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Q&A -- Basic Knife Skills


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When dicing an onion, I have been taught that there are three steps. Apparantly people differ about the correct order of the first two steps, but everyone seems to agree on the last step. After halving and peelong, you cut "planes" into the onion first. Then you do the "horizontal" cuts, followed by lastly cutting vertically and releasing the diced onion. Some people like I said, reverse the order of the first two cuts, but it doesn't help me with my problem. It's still the same.

My problem is with the "planing" step. I have difficulty doing this safely. Once I cut my thumb in the process, and since then I've been more careful. However, I still think I could improve my technique. Could someone go into more detail about correct pressure, knife motion, grip on the onion, etc... while performing this manuver?

Thanks!

-James Kessler

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Ooh, sorry about the thumb!

This can be avoided by holding the onion in place on your cutting board with a "flying hand." I think this pithy little description comes from Barbara Tropp. Just imagine you're a little kid flying your hand through the breeze out of the open window of a moving car. Heck, I havent seen "little kid" for decades, and I still fly my hand out the car window!

The part of your hand in contact with the onion is the palm side of your knuckles. All digits should be held above that contact point. Hold the onion down lightly, or you'll have trouble working your knife through the onion.

Use the full length of your knife (heel to tip) to make one slice/cut. Avoid sawing back and forth. It goes w/o saying that for best results, your knife should be extremely sharp.

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since the thread is still active, I know a lot of people back in India use recycled hack saw blades as knives. serrations are removed and the blade is sharpened

they are usually about 4 " long and the handle is bamboo tied with a metal wire.

one of the most efficient cutting tools that I have seen are those flimsy blade knives - needless to say one of the hardest knives to learn with. guarranteed cuts. but the people who have used them swear by them.

funny a set of tramontina that was gifted to them by me is a nice show piece. only pairing and utitlity knives are used (seldom). slicer / chef's knife is used to cut open a melon once in a blue moon....

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  • 1 year later...

TIme to reactivate this great thread!

I was wondering if anyone could share their techniques for using a chinese chef knife (the one that looks like a cleaver)... how would you hold it? Do you chop straight down or do a pendulum movement? What else should we know about using this very cool knife?

Thanks!

Edited by alexthecook (log)
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TIme to reactivate this great thread!

I was wondering if anyone could share their techniques for using a chinese chef knife (the one that looks like a cleaver)... how would you hold it? Do you chop straight down or do a pendulum movement? What else should we know about using this very cool knife?

Thanks!

I hope Zilla and others will jump in; Chinese cleavers are pretty great. To get you started, this is a section from Andy777's Cleaver How-To on knifeforums.com's In the Kitchen section. Andy is the resident cleaver nut/expert.

How should I hold a cleaver?

The proper way to hold a cleaver is the pinch-grip method. I use both a one-finger and a two finger pinch grip ( I call this the Chen Kenichi grip.) The one-finger method is easier to use on quicker and less articulate cutting. The two-finger method gives a lot more blade control and balance for articulate cutting.

What exactly is the push-cut method?

The push cut method is the most common technique used with a cleaver. You keep the blade horizontal to the board and move slightly forward as you allow the blade to fall downward. Here is one of my world famous drawings giving a good idea of the technique. This allows the edge to slice as it chops. It's a very simple technique with only one thing that you need to watch. Many people have way too much horizontal movement when they push-cut. From my experience the blade should only move about 1/4" forward for every 1" of vertical movement.

I have six or seven cleavers on hand at the moment. On the bargain end, the Dexter Russell Chinese chef's knife (the one endorsed by Martin Yan) is a steal at about $40. The Suien and Sugimoto cleavers are both excellent Chuka bocho -- Japanese made Chinese cleavers. The Suien at $128 is the entry level to high end Japanese made cleavers. The Sugimoto is bizarrely expensive but the top choice among professional chefs in Japan.

Cleaver technique takes a little getting used to, but once you master it -- a matter of half an hour or so -- you can see why Chinese chefs use their cleavers for absolutely everything.

Hope this helps.

Take care,

Chad

Edited by Chad (log)

Chad Ward

An Edge in the Kitchen

William Morrow Cookbooks

www.chadwrites.com

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  • 7 months later...
When dicing an onion, I have been taught that there are three steps.[...]After halving and peeling, you cut "planes" into the onion first.  Then you do the "horizontal" cuts, followed by lastly cutting vertically and releasing the diced onion.[...]

I use a small variation which eliminates horizontal cuts altogether.

1. Peel & halve the onion as described in the course.

2. Make the long vertical cuts...but save the middle cut (through the highest point of the onion half) for last. Then make this last cut all the way through the root area, resulting in quarters.

3. Flip the quarters on their new flat sides, the ones just cut.

4. Make long vertical cuts again.

5. Finish with vertical cross-cuts.

This method might take a tenth of a secong longer than what's in the course, but there's comparatively little danger to fingers and (more importantly) little danger of irregular onion pieces. :wink:

edited for clarity

Edited by myriadin (log)
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  • 3 months later...

