsa as well as in larger chunks for a dessert. The method of handling mangoes that I felt worked best: Start by peeling the mango. Cut a thin slice off the bottom so you can see the imprint of the white pit. Using the imprint as a guide, use that bread knife to slice the flesh off the pit in two large pieces. You can recover some of the flesh off the the sides of the pit using a paring knife. Use the bread knife to cut and trim planks for julienne or brunoise from the flesh. Then use a chef's knife to perform the final cuts. Your chef's knife must be RAZOR sharp to make these precise cuts with such a soft fruit. I've accomplished the necessary cuts using just my bread knife but I think the final cuts are better done with a chef's knife which gives you more control.

I'd rather brunoise a mango than a papaya, that's for sure. :unsure:

#4 zilla369

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Posted 12 August 2003 - 05:16 AM

perhaps it would be good to advice anyone to have 2 chef's knives, one heavy and big, and one that's light?


A confession: neither the monster 10" culinar nor the santoku pictured are mine; I borrowed them for the sake of comparative photos. While the 10" knife is an impressive looking sword-like monster, it's really too long for me personally to be comfortable with. I tend to stick with my 8" chef's knife for the precision cuts like batonnet and julienne. As for the santoku, the thing it lacks for me (although I love the dimples!) is the tapered tip. It's all about what knife you get comfortable with (and many times what knife you learn with.)

When I was learning the tourne and fluted mushroom, one chef instructor advised me to forgo my Wusthofs and invest in a package of cheap, stamped paring knives with plastic handles, because those have blades with a little flexibility to them.

The moral of the story? Experiment with as many knives as you can get your hands on, and, absolutely - have as many in your arsenal as you can afford.

Oraklet, I'd love to see a photo of your antique French knife! As a matter of fact, I think it'd be great if everyone got out their camera and took pictures of any knives of interest that aren't pictured in the lesson.

Edited by zilla369, 12 August 2003 - 05:18 AM.

Marsha Lynch aka "zilla369"

Has anyone ever actually seen a bandit making out?

Uh-huh: just as I thought. Stereotyping.

#5 zilla369

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Posted 12 August 2003 - 05:23 AM

Start by peeling the mango. Cut a thin slice off the bottom so you can see the imprint of the white pit. Using the imprint as a guide, use that bread knife to slice the flesh off the pit in two large pieces. You can recover some of the flesh off the the sides of the pit using a paring knife. Use the bread knife to cut and trim planks for julienne or brunoise from the flesh. Then use a chef's knife to perform the final cuts. Your chef's knife must be RAZOR sharp to make these precise cuts with such a soft fruit. I've accomplished the necessary cuts using just my bread knife but I think the final cuts are better done with a chef's knife which gives you more control.


Ah, yes, there is more than one way to "skin" the insidious mango. Malawry's is a great suggestion if you need anything but a fairly large dice. The dice I demonstrated is a bit large for a fine salsa, for instance. Again, everyone feel free to post pictures of your favorite methods!
Marsha Lynch aka "zilla369"

Has anyone ever actually seen a bandit making out?

Uh-huh: just as I thought. Stereotyping.

#6 oraklet

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Posted 12 August 2003 - 06:44 AM

Oraklet, I'd love to see a photo of your antique French knife!  As a matter of fact, I think it'd be great if everyone got out their camera and took pictures of any knives of interest that aren't pictured in the lesson.

um - i haven't got a digital camera, so that might prove a little difficult. basically it's got a blade that's closer to the triangular than are the german knives - not because it's been sharpened to that shape, as i believe it had never seen a stone before i bought it for 4$. not much curve on the edge, and i confess i did take off the slightest bit of the edge near the bolster to give it a little more roll. more flexible than most modern chef's knives, and lighter. very easy to sharpen. small crack in handle, which is mounted with a brass ring in the blade end and a ?? in the butt end. knives like this show up occasionally on ebay, though not at 4$...

stamped "vrai acier fondu; gf", a dagger, and the smith's name (i think), "guyot".

i love that knife, and only use it for light tasks!
christianh@geol.ku.dk. just in case.

#7 Chad

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Posted 12 August 2003 - 08:26 AM

Whoa! Nice job, Zilla! Very well presented. You've set the bar pretty high. Hope mine measures up.

BTW, you're going to be really pissed when you get to the steeling section tomorrow :raz:.

