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Q&A -- Basic Knife Skills

87 posts in this topic

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...

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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 (log)

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

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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

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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.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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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?

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Re. the earlier mentions of dicing mangos: I also dice mangos the way demonstrated in the lesson, with great success, but with one minor variation. I'm probably just paranoid, but I don't cut the crosshatches in the mango while holding it in my hand, I put it on a board first. The mango may rock a bit on the board; it would be more secure and faster in the hand, but I do keep my knives very sharp, and my paranoia suggests that I might cut right through the mango into my palm without even realizing it at first.

I'm probably wrong about that though.

[bTW, made a tomato-mango-habenero salsa last Friday that received raves from some friends. No recipe, sorry, but it's main flaw was that in my efforts to keep people's heads from exploding, it wasn't really hot enough. We now return you to back to the topic.]

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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$.

see, that's what I'm looking for in chef's knives. my current favorite is an 8" one that my mom brought me from toledo, spain. it's pretty light, nicely balanced, and the blade is much closer to triangular than the german chef's knives. the closest i've seen to this one are the newer sabatier au carbon knives (although those are also more curved) and the pictures in mastering the art of french cooking. unfortunately the edge was all screwed up like 10 years ago by someone who shall remain nameless banging it around so there are tiny chips out of the edge. i need another one, i think.

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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...

Not to highjack Zilla's thread, but Bruce, I'd be more than happy if you were to pop in on tomorrow's sharpening lesson and Q&A. I've got some familiarity with Japanese knives, but somebody with your experience could be an invaluable part of the discussion.

Chad


Chad Ward

An Edge in the Kitchen

William Morrow Cookbooks

www.chadwrites.com

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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.

Chances are good that I didn't say "in my opinion" often enough during the lesson. I only said what i was taught, what is in my (in-my-opinion-very-good) textbooks from school,and what i believe. But there's always room for other opinions and viewpoints. I do think, though, that this particular discussion is probably more germane to Chad's knife-sharpening class tomorrow.


Marsha Lynch aka "zilla369"

Has anyone ever actually seen a bandit making out?

Uh-huh: just as I thought. Stereotyping.

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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.

This was a much-discussed issue amongst the knife cut coaches at school. My theory was that, even though a knife may be perfectly sharp, it is "triangular" in cross-section (wider at the spine than at the edge). I'm guessing that's what tends to make it lead to one side or the other when trying to perform a perfectly vertical cut. The solution? Practice, practice, practice, until compensating for the phenomenon is second nature. A mental trick such as Stone describes is often helpful, as well.


Marsha Lynch aka "zilla369"

Has anyone ever actually seen a bandit making out?

Uh-huh: just as I thought. Stereotyping.

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...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:  )

Most of my knife skills were fine-tuned during preparation for American Culinary Federation student competitions. We were taught that the judges we'd be performing for prefer almost totally silent knife-cuts; they don't want to hear any chopping noises or board-banging. That is why I ended up being most comfortable with the tip-fulcrum method. Neither one is right or wrong, it's a matter of what you get used to. It would take me another few hundred hours of practice to get accurate cuts with the opposite method, although i can do passable mushroom slices that way - I still prefer the wrist-fulcrum in the end, though.


Marsha Lynch aka "zilla369"

Has anyone ever actually seen a bandit making out?

Uh-huh: just as I thought. Stereotyping.

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

I would be interested to get this clarified, as well. Perhaps Chad and Bruce can confirm a yes or no tomorrow. And i wonder if one could order a serrated knife custom-sharpened to the other side for lefties?


Marsha Lynch aka "zilla369"

Has anyone ever actually seen a bandit making out?

Uh-huh: just as I thought. Stereotyping.

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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!

Hey, wow...that's cool. I think it would take a little longer than the way I do it, but it's obviously much safer in the long run. I'd encourage everyone with a high-speed connection to take a look at that video. Thanks!


Marsha Lynch aka "zilla369"

Has anyone ever actually seen a bandit making out?

Uh-huh: just as I thought. Stereotyping.

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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?

For me, it's a control issue. I just don't feel in control of my blade without the finger-thumb grip. But if it saves us from bursitis - even better!


Marsha Lynch aka "zilla369"

Has anyone ever actually seen a bandit making out?

Uh-huh: just as I thought. Stereotyping.

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Re. the earlier mentions of dicing mangos: I also dice mangos the way demonstrated in the lesson, with great success, but with one minor variation. I'm probably just paranoid, but I don't cut the crosshatches in the mango while holding it in my hand, I put it on a board first. The mango may rock a bit on the board; it would be more secure and faster in the hand, but I do keep my knives very sharp, and my paranoia suggests that I might cut right through the mango into my palm without even realizing it at first.

