Basic Knife Skills

Basic Knife Skills - Part I: Chef's Knife

Although you may never be a gourmet chef at a five-star restaurant, you can still use a knife like one with a few simple tips. After that, it's all about practice, practice, practice. Let's look at how to properly hold a chef knife.

Step 1: Holding a Chef's Knife

If you're like many people, an 8" Chef knife is a far cry from the 4" Paring knife you've done all your food prep with up to this point. At first glance, a Chef knife is big, heavy, and a little foreboding. But before you know it, you'll be happily rocking and rolling your Chef knife through everything from potatoes to plantains. The solution? The Pinch Grip.

The reason many folks find a Chef knife unmanageable is because of how they hold it. If you hold a Chef knife far back on the handle (some may argue, "you mean like a normal person?"), it feels unbalanced and awkward. We're asking you to be a little abnormal here. The real magic happens when you pinch the actual blade between your thumb and index finger, and wrap your other three fingers around the handle. With this grip you have far more control, both in cutting force and lateral action, and you'll prevent the knife from twisting or tilting. It may feel a bit awkward at first, but remember what we said at the beginning: practice, practice, practice.

Step 2: The Guiding Hand

Let's not leave the other hand out of this, because it also plays a crucial role in your cutting experience. When using a Chef knife, your other hand acts as a guide to feed food into your blade and help chop things up quickly, accurately, and most importantly safely.

And speaking of safety, the best way to keep all your fingers on your guiding hand is to be like an eagle. Okay, to be clear: this doesn't mean you should perch in trees and swoop down to pluck salmon out of the ocean; instead, hold your guiding hand like a talon:

With the ends of your fingers bent in, your Chef knife rests against your knuckles, unable to lop any pieces off accidentally. From here, you can guide food underneath your "claw" from the back using your thumb. Start slowly. As you become more comfortable with this technique, your speed will increase.

Step 3: Using Your Chef's Knife

For larger foods: Push through the food with the tip of your knife, gently touching the knife on the board as you finish your stroke at the back, or heel, of the blade

This technique is especially important on larger foods such as squash and turnips, which are challenging at the best of times. This motion keeps your hands in a safe location and focuses your cutting strength where it needs to be.

For smaller foods: It's all about the choo-choo train. Keep the blade on the board and move it in an elliptical fashion, just like a locomotive's wheels.

For mincing: This happens by quickly rocking your knife back and forth on your board across your food. This technique is important when chopping up herbs or making garlic and ginger as small as humanly possible. Keep chopping back and forth, occasionally gathering your food back into a pile, until you reach your desired consistency.

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