Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Sign in to follow this  
Fat Guy

Do you chop or do you slice?

Recommended Posts

My understanding is that the proper way to use a chef's knife, in order to preserve the edge, is to slice -- in other words to use a lateral motion while cutting, rather than just pushing down. Me, I'm more of a just-push-down person. How about you? And is there anything to the claim that just pushing down is bad for a knife?


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Until you posted this I assumed I sliced, but if I really think about the motion I make, I think the answer is, "it depends." For example, I definitely slice a tomato: I push the knife down and forwards to cut cleanly through the skin and then flesh. But I chop celery, carrots, onions, and herbs, pushing the knife straight down (or rocking it off its tip, which amounts to the same cutting action). I keep my knives very sharp, so only a very little "slicing" action seems to be required on very delicate items. No idea if I'm dulling my blades more quickly doing this, though.


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I really hate the word "chop", it suggest that the person is holding a sharp instrument fairly far away from the item intended to be cut (ie firewood, trees), and really, the further away you hold the knife from the item you intend to cut, the less control you have over the knife and your intended cut.

For meats I tend to "pull" my knife backwards as I cut, for most vegetables and fruits I bring the knife down fairly vertically, for breads and pastries I use a "sawing" motion--using a serrted knife.

Don't think that bringing a knife down vertically harms the edge, unless excessive force is used or the cutting surface is too hard

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I slice when the knives are sharp and chop when they begin to dull. It's that very chopping motion that alerts me to the fact that my cutlery is becoming dangerously dull. Whoops.


Shelley: Would you like some pie?

Gordon: MASSIVE, MASSIVE QUANTITIES AND A GLASS OF WATER, SWEETHEART. MY SOCKS ARE ON FIRE.

Twin Peaks

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I pretty much hack, but with a slicing motion. I learned the method watching old movies showing explorers struggling through the jungles and leading the way with their machetes. It's a bit showy and dangerous, but it works for me.


Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The FCI clases I have taken (and am taking) say to slice; that is, draw the knife either forward or backward (depending on what you are cutting) as you press down. They are quite insistent about this. I must say, I agree that it works a lot better.


Edited by manton (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Slicing all the way. It's more efficient, more accurate and cleaner. Doing a chopping motion you are more likely to bruise, smash/squash and do damage to the thing that you are cutting, especially delicate things like herbs.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
It's more efficient, more accurate and cleaner.

I don't know that I buy any of that... could you explain? I can't see how it is any of those things. After all, it requires more motion. To me, that seems less efficient and less accurate. And cleaner? I just don't follow... I know that the microserrations that remain on a very sharp blade act like a small-scale serrated knife when you draw the blade across your food, but I come back to slicing vegetables for mirepoix (probably my most common slicing task): I don't see how slicing is going to buy you anything versus chopping (I'm sure I have a slight forward motion as I chop, but nothing like when I am actually slicing). Keep your knife sharp, that's the real key, as far as I can tell.


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Chopping straight down is like driving a wedge into the food, it works but does not take full advantage of a sharp edge. Slicing takes advantage of the shape of the edge and also it's sharpness. It's hard for me to explain but after sharpening a blade I slice it against a piece of cardboard to test it, I could just push down on the blade but I would not be getting the full advantage of the friction that the edge of the blade creates to make the cut. The sharper or more polished the edge the less pressure it takes to make the cut. I'm sure a professional could give you a better more accurate explanation but you get what you pay for. Dull knives are more dangerous than sharp knives.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If you slice an onion correctly, you cry a lot less than if you chop an onion, at least in my kitchen. Slicing cuts more cleanly and damages fewer cells, so you end up releasing less sulfuric acid than if you use a chop-down stroke. It also results in less surface bruising, which is important is you are cutting fresh herbs or doing chiffonade.


"There's nothing like a pork belly to steady the nerves."

Fergus Henderson

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
It's more efficient, more accurate and cleaner.

I don't know that I buy any of that... could you explain? I can't see how it is any of those things. After all, it requires more motion. To me, that seems less efficient and less accurate. And cleaner? I just don't follow... I know that the microserrations that remain on a very sharp blade act like a small-scale serrated knife when you draw the blade across your food, but I come back to slicing vegetables for mirepoix (probably my most common slicing task): I don't see how slicing is going to buy you anything versus chopping (I'm sure I have a slight forward motion as I chop, but nothing like when I am actually slicing). Keep your knife sharp, that's the real key, as far as I can tell.