On deck,
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#8 KateW

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Posted 12 August 2003 - 08:40 AM

I think there is some debate on the "correct" way to hold a knife. I remember asking a while ago both at school and on this board if people liked to hold the knife the way you showed, or to simply grasp the handle, and the result seemed kind of split. I instinctively grasp the handle because that's how I've been doing it since I was old enough to help mom chop vegetables in her kitchen, but I can see how you might get more control doing it the way you showed us.

#9 zilla369

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Posted 12 August 2003 - 08:58 AM

I think there is some debate on the "correct" way to hold a knife.  I remember asking a while ago both at school and on this board if people liked to hold the knife the way you showed, or to simply grasp the handle, and the result seemed kind of split.  I instinctively grasp the handle because that's how I've been doing it since I was old enough to help mom chop vegetables in her kitchen, but I can see how you might get more control doing it the way you showed us.

Right you are, Kate - I think the fact that there's a debate about anything being covered in eGCI is more the rule than the exception.

I think what Kate means is that she doesn't grip the blade between thumb and forefinger, opting instead to curl all four fingers around the handle. This grip is totally acceptable, and I'm sure many professionals use it. I find it easier to "fine-tune" control of the blade angle using the method I described. As with most techniques: if it's easier for you, if it works for you, then stick with it! My only suggestion would be to try everything at least once to ensure there's not something even easier and better for you out there.
Marsha Lynch aka "zilla369"

Has anyone ever actually seen a bandit making out?

Uh-huh: just as I thought. Stereotyping.

#10 afoodnut

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Posted 12 August 2003 - 09:15 AM

Great lesson Zilla.

I found myself running into the kitchen to pick up a knife to see how I hold it after reading the descriptions. I saw that I hold my knife as Zilla describes. Then I tried holding the knife as Kate describes; Using that grip, the knife handle would hit the underside of my arm as I chop. That made me realize that the grip that works best might depend on the combination of individual anatomy and the specific knife itself (size of knife, length of handle, etc.)

#11 zilla369

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Posted 12 August 2003 - 09:21 AM

I found myself running into the kitchen to pick up a knife to see how I hold it after reading the descriptions. I saw that I hold my knife as Zilla describes. Then I tried holding the knife as Kate describes; Using that grip, the knife handle would hit the underside of my arm as I chop. That made me realize that the grip that works best might depend on the combination of individual anatomy and the specific knife itself (size of knife, length of handle, etc.)

A perfect example of what eGCI's all about - exchange of ideas and information. I love the fact that the Q&A has people running to the kitchen to examine this or that about their knife grips.

There's an infinite number of handsize/knife combinations out there, resulting in an infinite number of successful grips. Mine is just a starting point. As long as you're working safely, nothing's actually incorrect in my eyes. Some of my chef-instructors would heartily disagree with that statement, of course!
Marsha Lynch aka "zilla369"

Has anyone ever actually seen a bandit making out?

Uh-huh: just as I thought. Stereotyping.

#12 jsolomon

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Posted 12 August 2003 - 09:30 AM

Zilla,

Great job! I'm forwarding your lesson to my gf who keeps telling me that my smallish 6" chef's knife is scary.

On the wrist fulcrum, do you find that as something that works well with a sharp knife, or is thinness also indicated? I have never had success on that technique with anything more substantial than a mushroom, never with anything that has the structure of a carrot. But, the tip-fulcrum method works fine for me (if a little slower).

I'm curious, because about 1/3 of my blade is always dreadfully less sharp than the rest due to my tip-fulcrum use :sad: And, anything to keep it sharper longer is a good thing since I am lacking time to sharpen things often... err, maybe will instead of time.

(edited to insert a purchased antecedent for a dangling pronoun)

Edited by jsolomon, 12 August 2003 - 09:31 AM.

I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

#13 zilla369

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Posted 12 August 2003 - 09:36 AM

BTW, you're going to be really pissed when you get to the steeling section tomorrow  :raz:.

On deck,
Chad

Ah. After some behind-the-scenes PM discourse, it seems that Chad's going to decimate all our myths about the use of steels tomorrow.

Next he'll be saying Bigfoot isn't real. :rolleyes:
Marsha Lynch aka "zilla369"

Has anyone ever actually seen a bandit making out?

Uh-huh: just as I thought. Stereotyping.

#14 slkinsey

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Posted 12 August 2003 - 09:40 AM

I think there is some debate on the "correct" way to hold a knife.  I remember asking a while ago both at school and on this board if people liked to hold the knife the way you showed, or to simply grasp the handle, and the result seemed kind of split.  I instinctively grasp the handle because that's how I've been doing it since I was old enough to help mom chop vegetables in her kitchen, but I can see how you might get more control doing it the way you showed us.

