How to Mince Garlic and 9 Other Essential Knife Skills
Whether you're a college student or a seasoned homeowner, chances are you have at least a few kitchen knives. But how well do you know how to use them? Do you know how to mince garlic? How to chop an onion? What about julienning a carrot?
To help improve our knife skills, we went into the kitchen with Kasey McDonald, a chef who cut her teeth in the kitchen at Rick Bayless's Frontera Grill and who now works as a research and development chef at CSSI Marketing + Culinary in Chicago. McDonald earned her culinary arts degree from Kendall College, where she found herself in the kitchen working on knife skills practically "every day, all day." The constant drilling forces chefs to get comfortable with their tools, first by learning techniques and then by incorporating them into recipes.
Home cooks benefit from practicing too, but they shouldn't despair if slicing and dicing doesn't come naturally at first. "It feels awkward for the first three to six months," McDonald said, but correct repetition can turn even the clumsiest novice into an adept knife wielder. And there are badges of honor to look forward to, according to McDonald: "When you get really good, you get a callus."
In these videos, we show you the basics—from sharpening a knife to how to hold your stabilizing hand—and then cover seven classic knife cuts every cook should know.
How to Sharpen a Knife
What to do: Bring the base of the knife to the base of the honing steel, and drag the blade all the way from the base to the tip at a 10º angle. Complete this movement an equal amount of times on both sides of the knife. Wipe the blade down with a clean rag when you're finished.
Why you should do it: Ever cut a tomato with a dull knife? It's not pretty. A sharp knife has a smaller surface area than a dull knife, so you can use less pressure when cutting.
How to Hold a Knife
What to do: Position your index-finger knuckle on the blade, close to where it meets the handle. Keep the thumb wrapped around the other side so it can guide the blade. Lightly wrap the middle, ring, and pinkie fingers around the handle.
Why you should do it: By gripping firmly with the index finger and thumb, you can better direct the blade for more accurate cuts. The other three fingers work to support your movement.
What to Do with Your Other Hand
What you do: Place your fingertips directly on the surface of the food, with the nails perpendicular to the surface. Keep the thumb tucked back and resting on the side of the food.
Why you should do it: It's a safety precaution that'll help you avoid slicing off the tip of a finger. The thumb also works to stabilize the food as you're slicing it on your cutting board.
7 Essential Knife Skills
How to Mince
What it looks like: very finely divided pieces, small enough to resemble cornmeal
Use it on: garlic, ginger, and anything really intense in flavor
Recipes that call for it: stir-fry, roasted potatoes, cheesy bread, sautéed broccolini, and endless other dishes generally demand that you how to mince garlic
How to Rough Chop
What it looks like: large pieces that aren't necessarily uniform in size
Use it on: onions, potatoes, and any other vegetables you're going to sauté and put into a dish when presentation isn't a factor
Recipes that call for it: potato hash or a veggie-packed omelet
How to Chiffonade
What it looks like: very thin ribbons
Use it on: basil, mint, and other leafy herbs or greens
Recipes that call for it: caprese salad or a mint-garnished dessert
The next four cuts are precise and uniform to ensure each piece is done cooking at the same time. You should begin each cut by squaring off your food.
How to Batonnet
What it looks like: uniform, stick-like pieces roughly 1/4 inch on each side and 2–2 1/2 inches long
Use it on: potatoes, carrots, and anything you're going to blanch and fry
Recipes that call for it: french fries or a crudités plate
How to Small Dice
What it looks like: uniform cubes roughly 1/4 inch on each side
Use it on: peppers, carrots, or anything you're going to blanch and then sear
Recipes that call for it: the carrots in arroz con pollo
How to Julienne
What it looks like: uniform, matchstick-like pieces roughly 1/8 inch on each side and 2–2 1/2 inches long
Use it on: carrots, celery, and other vegetables when presentation is a factor
Recipes that call for it: veggie slaw or honey-glazed carrots
How to Brunoise
What it looks like: uniform cubes roughly 1/8 inch on each side
Use it on: vegetables going into a soup or sauce, or a garnish that's going to be left raw
Recipes that call for it: tomato concasse or a consommé garnish