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Aug 24, 2011 10:28 AM

Knife Skills

I've recently begun the study of using my cook's knife properly. Obviously, this takes practice. I'm not crazy about cutting up food that I'm not planning on using (seems wasteful). I'm wondering if anyone has any ideas for what I could use so I don't waste food?

Specifically, is there something I could cut that I could put back together and then try again? Dough, Playdough?



El Bandito

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  1. Just cut the foods you're planning to eat. Knife skills include knowing how to cut for specific dishes, because the types of cut may affect the cooking time, final consistency, and the final appearance of the dish. You won't get that from just cutting playdoh..

    Every ingredient will have different textures and shapes. Practicing on a lump of playdoh will make you an expert in cutting playdoh, not chicken, onions, carrots, or leeks.

    Finally, knowing how to hold an object while using a knife is half of the challenge. You learn that from actually cutting those objects. Again, there are some big differences between holding chicken, onions, carrots, and leeks.

    Good luck.

    1 Reply
    1. re: raytamsgv

      "Practicing on a lump of playdoh will make you an expert in cutting playdoh, not chicken, onions, carrots, or leeks."

      +1 Excellent advice raytamsgv.Use real food!

      Go slow and easy to start.Try curling your fingers like a claw,use a sharp knife.

      I'm sure there's some good YouTube videos out there

    2. I think Playdough could be a way to start if you have virtually no knife skills. There's no reason why you couldn't use it to practice holding a knife, guarding your fingers, leaning how to cut/slide rather than cutting straight down. I think you have a good idea there; it certainly couldn't hurt. (An aside. When I needed to learn how to use a computer many decades ago, I was very timid because my job was writing and I was always afraid of losing something, not making deadline etc. My "teacher" told me to spend a weekend just writing to learn, without worrying about losing it etc. That worked for me and I think playdough would give you that same no worries about wasting food, not getting the meal cooked on time etc.)

      1. Make some vegetable soup, or a salad (or some pickles) featuring a lot of julienned vegetables. Lots of practice, and even if they don't look perfect, it'll still taste good. Or, volunteer at a local soup kitchen or other organization that makes food for people. You can get your practice and help others at the same time.

        My other advice is to go slowly at first. Focus on accuracy, and speed will come later. I am not really a fan of class learning, even for practical subjects, but I also really found that taking a short knife skills course was really helpful -- having someone guide my hand through the motion helped me understand how the movement should feel in a way that reading books or watching videos never did.

        1 Reply
        1. re: will47

          "Make some vegetable soup, or a salad (or some pickles) featuring a lot of julienned vegetables"

          I tell people who are practicing to do this all the time. If you make a potato soup or mashed potatoes you can get a lot of practice for pennies if you practice with potatoes. Peel the potatoes with a knife, then julienne, then brunoise etc...You can buy a 50# box of potatoes wholesale for less than $20.

        2. If you're a real beginner, I could see something like playdough being good for basic technique. Make an inch-thick, long roll of playdough (think carrot shaped) and work on cutting with a smooth push cutting or rock chopping technique while effectively controlling thickness of the cuts with your off-hand (held in the claw shape). A very basic video:

          Note- you're best off with the side of the knife resting against your knuckles as a kind of guide - the video doesn't really show this.

          For a brunoise, a dice, a julienne, batonnets - you're better off practicing with real foodstuffs. Find excuses to make things that require interesting knife cuts. For things like mirepoix, you can use whatever cut you want to practice. Also, your knife doesn't care if food is past its prime or discolored. Rather than just throwing food out, find an excuse to cut it up first. You also may be able to get produce from your local supermarket past its prime if you ask around - it's cheap, makes good practice, and would just get thrown out otherwise.

          Keep in mind that a lot of knife techniques are specific to what you're cutting. You'll need to practice with the correct ingredient to work on:
          - Dicing an onion efficiently or mincing a shallot
          - Cutting rounds of a large vegetable like a potato
          - Filleting a fish (different fish fillet differently, also
          )- Breaking down a chicken
          - Trimming silverskin from meat, or most types of butchery
          - Cutting corn off a cob
          - Cutting herbs into a nice chiffonade
          - Dicing a mango
          - Skinning an apple (with a paring knife)
          - Filleting a whole pepper in one smooth cut

          There are plenty of other examples. Cutting chives isn't quite the same as cutting green onions which is far different from cutting a potato. The point is that people who are good at using knives do two things
          1) they look for new techniques to learn and practice
          2) they cut a lot of stuff (this is easier for a professional)

          You're off to a good start, as I haven't seen too many people willing to practice beyond what they need for dinner.

          I know you didn't ask, but I will leave you with this advice - make sure your knife is sharp, that you have a way of sharpening it regularly (either yourself or a trusted pro). It really makes a huge difference in terms of how efficiently you can use it and also how much fun you have.

          3 Replies
          1. re: cowboyardee

            Norman Weinstein video does not really show the techniques in cutting playdough. I would suggest this one. Several techniques were demonstrated: the high and low techniques, the fast back and forth slicing techniques, food transfer using knife technique. ...etc:


            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              That kid is a natural. Gives me a few ideas to try out with baby cowb in a little while.

              1. re: cowboyardee

                "Gives me a few ideas to try out with baby cowb"

                :) These are the initiation of manhood. A plastic knife and playdough.

          2. Which knives do you have that you want to develop skills using?