I'm probably wrong about that though.

Nope, not wrong. Whatever's safest for you is the way to go!


Marsha Lynch aka "zilla369"

Has anyone ever actually seen a bandit making out?

Uh-huh: just as I thought. Stereotyping.

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That is how I learned to chop an onion from my Mother and I think you get faster when you do it a lot. 

Really enjoyed the lesson!

I'm going to attempt to make it a part of my prep and see what happens. In competition you'd probably get points off for not doing it the "classic" way, but in the real world of restaurant prep, it might just be an improvement.

Glad you liked the lesson. Thanks to everyone that read it and everyone who posted questions and comments.


Marsha Lynch aka "zilla369"

Has anyone ever actually seen a bandit making out?

Uh-huh: just as I thought. Stereotyping.

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Zilla, again, spectacular job.

I have a question that's been bugging me for a while. How much trim should we lose to get nice cuts?

I try to get even, sqaured off juliennes, batonnets, dices, et. al., but I can't stand to carve away big chunks of a carrot or other veggie just so my sides stay square.

Your cuts look great -- the kind I've always wanted to achieve. Did you have to throw away a lot of food, or am I missing a tip/trick/technique that allows you to trim a little for flat edges then use the rest?

Thanks!

Chad


Chad Ward

An Edge in the Kitchen

William Morrow Cookbooks

www.chadwrites.com

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I can't stand to carve away big chunks of a carrot or other veggie just so my sides stay square.

That's why the good lord invented stock.


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)

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I can't stand to carve away big chunks of a carrot or other veggie just so my sides stay square.

That's why the good lord invented stock.

What Mr. Guy said.

Naturally, you want to improve your skills to the point where you are creating the smallest possible amount of waste. But if you want to create specialized cuts to garnish and plate with, you'll want to have a plan in place to utilize the scraps. Stock is a fantastic use for carrot and onion trimmings. Potato and mushroom trimmings are great in cream and/or pureed soups.


Marsha Lynch aka "zilla369"

Has anyone ever actually seen a bandit making out?

Uh-huh: just as I thought. Stereotyping.

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pepin suggests that you use a peeler for getting the "planks" for julienning carrots. i never thought this could be done with my peeler, but then my wife bought one that makes thicker "cuts". et voila, much less "waste" than with the knife!


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

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pepin suggests that you use a peeler for getting the "planks" for julienning carrots. i never thought this could be done with my peeler, but then my wife bought one that makes thicker "cuts". et voila, much less "waste" than with the knife!

We experimented with that on the culinary team. It doesn't yield competition-grade consistency of thickness, but it will work beautifully for less formal situations.


Marsha Lynch aka "zilla369"

Has anyone ever actually seen a bandit making out?

Uh-huh: just as I thought. Stereotyping.

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... 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.

While you are probably correct that dull knives cause worse lacerations, a recent personal experience has shattered my complacency that sharp knives=safe knives. Sharp knives CAN hurt you if your finger gets between the knife and cutting board. I was chopping up some romaine for a salad a few months back. I'm not sure what happened, it happened in a second, but I think I turned my head to look at something and turned my body as well. Next thing I knew, I'd cut a nice big slice into the inner aspect of my index finger (the side by your thumb.) The fact that the angle of the cut was such that I could tell my fingers had remained in perfect curled alignment was of little consulation. Only my fingernail stopped me from slicing the whole side of my finger off. It hurt like hell for days, I needed three stitches, and I obviously permanently cut a nerve, as I have no feeling in that part of my finger.

So, once you get your knives sharpened to perfection following Chad's impressive lesson, pay attention when you are using them. I am much more mindful when I chop these days, because I have a much healthier respect for just how easily my knives can slice through my skin.

PS Great job, Zilla. Thanks.

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So, once you get your knives sharpened to perfection following Chad's impressive lesson, pay attention when you are using them. I am much more mindful when I chop these days, because I have a much healthier respect for just how easily my knives can slice through my skin.

I don't want it to sound as if I'm scolding marie-louise - and I'm sorry about your stitches. Stitches on any body part that bends a lot in the course of your normal day are a nightmare.

However: her cautionary tale serves to underline what I said about never taking your eyes off your knife blade while it is in motion. To do so is to practically guarantee an injury.

The unfortunate thing about a dull knife is that it is more likely to slip and cut you even if you are paying attention.


Marsha Lynch aka "zilla369"

Has anyone ever actually seen a bandit making out?

Uh-huh: just as I thought. Stereotyping.

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... However: her cautionary tale serves to underline what I said about never taking your eyes off your knife blade while it is in motion.  To do so is to practically guarantee an injury...

Yes, my point exactly. Try not to let yourself get distracted. Your flesh is much softer than most of the other things you chop!

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