Monday, February 23, 2009

Suzi's Tips - Basic Knife Skills

Welcome to the first Suzi's Tips, which will be regular feature of Suzi's Green Kitchen (Ecogrl Cooks!!). I'll be sharing cooking and food-related tips and ideas that I've picked up along the way in my veggie culinary adventures. Questions and comments are always welcome, and if you have any vegetarian food-related topics you would like covered, please leave me a comment and I may cover it in a future Tips post.

I know I've already talked about chef's knives, but I r
eally can't say enough about the benefits of a good knife... for me, learning to use a chef's knife really did help launch my joy of cooking and brought my culinary creations to a whole other level. So, here's to another knife post!

I first started to pay attention to my knife skills about 8 years ago when a friend of mine from work decided to change careers and go to chef
school full time (I was so envious!!). I visited her shortly after she had begun the rather grueling-sounding program and she joyfully shared with me some of the things she was learning in her classes. When I mentioned that I was about to get a new chef knife, she gave me hers and asked me to demonstrate how to hold it. So, I just grabbed the handle and pretended to chop. Wrong way to hold the knife, she says! Although my husband had shown me how to hold a chef's knife properly and I'd seen it many times on TV cooking shows, of course I chose that moment to forget. As my friend explained, and as I already knew and later learned in my culinary school classes, how a cook holds their knife is a personal choice, but there are techniques that make it easier and safer.

Grab the handle of your chef knife and grip the metal part at the heel of the blade with just your thumb and index finger. This is that thick metal portion joining the handle and the blade which adds weight and balance and keeps your hand from slipping. Holding the knife this way gives more stability and control, plus you can also chop faster. It is also important that the heel portion of the blade is deep enough so you don't knock your knuckles on the cutting board when you chop with it.

Position the knife with the point on the cutting board well beyond the food to be sliced or chopped. With a rocking motion, keep the point on the cutting board and slice, dice and chop to your heart's content!

If you don't have to hold the food being chopped (a pile of parsley or walnuts, for example), you can place your free hand with your fingers flat on the top of the tip of the knife to give you even more control.

Most times you'll need to hold and maneuver your food while chopping. Hold the food with your finger tips curled under, like a claw, to keep them away from the sharp blade. Concentrate fully on the task at hand and focus on your fingers and where they are relative to the blade coming down on the food, and don't look away unless you stop chopping. Speed comes with practice...I was pretty slow at the beginning!!

A good, sharp chef knife is essential to making chopping easy and fun but it's also very important to prevent injury because a dull knife is more prone to slipping.

A 7" to 10" chef knife, a bread knife and a paring knife are really all the chopping tools a vegetarian cook needs in order to be able to whip up delicious and fast veggie meals. Using these basic knife skills helps to make chopping less of a chore, more fun, and even a stress-reducing (for me anyway!) experience. Happy chopping!! :-)

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