Part II Basics with the chef knife
Most chefs would probably agree that the chef knife is their most important weapon in the arsenal of kitchen tools. It is the professional chef's constant companion, a reliable side-kick. Aside from basic workhorse cutting, the chef knife is an extremely versatile knife capable of performing a wide range of different jobs.
The chef knife can cut very delicate items as well as break small bones by using different ends of the blade. It can also dice, mince, or if necessary, reduce something to a virtual puree. I have even seen chefs in desperation, after a long night's service, use the chef knife to open bottles of beer (not recommended--and not a skill I have mastered).
To get the most out of the chef knife, let's explore each these additional chef knife techniques in detail.
Dicing a vegetable is one of the most common and useful techniques. Mastering this with a chef knife will save you lots of time in the kitchen! To properly dice, first cut the product into slices. Then cut the slices into strips. Then cut each of the strips into dices, or cubes (fig1). Be sure to remember to practice the same proper cutting technique we learned in Chef Knife Part I.
|fig 2.||fig 3.|
|(Cutting through the stem end of the onion instead of the root or core end of the onion will keep the onion from falling apart during the cutting process.) (fig 4) Once the onion has been "sliced", cut horizontally across the preceding slices without cutting completely through the onion. Hold the onion with the palm of your hand, keeping the fingers raised and out of harm's way. (fig 5) Continued below.|
|fig 4.||fig 5.|
|The last knife cut consists of slicing across the previous set of cuts. (fig 7) Continue slicing the onion until you reach the core or root end of the onion and the onion no longer comes apart in dices. (fig 8) Use this last piece of onion in soups or stocks, or simply dice it separately. To adjust the size of the finished dice, simply change the thickness of each of the three different knife cuts.|
|fig 6.||fig 7.|
Sometimes a dice, even a small one, is not small enough. Certain recipes call for minced vegetables or herbs. To properly mince, hold the tip of the chef knife on the cutting board using the non-cutting hand. Be sure to keep all fingers raised and away from the blade. (fig 8) Simply pivot the knife on the front portion of the blade by raising and lowering the handle of the knife in a chopping motion. The tip should not leave the cutting board. (fig 9) Continued below.
|fig 8.||fig 9.|
|From time to time, it will be necessary to clean off the edge of the knife as small particles will stick to it. (fig 10) (Be very careful not to touch the actual cutting edge of the knife while cleaning the sides of the blade.) During the mincing process, the product will naturally spread out on the cutting board. When this happens, simply push the product back into a neat pile using the edge of the knife. Continue mincing until the product is small enough.(fig 11)|
|fig 10.||fig 11.|
Certain ingredients, like garlic, are used not only minced, but occasionally mashed or pureed. To mash a product, it is first necessary to mince it. Then, with the knife angled toward the cutting board, slide it across the minced product, keeping the knife on the board the whole time. (fig 12) Repeat as necessary until well mashed. Adding a small amount of salt to the minced product will speed up the process as the salt acts as an abrasive.
The Delicate Cut:
The tip of the chef knife is the thinnest part of the blade and also the most sensitive. It is very useful for making delicate cuts as this part of the blade has the most "feeling." Typically the knife stroke is opposite the usual stroke, in that the knife is drawn backwards instead of forwards. (Fig 13)
While the tip of the chef knife is the thinnest and most sensitive part of the blade, the other end of the blade, nearest the handle, can be used for almost clever-like jobs. Please notice that a chef knife is not a clever and should not be used for breaking large bones, etc. But this part of the chef knife is tough enough to chop small bones. To do this, raise the entire knife off the table, and keeping the tip of the knife up, bring the heel of the blade down forcefully. (fig 14) When cutting bones, it is important to cut them firmly so as to cleanly chop through the bone without splintering it.