JimH almost got it, going straight down is like driving a wedge(or an axe). But when you slice you expose quite a bit of length of the blade to the item being cut, you are drawing your knife along, unlike "Chopping" where you only expose a small section of the blade to the food item. As you slice, you pull your blade along and down, with the sharp edge physicaly cutting the item; when chopping you use a wedging action, and this action tends to split the item rather than cut it. Slice a carrot and then then "chop" a carrot, and then examine the cut edges. The sliced carrot will have clean sharp edges.

For something different yet very similiar try cutting a block of cheese on a meat slicer--with the motor off. Slices can be cut this way but requires incredible force and results in torn slices and rough edges. Turn the motor on and you get perfect slices....

Driving a wedge/axe requires more force

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I just USE the knife mostly without thinking about any particular 'technique'.

For making the knife dull, my guess is that contact with the cutting board is the worst cause.

The most important cutting I do with my chef's knife is dicing onions. There mostly I just push down on the knife, that is, 'chop'.

But a slicing action where draw the edge across the line to be cut cuts with much less pressure and, thus, can be better, and safer, for cutting, say, dry onion skins.


What would be the right food and wine to go with

R. Strauss's 'Ein Heldenleben'?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I do a little bit of both. I rock the knife as if it were hinged on the tip, but at the same time I do a slight forward - backward motion.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Very interesting question. We do what we normally do without thinking about it.

Asking the question led me to look at what I actually do. While I may look like I'm chopping at times, there is sufficient lateral movement for me to state that I slice. This has intensified somewhat since buying a nice Kasumi Japanese knife and changing my hold/technique.

How many of the self-professed choppers are really surreptitious slicers? Even small movements will lead to more effective use of the microserrations than using it as a blunt instrument (forgive the pun).


Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The answer depends on what you're cutting and on how sharp your knife is. Slicing will always allow a less sharp knife to get through something with minimal effort and damage. But with a very sharp knife, it's not always the most efficient technique.

Japanese trained cooks probably do most of their cuts with a hybrid motion: a kind of push cut that's mostly chop, but has a small amount of forward motion, just enough to allow the blade to drop through the food under the weight of the knife.

Cutting anything starchy or sticky requires more specific techniques that prevent sticking. Either pull-slicing with the very front of the blade, or woodpecker-style chopping, also with the front of the blade. This type of cutting makes use of speed, which is often overlooked by knife skills teachers. A blade moving fast will cut cleaner, all else being equal. Chopping/push cutting motions, while not appropriate for everything, move the blade more quickly through the food.

The conventional wisdom is wrong about how to preserve the edge of the knife. chopping or push cutting will preserve a knife's edge many times as long as slicing against the board. The traditional French rocking cut (where the blade slides forward on its belly on each cut) is the hardest of all the edge. The shearing motion abrades the edge agressively. Check out the knives of any euro-trained cooks after a long shift. Typically the belly of the knife will be dulled dramatically compared with the tip and the heel.

A good test is to cut herbs like chives or basil, or chop fruits like apple or pear. Leave the cut food out on the counter. If it turns brown, your cutting technique or your sharpening technique needs refinement.


Edited by paulraphael (log)

Notes from the underbelly

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
...

A good test is to cut herbs like chives or basil, or chop fruits like apple or pear. Leave the cut food out on the counter. If it turns brown, your cutting technique or your sharpening technique needs refinement.

Interesting. Is that because a dull knife/faulty technique ruputures more cells or something?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
It's more efficient, more accurate and cleaner.

I don't know that I buy any of that... could you explain? I can't see how it is any of those things. After all, it requires more motion. To me, that seems less efficient and less accurate. And cleaner? I just don't follow... I know that the microserrations that remain on a very sharp blade act like a small-scale serrated knife when you draw the blade across your food, but I come back to slicing vegetables for mirepoix (probably my most common slicing task): I don't see how slicing is going to buy you anything versus chopping (I'm sure I have a slight forward motion as I chop, but nothing like when I am actually slicing). Keep your knife sharp, that's the real key, as far as I can tell.

I'll explain based on my experiences. Just to clarify, I didn't mean "cleaner" in a sense of sanitation, I meant it in terms to less damage to the item being cut, smoother slices, etc.