Right you are, Kate - I think the fact that there's a debate about anything being covered in eGCI is more the rule than the exception.

I think what Kate means is that she doesn't grip the blade between thumb and forefinger, opting instead to curl all four fingers around the handle. This grip is totally acceptable, and I'm sure many professionals use it. I find it easier to "fine-tune" control of the blade angle using the method I described. As with most techniques: if it's easier for you, if it works for you, then stick with it! My only suggestion would be to try everything at least once to ensure there's not something even easier and better for you out there.

Exactly. If I can butt in here with my relatively unexpert two cents... I have experimented with both grips and find that I have much more conrol and a much better feel of what the knife is doing using the grip Marsha describes. This is, however, often at the expense of comfort. BTW, Chad touches on a way to modify the spine of your chef's knife to make it more comfortable in his upcoming lesson on knife sharpening and maintenance.
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#15 zilla369

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Posted 12 August 2003 - 09:42 AM

On the wrist fulcrum, do you find that as something that works well with a sharp knife, or is  thinness also indicated?  I have never had success on that technique with anything more substantial than a mushroom, never with anything that has the structure of a carrot.

To be honest, the carrot in that photograph is just a prop. I have yet to gain any sort of expertise at all with the wrist-fulcrum method. However, to answer your question:- the folks i have observed using it (with great skill and success, by the way - it's lightning fast when done right) don't seem to reach for a thinner knife, they just whack away with the same knives you see pictured in the lesson. I think the wrist fulcrum technique is one that can only be mastered after hundreds of hours doing prep, probably in a commercial kitchen.

As for keeping your knife sharp, no matter which third, i defer to the Edgmaster, Chad...you may want to pose this question to him tomorrow.
Marsha Lynch aka "zilla369"

Has anyone ever actually seen a bandit making out?

Uh-huh: just as I thought. Stereotyping.

#16 maggiethecat

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Posted 12 August 2003 - 09:45 AM

Really beautifully presented, Zilla, and the photos are marvelleous. A big thank you.

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#17 zilla369

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Posted 12 August 2003 - 09:48 AM

This is, however, often at the expense of comfort.  BTW, Chad touches on a way to modify the spine of your chef's knife to make it more comfortable in his upcoming lesson on knife sharpening and maintenance.

Personally, I love my knife-callus. Badge of honor, and all. But when you first begin to really use a knife for hours at a time, it can be pretty painful.

I'm picturing a tiny, velvet pillow with gold tassels glued to the spine of the knife...we'll have to wait and see if I'm guessing right. Heh.
Marsha Lynch aka "zilla369"

Has anyone ever actually seen a bandit making out?

Uh-huh: just as I thought. Stereotyping.

#18 zilla369

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Posted 12 August 2003 - 09:59 AM

Okay - I'll be offline until late tonight EST - some of us have to work for a non-living (remember, intern = no pay). My cutting board awaits.

Homework for while i'm gone: Post pictures of unusual knives in your collection, or techniques different from the ones i've included. And thanks, everyone, for the compliments!
Marsha Lynch aka "zilla369"

Has anyone ever actually seen a bandit making out?

Uh-huh: just as I thought. Stereotyping.

#19 Bruce Cole

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Posted 12 August 2003 - 10:08 AM

In the very best knives, the tang will run the full length of the handle as pictured above.  This lends balance and durability to the knife’s construction.  Another sign of quality is a bolster that is an integrated part of the blade, rather than a separate “collar”.


While knives that feature a full tang and bolster are excellent tools, I would tend disagree that these components make up "the very best" knives. I would even venture to say that the terms "full tang" and "bolster" are more part of the marketing lingo used in the U.S. to sell knives, than they are a hallmark of fine cutlery.

German-style knives have thick blades due to the presence of the bolster. A thick blade is not only heavier (which may or may not be an advantage, depending on the task at hand), but will never be as sharp as, say a Japanese-style blade (one of Wusthof's best selling knives, is in fact, the "Rachel Ray" Japanese inspired Santoku knife). In addition, knives with bolsters are also harder to sharpen, the bolster getting in the way, so-to-speak, especially when using a whetstone.

