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Annoying sticky knife issue

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 
I recently bought a Togiharu Inox Steel Gyutou, 240mm chef knife.

Problem is, as I cut vegetables, the vegetables stay stuck on the right side of the blade (I'm right handed). That makes it very difficult to see the thickness of the next cut, because now that piece of veggie is blocking my view.

With that new knife, I've given up on looking at the right side of the blade to gauge the thickness of the cut. I kinda just cut and hope for the best. So the next bit I cut pushes the one that was stuck a little higher, and now I have two bits stuck. Then 3, then 4... until the highest bit is higher than the blade and falls on the board - unfortunately usually it falls in the way of my cut, so if I continue cutting I'm cutting that long thin slice in two.

So I continually have to stop and clean the stuck bits off the knife, which kinda defeats the purpose of learning good knife technique to get faster at doing my prep work.

Any idea what I'm doing wrong? Thanks!!
post #2 of 17
French,

Really good question. It happens to a lot of people. Forgive me if I ramble a bit before getting to the technique part -- the heart of the "solution," such as it is.

Thin slices of wet vegetables like potato, cucumber, tomato will grab onto the knife with "stiction." Part of that is the moisture content of the vegetable, another the thinness (and hence the weight) of the slice, and then there's the polish on the knife itself. The smoother and more highly polished the greater the tendency to cling.

There's not much you can do about the moisture, and even less you want to do about the slice (you do want them thin), but to a slight extent you can control the polish on the knife. When you wash it, use something with a slight tendency to scratch -- like a Scotch Brite -- and eventually the knife won't let the vegetables quite as much.

So much for the "materials and engineering" part. Now comes skills. Or, if you prefer, mad skilz.

Apparently you're looking over your knife's shoulder to judge the thickness of the slice. Wrong place for the eyes.

The way to control the thickness of thin slices is to use your left-hand "claw" to set the face of the blade; adjusting for thickness (and using your eyes) while the knife is off the vegetable. When you cut, use your eyes and claw technique to prevent adding extraneous finger tips to the salad.

If you don't know what "claw technique" is, we'll go into it. Not a problem.

BDL
post #3 of 17
Thread Starter 
Thanks BDL!

I would have never thought about that - unpolish the blade hmmm? So I guess that'll mean I'll have to say buh-bye to that shiny mirror like looks? Oh well.

As for the claw, I believe I understand what you're saying. You're saying when the knife is up, look under the knife from the left side of the blade, and adjust the left hand's knuckles so when the blade comes back down you get the desired thickness - correct?

It's hard to imagine sitting at my computer, so next time I'm in the kitchen I'll have to give it a go. I've been slicing 3 bulbs of fennel earlier tonight and it took way too long. I'm trying to figure out a way to get the job done a bit faster.
post #4 of 17
Let's start without food and without the knife and practice making the claw.

Put your four fingers and thumb on the board hand hold your palm off it, as though your hand were a five-legged spider.

Now slowly and gently push your hand down so your fingers bend, and your thumb bends and starts to point towards the tip of your little finger (very important, we'll get to why in a bit).

Let your palm go down a bit farther, and you'll observe that the knuckle bones of your left hand are ahead of your finger tips.

Pick up your knife with the right hand, and using a pinch grip, press the left face of the blade against the knuckles and knuckle bones so the knife is straight up and down, and square to the board.

Your knuckles and knuckle bones will act as a guide as you pick the knife up slightly off the board with the point slightly down.

Now "push" the knife down gently while also gently pressing it against your claw. The point will go down first, then the edge will "shear" all the way down to the board. If you're using a normal motion, the edge will also slide slightly forward.

That's pretty much French knife technique. If you do it really well, you'll be nearly silent. Japanese knife technique -- the straight "push cut" -- will drive you nuts with the tap, tap, tapping.

VERY IMPORTANT: Your finger tips never point towards the knife. Remember what I said about the thumb? True 'dat for the thumb ESPECIALLY when you're cutting something small -- like a shallot or garlic tooth. If you don't expose your fingers to the edge, they won't get cut.

Now get a piece of food -- a carrot, a potato, it doesn't matter.