To me, for example, I know I'm going to get more even slices and probably less waste it I julienne an onion. The chopping motion may be a bit faster, but I'll bet that a lot of the slices are different thicknesses. I also feel that, when slicing, you do less damage to the cells and the item will cook more evenly and retain more of its original structure than it you chop it up.

Being a professional as well, I feel that slicing is somehow less work and my arm/hand won't get fatigued since I am doing less work by taking advantage of the knife's blade. Less force and pressure required. If you have a nice sharp knife (and I do) maybe not a huge difference, but imagine over 10-12 hours.

The picture of "wedging" through an item is an accurate one. If you were to take a ribeye steak and chop it or "push" the blade into the meat for slices, think how that would look compared to a nice slice with a long thin blade. That is essentially what you are doing to the onions, etc. when you chop.

Now, if I was, say, filling a 5gal bucket with miorepoix for stock, I would probably "chop" the onions in half, carrots in half, etc. Because it doesn't matter for that product. But if I am julieening onions for carmelization or garnish, or slicing chives (or any herb), or whatever, I'm gonna be slicing.

And again, I'm not suggesting that I draw the full length of the knife through an onion for every slice or anything (like I would a protein) but there is a difference.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
How many of the self-professed choppers are really surreptitious slicers? Even small movements will lead to more effective use of the microserrations than using it as a blunt instrument (forgive the pun).

I was going to deny it, but then I went to make dinner, which involved slicing beef and onions. Sure enough, the motion I make has a distinct lateral component: I am definitely slicing, at least for both of these items. Just imagining the motion I make was not enough, I had to actually watch myself cut things before I noticed it.


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I really had to think about this one. Seems I am a slicer. Usually tip dipped down and then rolled across the food if it is a tough item, or with softer items or meats I think drawn across. I only chop when I am doing something like hacking up meat finely for something akin to "ground".

I saw the term mezzaluna in a book yesterday and have been fixated on finding mine. That rocking motion would be? My methods are simply from habit and watching the women before me cook- no great food science involved. I do admit that it all gets a bit ugly and more "serial killer" style when the knives are not sharp.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
...

A good test is to cut herbs like chives or basil, or chop fruits like apple or pear. Leave the cut food out on the counter. If it turns brown, your cutting technique or your sharpening technique needs refinement.

Interesting. Is that because a dull knife/faulty technique ruputures more cells or something?

Yes. A clean cut from a sharp knife weilded skillfully does profoundly less damage to the cells at the surface. It can spell the difference between chives that turn brown in 20 minutes vs. chives that will stay bright green for days, until they eventually start fermenting.

Here's a post where I demonstrated with a picture.


Edited by paulraphael (log)

Notes from the underbelly

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
How many of the self-professed choppers are really surreptitious slicers? Even small movements will lead to more effective use of the microserrations than using it as a blunt instrument (forgive the pun).

I was going to deny it, but then I went to make dinner, which involved slicing beef and onions. Sure enough, the motion I make has a distinct lateral component: I am definitely slicing, at least for both of these items. Just imagining the motion I make was not enough, I had to actually watch myself cut things before I noticed it.

You're both describing Japanese-style push cutting. The motion is primarily a chop, but there's enough of a forward/slicing component to allow the blade to cut effortlessly. Typically, the sharper the knife and easier to cut the food, the less slicing motion you find yourself using.


Notes from the underbelly

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The FCI clases I have taken (and am taking) say to slice; that is, draw the knife either forward or backward (depending on what you are cutting) as you press down.  They are quite insistent about this.  I must say, I agree that it works a lot better.

It works better with a knife that's anything less than very sharp. And by very sharp I mean sharper than what many euro-trained cooks use over the course of their careers. Those who get any kind of Japanese cutting education (which usually goes hand in hand with sharpening education) find that a whole range of different techniques actually work better than the old ones.

But much of it has to do with tradition more than knives. It's been taught in French kitchens that you should cut silently. This means slicing and rocking. Push-cutting is noisier, and chopping with the tip of the knife sounds like a woodpecker attacking the cutting board. The noise is a bit obnoxious, but the benefit is about three times the speed of the fastest slicing, and also higher quality cuts with less sticking and ripping.


Edited by paulraphael (log)

Notes from the underbelly

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...