A Japanese style knife has no bolster. Without a bolster, the blades can be much thinner, and sharpened to a finer angle, versus the blunt beveled edge of German knives. A thinner blade cuts/slices through meat/vegetables with much less resistance, and a sharper edge obviously requires less effort. I would venture to say that the sharpest knife is probably the most popular knife in a kitchen, and that Japanese knives are generally sharper than their European counterparts.

A full tang is also not necessarily a hallmark of a good knife. For example, Global knives do not a full tang, the blade is welded onto the the handle, and each handle is then filled and balanced.

I should at this point, say that I work for Global knives in the U.S., but having been a cutlery buyer and knife afficionado for some years, I try to stay objective when it comes to knife choices. My own knife assortment features mostly Japanese style knives, but I do have a few favorite Wusthofs on my knife rack too...and I just wanted to add another perspective to the knife choice conversation, although this would probably be more appropriate in the later class on knife sharpening...

#20 slkinsey

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Posted 12 August 2003 - 10:21 AM

This is, however, often at the expense of comfort.  BTW, Chad touches on a way to modify the spine of your chef's knife to make it more comfortable in his upcoming lesson on knife sharpening and maintenance.

I'm picturing a tiny, velvet pillow with gold tassels glued to the spine of the knife...we'll have to wait and see if I'm guessing right. Heh.

Oh my God! Are you psychic?!
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#21 Stone

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Posted 12 August 2003 - 10:31 AM

I think there is some debate on the "correct" way to hold a knife.  I remember asking a while ago both at school and on this board if people liked to hold the knife the way you showed, or to simply grasp the handle, and the result seemed kind of split.  I instinctively grasp the handle because that's how I've been doing it since I was old enough to help mom chop vegetables in her kitchen, but I can see how you might get more control doing it the way you showed us.

Right you are, Kate - I think the fact that there's a debate about anything being covered in eGCI is more the rule than the exception.

I think what Kate means is that she doesn't grip the blade between thumb and forefinger, opting instead to curl all four fingers around the handle. This grip is totally acceptable, and I'm sure many professionals use it. I find it easier to "fine-tune" control of the blade angle using the method I described. As with most techniques: if it's easier for you, if it works for you, then stick with it! My only suggestion would be to try everything at least once to ensure there's not something even easier and better for you out there.

Exactly. If I can butt in here with my relatively unexpert two cents... I have experimented with both grips and find that I have much more conrol and a much better feel of what the knife is doing using the grip Marsha describes. This is, however, often at the expense of comfort. BTW, Chad touches on a way to modify the spine of your chef's knife to make it more comfortable in his upcoming lesson on knife sharpening and maintenance.

I agree with Kinsey, et al., that it's more comfortable and there's better control when the finger rests against the blade. I notice that my friends who have taken "amateur" cooking classes were all taught never to do this, but to wrap all four fingers around the handle. I assume that lesson plan was written by the lawyers. (As all lesson plans involving sharp instruments should be!)

And my thin bladed Chinese cleaver gives me a nasty blister on the outside of my index finger after about 5 minutes of chopping. It's prompted my near-universal shift to a chef's knife.

#22 Chad

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Posted 12 August 2003 - 10:45 AM

This is, however, often at the expense of comfort.  BTW, Chad touches on a way to modify the spine of your chef's knife to make it more comfortable in his upcoming lesson on knife sharpening and maintenance.

Personally, I love my knife-callus. Badge of honor, and all. But when you first begin to really use a knife for hours at a time, it can be pretty painful.

I'm picturing a tiny, velvet pillow with gold tassels glued to the spine of the knife...we'll have to wait and see if I'm guessing right. Heh.

Yup, and I'm trying to work a cross-promotional marketing deal with a Chinese pillow maker, so really talk this up! Celebrity endorsements ("BAM! Ouch! My hands really used to bother me until I got my ComfyKnife knife pillow . . ."), Food TV placements, the works.

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#23 Stone

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Posted 12 August 2003 - 10:52 AM

When I'm trying to make thin slices from things like potatoes and tomatoes, I find that one problem I have is the blade descends down and out, away from the object, giving me only a half slice. This could be due to less than perfectly sharp knives. I compensate by thinking that I'm actually slicing inward to produce a thicker bottom -- and I end up with uniform slices.

By the way, anyone remember in the movie The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, there was one scene in the kitchen where next to the action some guys was slicing a cucumber? If the movie were put out today, I would assume it was digital technology because this guy's hand was cruising and seeminly perfect paper thin slices of cucumber were flying in the air.

