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Knife technique

n
nickblesch Nov 1, 2008 11:46 PM

Hello all,

I wasn't sure whether to stick this here or on the Midwest board, so I apologize in advance if I chose poorly. :D

First off: I'm in Indianapolis, IN.

On to my question: I am a fairly decent home cook - you won't find foie gras in my kitchen, but there's always plenty of Thai, Persian, and Italian food. Anyway, I'm not bad with a knife, but it's definitely the bottleneck in my cooking. (I can usually time things right, etc, so that the mashed potatoes aren't getting cold while the steak rests or whatever.) Thus, I would love to take a class or two on knife technique, but the only cooking school-type place I'm aware of here in town (Kiss ze Cook) looks pretty jank. I'm sure there are others, and I wondered if anyone here had any recommendations?

Thanks in advance!

  1. k
    knecht Nov 5, 2008 06:06 PM

    Having taught a few people knife skills I have noticed several tendencies among beginners.

    1. They often try to cut starting too far forward on the blade, which forces them to lift the knife up so high that it is very awkward to handle (this is assuming one is using a cook's knife and keeping the tip in contact with the cutting board).

    2. I prefer to hold the blade by pinching it at the bolster (I think most trained cooks do). Keeping a grip on just the handle feels far less secure to me.

    3. It's important to get a feel for when the knife has a secure enough start that you can start putting more downward-forward pressure on the cut. The first part of the motion is just getting the blade to catch enough that it will stay put once you start using more pressure.

    4. Learn to keep your fingers (at least those you want to keep) curled when holding whatever you are cutting.

    5. Get some type of sharpening tool (steel, ceramic stick, etc) and learn how to keep the blade sharp with it. Dull knives are dangerous and
    frustrating to use.

    6. Better to cut slowly and safely than waste time looking for a band-aid (or worse).

    1. Candy Nov 3, 2008 05:27 AM

      If you don't mind a trip to Bloomington, the Bloomington Cooking School has a knife skills class taught by chef Matt O'Neil, quarterly. The next class should be coming up in Jan. or Feb. www.bloomingtoncookingschool.com

      My other thought was Sur La Table in Carmel too.

      1. scubadoo97 Nov 2, 2008 07:21 AM

        Can you be specific on what areas you wish to get better at. Any particular style like classic French or Japanese methods they are quite different?
        One tip is to limit tissue damage and try to accomplish any cut in one motion. A very sharp knife is essential to good knife skills.

        13 Replies
        1. re: scubadoo97
          todao Nov 2, 2008 09:13 AM

          I just want to endorse the point you made about "very sharp knife is essential to good knife skills" and to offer that the selection of the proper knife for the job may be similarly essential. I've seen people struggle in the kitchen because they either chose the wrong knife for the job or one that wasn't properly sharpened. It's not a beautiful thing to watch.

          1. re: todao
            j
            janeh Nov 2, 2008 10:09 AM

            A year or two ago at a Montessori School raffle I won a two hour cooking lesson with an excellent local chef. I used the lesson for learning better knife techniques rather than for a showy recipe or cooking technique. It was great fun and I'd suggest looking for a similar opportunity.

            1. re: todao
              scubadoo97 Nov 2, 2008 01:15 PM

              I agree, my wife refuses to use the vast selection of razor sharp Japanese knives and will use a 4" German paring knife for most jobs. Thankfully she doesn't do much in the way of food prep or I would worry more about her.

            2. re: scubadoo97
              n
              nickblesch Nov 2, 2008 09:39 PM

              First off, thanks to everyone for the suggestions! (I requested the recommended books from the library - I assume the Knife Skills Illustrated is the one by Peter Hertzmann?)

              I'm not looking for any particular style of knife work, I suppose, although I may simply be saying that out of ignorance. I cook a wide variety of cuisine depending on my mood (and what's on sale this week at Kroger), and so I find myself working with a similarly wide variety of ingredients. I use meat of some sort in most meals, and other than standard aromatics, my most commonly used fruits and veggies include bell peppers, broccoli, apples, pears, and limes/lemons.

              I currently have an 8" Classic Wusthof chef's knife that is my main knife - I use it for practically everything (it's fairly new, thus still quite sharp). I have an 8" Classic Wusthof bread knife that I use pretty much exclusively for bread (although I found it easier to use for carving a turkey than the chef's knife). I have an okay-ish 4.5" paring knife that I use primarily for taking apart fruit. I looked around a lot before picking out the chef's knife - I like the heavy feel of German knives rather than the lighter Japanese ones.