Start by "blocking," with some foods that means cutting it into brick shapes. With others, it only means cutting it into pieces small enough to handle safely and conveniently. When you're starting out, you want to block pieces about the length of your thumb, and not much longer.

After you have blocks, cut "planks." If you're cutting something round, start by cutting a thin slice, so you have a flat bottom and your food won't try and roll away from you. That's not only safe, it's efficient.

Use your claw to control the width of the flat planks you cut along the length of the block. Try cutting your planks about 3/8" thick. That's a good start.

Stack a two or three planks, and cut "sticks." A stick 3/8 x 3/8 is an alumette, more or less.

When you have 6 - 12 sticks, stack them so they're even, and cut across them to cut 3/8 x 3/8 x 3/8 "fine dice."

Take your time doing this. It takes a couple of months to get to where a pinch grip and claw technique is more or less automatic. You'll start developing a little speed after that.

Et voila! Not to mention, zut alors! Mad Skilz.
BDL

PS. There are special techniques for some foods like onions. And, as we both know onions are very important. Gotta save some tricks for a later post.
post #5 of 17
A polished blade is probably the culprit. As BDL says, roughing it up a bit should help.
"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
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"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
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post #6 of 17
Try spraying it with a spray of pam. If you can. use front of knife to do veges as it is narrower and less surface to stick to. I only use heel and back for chopping, mincing etc.
CHEFED
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CHEFED
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post #7 of 17
I like that, Ed! It's a great example of what I call "Gordian Knot Thinking". When Alexander of Macedon was faced with the puzzle of a knot that no one could untie, he loosed his sword and cut it, solving the problem by circumventing/redefining it. A useful object lesson! As Maslow famously said, "When your only tool is a hammer all problems start to look like nails." As a knifegeek it's easy to over-analyze and come up with a technical solution when sometimes all that's need is...Pam.:thumb:
"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
Reply
"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
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post #8 of 17
Some things are best sliced with the tip, some things not. Sometimes there's a best part of the knife for the job, sometimes you're just looking for the sharpest part of the edge.

Certainly, cutting "lyonnaise" type slices, you not only want to use the tip, but you want to use it darn quickly -- almost snapping it at the food. But again, that's not about taking your time and gauging the thickness of each slice by carefully setting the knife on the food and looking at it. That's practice, practice, practice; plus (if I can be honest) a little bit of show-offery thrown in.

On the other hand, if you want really consistent slices and you haven't developed the "snap" technique to that stage, you use a claw -- and that sometimes means using a wider part of the knife than the very tip. Doing it right means not having to apologize.

I don't think we can restrict the answer to "slicing," either. When French Fries chops his onions, garlic, duxelles, mushrooms, or whatever, they'll climb up the side of the knife just like slices.

In the kitchen where I learned to cook (and taught how to use a knife), noiselessness with the knife was highly valued. Same "shhhh" using a whisk. For some reason, that's associated with "French" technique. My own thought is that it's more related to hangovers.

In any case, there's no substitute for good knife skills. Not everyone needs to "pinch" and "claw" to use a knife, but it's a relatively simple technique to learn, doesn't require much native talent, is safe, and incredibly efficient -- at least compared to putting the handle in your fist and just hacking away.

BDL
post #9 of 17
Thread Starter 
Boar_d_laze, after months wondering what your nickname means, I finally had a revelation. Does it include marrow bone? :smoking:

Anyway, thanks for the very detailed tutorial on knife technique. I had read up on knife technique, even watched video, and have been doing it for a while so I know most of what you presented already - in fact I am pretty good at mincing onions and shallots etc now. However I still read your words carefully and found a couple of little gems hidden in there as tips. Especially on the claw, or on the fact that the movement of the knife should be silent... so thanks a lot for sharing all that info.

What I was doing yesterday was cutting fennel bulbs. The bulbs were about 4 or 5 inches tall (pretty long). My goal is to have long, thin slices to then "sweat-melt" them in a bit of butter, in a pan on low heat, salt, bit of lemon juice, white wine, serve and sprinkle with parmesan (really good stuff BTW).

