Knowing Your Knife Cuts: 9 Basic Knife Skills to Master
Knowing your knife cuts can make a world of difference when it comes to cooking. Having your ingredients prepared properly helps it to cook evenly and distribute flavors as the recipe intends.
But don't let fancy words intimidate you when it comes to knife work. Chefs have to learn these from the beginning too! And with a little knowledge and practice, you'll chop food like a less British Gordon Ramsay. Or more British, depending on where you're reading this from.
First thing, you need a good and sharp chef's knife. A sharp knife is a reliable knife and when it comes to precise knife cuts, the sharper the better. Dull knives can catch or slip, causing you to mess up your cuts (and also, injury like losing a finger). Our Endurance® Chef's Knife is made from carbon German Steel, has a sharp cutting edge, and a comfortable handle so you can chop and dice with ease.
You also need to know how to properly hold your knife. This helps to prevent accidents in the kitchen and repetitive motion injuries. Grip your handle without using your pointer finger to balance the top of the knife and remember to keep your anchor hand (the hand that holds the food) with the fingertips curved under your knuckles. It may take some getting used to, but learning how to properly use a knife will help you to safely and effectively cook in the kitchen.
Now that we've covered that, let's get on to the fun stuff - the basic cuts to master! We're using carrots to demonstrate these different knife skills. You want to cut them into the shape below, squaring off each side (this is called "topping and tailing").
Don't worry about the extra scraps, because you can use them to make stocks for soup (or throw them at your begging dog sitting just outside the kitchen waiting for scraps).
Basic Knife Cuts
You'll notice that many knife cuts have French names. Much of the culinary world is steeped in French cooking culture, so it makes sense that these methods maintained their French nom de choix.
So let's cut into the knife skills. All recipes call for a specific cut of the ingredients, which affects their appearance and taste. We'll be going into the most basic of cuts that you run into for typical recipes.
In French, "batonnet" means "little stick". Many use the batonnet as the starting point for other cuts, especially a small dice as the measurements are close. The batonnet cut measures 1/4 inch x 1/4 inch on the sides and about 2-3 inches long. First, cut 1/4 inch slabs, stack those on top of each other, and then cut into 1/4 inch sticks.
2. Julienne / matchstick / alumette
The Julienne cut, or matchstick (alumette in French), is called that because, well, it looks like a matchstick. Many use the Julienne as the starting point for the brunoise cut. The cut measures 1/8 inch x 1/8 inch and is about 1-2 inches long. Use the exact same method as cutting a batonnet. The julienne cut is perfect for salads and slaws.
3. Large Dice
The large dice is ideal for foods like hearty stews, soups, or roasted root vegetables. The cut measures 3/4 inches on all sides. Start by cutting a larger version of the batonnet and then cubing it off.
4. Medium Dice
The medium dice is the perfect cut for soups, ratatouille, or shakshuka. The cut measures 1/2 inches on each side.
5. Small Dice
The small dice is the kind of cut you want when making a mirepoix (or that mixture you saute that includes carrots, onions, and celery). The evenness of the cut will ensure even cooking and flavor distribution. The cut measures 1/4 inches on each side. The starting point for this cut is the batonnet.
To make a brunoise cut, start with a julienne. The brunoise is one of those cuts that works well for peppers and onions. The brunoise will give you the most flavor and kick. This cut measures 1/8 inch on all sides
7. Fine Brunoise
A fine brunoise is the standard cut in French cooking; you mainly use it in creating sauces. Typically, this cut is applied to include carrots, leeks, celery, onion, potatoes, and sometimes turnip. If a recipe calls for "a brunoise" but doesn't give any other specifics, it means a mixture of these veggies in this cut, sauteed in butter. The cut measures 1/16 inches on all sides.
Finer than a fine brunoise. The tiniest of dices, the mince cubes something really, really small to all get out. You'll normally see recipes calling for minced garlic or minced onions and if you don't have a Garlic Cube handy, then you'll need some good knife skills. The smaller the cut, the more the taste dissipates in the recipe (which means a stronger flavor). So if you want something super garlicky, go with the mince.
Chiffonade. It's just a fun word to say. But if you're cutting leafy greens and herbs, it's a really handy cut to know. Take leaves from your veggie or herb of choice (like spinach, basil, or sage) and roll them into a cigar shape. Cut horizontally into thin strips. This technique is typically used for garnish, but also works well to finely shred kale or other crunchier greens for soups, salads, or slaws.
Learning these basic cutting techniques lays the groundwork to keep your knife skills sharp. Once you master these, other more complicated cuts come easily, especially when you get comfortable holding a chef's knife. Always remember as well to have a great wooden cutting board. The right cutting board helps to keep your knife sharper for longer and not catch any edges. Avoid plastic or glass cutting boards, as they slip more easily and create chips in knives.
Happy knife cutting!