              Finally, it's the one-cut motion that I have trouble with. I don't know if it's lack of practice, still, after 6 years of living on my own and teaching myself to cook, or if I am simply incompetent, lol, but I just can't seem to get the motions right. (Also, I'm 6'5" - I've often wondered if maybe the coutertop is just a bit short for me?) I'll check out YouTube as well, but I tend to be better with someone standing over yelling at me until I get something right - that being why I'd like a class.

              Very helpful so far - thanks again!

              1. re: nickblesch
                Richard 16 Nov 2, 2008 11:20 PM

                I can still hear my Japanese teacher telling me "slide the knife". Whether it's the rocking motion often found in a more French method or the horizontally held Japanese approach, "slide the knife".

                With a very sharp knife you use very little pressure; ideally you could pinch the end of the handle, slide the knife, and the weight of the blade will do the work. (Not that you'd actually cut that way.) The relatively lighter touch is easier to control as well, Obviously harder stuff will require some work,

                It also makes for a much cleaner cut. Try cutting straight down and then with sliding. The cut surfaces withe the sliding should be a lot smoother.

                1. re: nickblesch
                  UnConundrum Nov 3, 2008 03:48 AM

                  First question, when were your knives last sharpened? Best quality tools won't help unless you maintain them properly. It's amazing what a properly sharpened knife will do for your knife skills :)
                  Second, I wouldn't think it would affect your knife skills, but at 6'5 I'm sure your counters are too low, and will contribute to back pain. Get a thick wooden board and see if you can safely build it up some to raise your work surface. If you do a lot of cooking you may want to consider having some custom counters made.
                  Lastly, a second here for Chad's book. It's great to have on hand.

                  1. re: nickblesch
                    scubadoo97 Nov 3, 2008 04:49 AM

                    "Finally, it's the one-cut motion that I have trouble with"

                    I will guess that it has more to do with your knife's edge and sharpness than your skill or technique. German knives are often thicker than Japanese knives and even when sharp will not fall through food as well but my old 8" Henckle chef knife is far more efficient now than it use to be.

                    Oh, and don't think because your knife is new that it's as sharp as it can be. You would be amazed at how much better it can be than when it came out of the box.

                    1. re: nickblesch
                      b
                      Bouland Nov 3, 2008 06:26 AM

                      In addition to the book "Knife Skills Illustrated", I'd suggest viewing a video that I made that boils knife use down to three essentials. It's at http://xrl.us/kkq7y . If you look around the same site you'll also find an article on keeping knives sharp.

                      Chad's book is good for general information about knives and it is the most complete of the seven knife-skills books currently available when it comes to sharpening knives yourself—he also writes with the most humor—but there is less specific technique information relating to each vegetable or fruit.

                      Peter Hertzmann

                      1. re: Bouland
                        scubadoo97 Nov 3, 2008 08:35 AM

                        I have only one issue with the video and that's the sawing motion. When cutting the shallot he was sawing back in forth to create the dice. Really could be done in one motion, forward or backward which ever is more comfortable but no need to go back and forth. If the knife is sharp it should slide through cleanly without this sawing motion.

                        1. re: scubadoo97
                          b
                          Bouland Nov 3, 2008 01:25 PM

                          No problem, the issue is that to work best one must slice with a knife rather than chop. My experience in teaching knife skills classes is that most students want to simply push the knife through the food rather than slice. If you can do it with one forward motion, fine. If it takes a back and forth motion, that's fine too.

                          1. re: Bouland
                            UnConundrum Nov 4, 2008 03:14 PM

                            I understand that you're teaching, but a properly sharpened Japanese style knife will push right through the food, and to do so is a proper technique for some things....

                            1. re: UnConundrum
                              scubadoo97 Nov 5, 2008 06:02 AM

                              Thanks. Not enough people have experienced a knife falling through a tomato. Horizontal cuts in an onion in one swipe of the blade.

                              1. re: scubadoo97
                                UnConundrum Nov 5, 2008 05:06 PM

                                That should be "restrained swipe." Sliced right through many a time ;)

                  2. scubadoo97 Nov 2, 2008 06:46 AM

                    There are plenty of books available like An Edge In The Kitchen by Chad Ward. Youtube has plenty of knife technique short videos as well. Knife skills are an essential skill and one to be honed for sure.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: scubadoo97
                      nofunlatte Nov 2, 2008 06:53 AM

                      Good points, scubadoo. I have one such book (Knife Skills Illustrated) that I've found quite useful--and the author has illustrations and instructions for both left-handers and right-handers.

                    2. nofunlatte Nov 2, 2008 06:18 AM

                      You might get more replies if you post this on the Midwest board. That said, Ivy Tech has a culinary program, so you might want to see if they have any sort of knife skills classes. Perhaps they even offer something along the lines of continuing education.

                      ETA: Also, you could contact Sur La Table in Carmel to see if they ever offer knife skills courses.

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