So I take a bulb and cut it into 4 quarters as you would an apple. Then remove the core of each quarter, put one quarter flat and start cutting lengthwise, really thin slices. That means I have to use more than the tip of the knife (since the bulbs are almost 5 inches long).

The main problem is, if I don't remove the stuck slices, after a while they fall on the board in the middle of my bulb and now I'm cutting them in two, resulting in two short slices rather than one long one. Annoying!

I'll try to remove some of the polish off the knife. For smaller items I'll try using the tip (I do that for button mushrooms already).

Thanks guys!
post #10 of 17
You got it!

A silent knife isn't a necessary outcome of good technique; it's just possible by putting a little glide in your chopping action -- and it is desirable in some kitchens. You make the rules in yours.

PM or email me if there's anything else I do to help with "pinch and claw" technique.

It is annoying, and it's almost just as annoying that the answer is so simple.

It's as much board management and mise as knife technique; or perhaps better to say that you can't separate those things. The answer is to clean your knife as often as necessary and move your cut items into a pile that's far enough of away from your knife to not be endangered; and when the pile gets big enough to move it into its own bowl.

Here's how I manage my board (Note, there are other ways, just as good): Divide the board into three areas, one for cutting -- including enough room to not run into anything else; one for keeping the pieces to be cut; and one for keeping the cut pieces before transferring them to a mise bowl.

A good idea is to start by visualizing the board as being divided vertically into two halves, then visualzing one of the halves as divided horizontally into two more spaces -- one for stuff to be cut, and the other for mise. Most rightys use the left half of the board for the cutting area, but that's not particularly important. What is important is breaking up the work into easily managed pieces, and not letting your board clog up.

Almost everyone finds that cooking from mise en place makes everything go more easily and leads to better results too!

Bon chance,
BDL
post #11 of 17
Thread Starter 
Thanks! But my problem is that WHILE I'm cutting, the slices get stuck and fall back in the way of my blade. So unless every time I've cut 3 slices I wipe off the knife to place those 3 slices to my "cut pieces" pile, which would really kill my rhythm, the 4th cut will push the 3 stuck slices high enough above the blade that they'll fall down in the way of my blade.

BTW I've roughed up the polish on my knife with a green scotch bright yesterday, it seems to help a bit - but I haven't done any serious work since.

I'm still not fully comfortable with the way to gauge the thickness of the slice. Even with the claw position, it seems virtually impossible to guess what the thickness of a slice will be until I rest a blade against the knuckles, and see where the edge of the blade lands on the item. So that means I still have to look from above the blade, looking at the right side of the blade. And if big slices are stuck there, they're obstructing my view.

It's not like I can't work at all. Sure I can. My slices are fine. It's just... I feel like I could be so much more precise AND so much more efficient if those slices didn't stick to the blade and I had a clear unobstructed view of how much of the item I'm about to cut.

Again, for the all the great, detailed help, merci beaucoup, vraiment. ;)
post #12 of 17
IMHO, the "claw" determines the thickness, the "claw" feeds the food into the knife and needs to be "trained" to feed the correct amount.

And the knife should ALWAYS rest against the "claw", that's the "reference point"!
Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
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Chef,
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post #13 of 17
sorry for a newbie question but what is a "mise"?
post #14 of 17
Mise en place.
I think the most wonderful thing in the world is another chef. I'm always excited about learning new things about food.
Paul Prudhomme
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I think the most wonderful thing in the world is another chef. I'm always excited about learning new things about food.
Paul Prudhomme
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post #15 of 17
ok then whats a mise en place? lol
post #16 of 17
From "Food Lover's Companion", pg 392:

"mise en place [MEEZ ahn plahs] A French term referring to having all the ingredients necessary for a dish prepared and ready to combine up to the point of cooking."

From the "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy":

"Be sure you have your towel"

Closely approximated by the Boy Scout "Be Prepared".
Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
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Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
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post #17 of 17
Google will tell you more than you want to know. ;)
I think the most wonderful thing in the world is another chef. I'm always excited about learning new things about food.
Paul Prudhomme
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I think the most wonderful thing in the world is another chef. I'm always excited about learning new things about food.
Paul Prudhomme
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