#24 Alex

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Posted 12 August 2003 - 11:35 AM

On the wrist fulcrum, do you find that as something that works well with a sharp knife, or is  thinness also indicated?  I have never had success on that technique with anything more substantial than a mushroom, never with anything that has the structure of a carrot.

To be honest, the carrot in that photograph is just a prop. I have yet to gain any sort of expertise at all with the wrist-fulcrum method. However, to answer your question:- the folks i have observed using it (with great skill and success, by the way - it's lightning fast when done right) don't seem to reach for a thinner knife, they just whack away with the same knives you see pictured in the lesson. I think the wrist fulcrum technique is one that can only be mastered after hundreds of hours doing prep, probably in a commercial kitchen.

...or in one's own kitchen, before one realized that there might be more than one way to skin (and dice) a vegetable. I now split my time between the two: wrist-fulcrum for carrots and the like, and tip-fulcrum for mincing and fine dicing. (Tip-fulcrum looks and feels cooler, too. :cool: )
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#25 Malawry

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Posted 12 August 2003 - 11:41 AM

Stone, that's a common problem. Often it's just that you tend to cut a certain way, and you have to make a conscious effort to compensate for it. If I cut planks without paying much attention they will always be thinner at the end where I finished cutting than at the end where I started cutting. So I make myself cut "up" when I cut planks. It feels weird but it results in more even cuts. Has nothing to do with the maintenance of my knives, which I keep in pretty good shape. Just has to do with my natural inclinations. It sounds like you've worked this out for yourself, I just wanted to tell you it may continue to be an issue after you've sharpened and honed your knives.

#26 Bruce Cole

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Posted 12 August 2003 - 12:30 PM

I find that one problem I have is the blade descends down and out, away from the object, giving me only a half slice.


This is also a common problem for those using serrated "tomato" knives. Serrated knives, including bread knives, are sharpened to one side of the blade, the right side, which means that your knife stroke will tend to veer to the right as you slice down.

I've heard numerous complaints from left handers returning their bread knives because they can't cut straight slices of bread. Turns out, of course, that they are using the bread knife that came with their knife block set, which is a right handed bread knife...

#27 oraklet

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Posted 12 August 2003 - 12:38 PM

thinner knives will make more even cuts (as long as they're not too flexible). perhaps because the thicker knives will meet more resistance on the inside than on the outside of the object you're cutting. doesn't explain malawry's problem, though.

edit: bruce, you do mean that a knife sharpened on the right side will veer to the left, don't you?

Edited by oraklet, 12 August 2003 - 12:40 PM.

christianh@geol.ku.dk. just in case.

#28 Huevos del Toro

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Posted 12 August 2003 - 01:42 PM

The classic method of dicing an onion is shown in the tutorial but the horizontal cuts have always left me uneasy. I use the technique when necessary but don’t particularly like it because of the potential for disaster. Lo and behold, DaveFaris made a video demonstrating a technique that’s safe (no horizontal cuts) and yields the same dice. It’s amazingly simple, one of those “why didn’t I think of that” things. Thanks Dave. You might have saved me a finger or hand!

And a hearty thank you Zilla for a great tutorial. The quality of the material is outstanding and the presentation is so clear as to undoubtedly produce many "Ah Hah's".
--------------
Bob Bowen
aka Huevos del Toro

#29 slkinsey

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Posted 12 August 2003 - 01:48 PM

The classic method of dicing an onion is shown in the tutorial but the horizontal cuts have always left me uneasy. I use the technique when necessary but don’t particularly like it because of the potential for disaster.

I should point out, as I imagine both Marsha and Chad would, that the potential for disaster is greatly reduced by using a sharp knife. With a sharp steeled knife, the blade should glide through the onion with a minimum of effort. The danger comes when you have to use too much pressure because the knife is dull. What happens is that you press harder and harder and harder, and sometimes you get the pressure just right and the knife goes flying through the onion (or whatever) and into something it shouldn't be going into -- like your fingers.

Sharp knife = safe knife.
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#30 Rhea_S

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Posted 12 August 2003 - 01:56 PM

Excellent lesson! I was just planning to take a peek while at work, but I ended up reading the entire lesson. No questions until I practice at home. I just wanted to add my comment regarding the grip. I used to hold my knife with my fingers curled around the handle. My previously-injured shoulder and elbow would hurt whenever I had to chop for more than 15 minutes. I eventually switched my grip to that demonstrated by zilla and now there's no shoulder/elbow pain. My theory is that the latter grip produces a more natural and efficient movement. Does that make sense?