Saturday night we were camping with friends and I volunteered to mix the drinks. For the gin-and-tonics we had fresh limes to slice.

I get teased in a friendly way because even though there are other knives available I bring my own. I have "graduated" to carrying them in a knife roll (using edge guards) and I bring along a knife block to boot. I welcome anyone who wants to use them to do so. Othere knives get put into the block also just to keep things tidy.

When I went to slice the limes I grabbed a cutting board and knife and proceeded to cut up a lime. I couldn't believe how hard a time I was having. It was more like using a table knife than a kitchen knife but I got the job done. Sunday morning when I went to clean up I found the reason for my frustration. I had grabbed someone else's knive that they don't keep sharp. Which brings me to my "pleasant surprize"...

I found the eGullet Society while doing a web search on learning to sharpen knives and found Chad Ward's excellent and thorough article. His patient and detailed explanation of what went into making a knife and what went into sharpening a knife gave me the confidence to try again (after a 30 year gap of trying) to learn to sharpen my knives. I even bought some old damaged knives off of ebay to work on. However, even though I thought I was doing ok I had no real comparison to judge by - just how my knives worked for me. The knife that was dull as a rock was from the same maker as the knives I was carrying (not very expensive by the way - the good knives stay home). This caused my to do a little bit of a happy dance - I could tell my knives had markedly sharper edges and I wasn't just me fooling myself.

The reason I am posting this is not to congratulate myself, though. I still have a loooonnngggg way to go in learning this skill. But instead I want to encourage anybody who has been sitting on the fence of whether to try to learn sharpening for themselves or to keep using a professional service to take the leap of faith, study Chad's article and learn this new skill. You can do it!

Edited by Porthos (log)

Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

;

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  • 4 months later...
Ditto, Nick.  These are great.

Thanks a lot for all the work you have put into them.

First....you generally are not looking to cut the full length 6-9",cut it in half first. It's easier to deal with a cut only 3-4"

Then ... You set the tip into your carrot and cup the holding hand so the thumb and fingers steady the vegetable and the palm presses the spine. The other hand-on the handle,helps this "rocking" pressure and also keeps the blade centerd. You don't hurry this cut. Once halved-you have a flat side-can use a quicker style.

Another method-you start the blade on one end- hold the carrot on the other-keep the edge in contact with the carrot-rock-don't saw.....and as you get most of the way-you can shift your hold to the end already cut. Do it slow and deliberate-have a reason behind what you do-keep the Carrot (or whatever target) under control. "Fearful Fingers" can be there own worst enemy, just as a dull blade is often the most hazardous.

If all that fails...get a Forschner "Cut Glove". We have to use them at work. I find they make me feel a bit awkward-but then I also can get reckless and hasty and not get nicked. That's not all good as i may get into some bad habits. As I mentioned elsewhere...I cut veggies by the case,dice meats 20-40 lb at a time. That's enough practice that I don't give much thought to technique----it's habit.

A home cook who's not getting 6 hours "practice" a day has to be more DELIBERATE.

For example,Mushrooms,you slice a bit off a side to create a flat side so it wont roll. you hold with the fingertips curled back-so the flat of the blade may hit your knuckles but the cutting edge can not get your fingertips.

Where I work is a college dining hall. Beautiful coeds can be a powerful distraction. NEVER move the knife if you are for any reason not focused on the task.

My motto is to NEVER cut anyone unintentionally-----especially myself.

Edited by Rembrant Wood (log)
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If you want to do a full length julienne on a carrott...you set the edge on the thick end-holding the thick end firmly while also holding the tip in position,then you smoothly bear down-halving the carrot. A Very good edge really helps as you don't need much pressure. If you do not-for whatever reason---have a really sharp edge....don't try cutting a 6-8' julienne carrot. Settle for 1/2 length.

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  • 1 year later...

I'm bumping up this topic because this morning I received an email notice of the following Sur La Table class Master Knife Skills- Bob Kramer instructor.

I am envious of folks in the Portland, OR and Kirkland, WA areas who will be able to get there.

Edited by andiesenji (log)

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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  • 2 years later...

It looks like this is the best place to post this question:

I have "decent" knife skills, but one thing I haven't figured out how to stop from happening. When slicing round veggies, such as carrots, zuchinni, etc., invariably some of the cut pieces will roll or fall backwards into the chopping path, resulting in those pieces being cut further. This can also happen with say, celery, where the pieces build up on the blade as I am slicing and fall off into the knife path. (FYI my usual knife for these tasks is a Wusthoff Classic Santoku that has gratons - I never found the gratons actually did anything to prevent the veggies from sticking to the blade.)

Is there something I am doing wrong?

Mark

My eG Food Blog

www.markiscooking.com

My T shirt site: Guy Bling

My NEW Ribs site: BlasphemyRibs.com

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