Knife skills for newbies

Hi Everyone,

I’m brand new to Hungry Onion and relatively new to cooking. With the vast amount of cooking information available online, I was wondering if anyone had recommendations about where I could go to learn basic knife skills. When I say basic, I mean chopping, mincing, dicing, etc. I’d like to be able to know the difference between basic cuts when called for in a recipe as well as the ability to perform them relatively quickly. Any help is appreciated. Thanks!

Oh, start with Jacques Pepin! There are a few free videos out there if you search https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=jacques+pepin+video+knife+skills&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8

Once upon a time, the FoodNetwork had shows that demonstrated knife cuts, but they have gone away. Perhaps they are still available? Tyler Florence had a show called “how to boil water” or something like that. There are also classes that you can take in many areas of the country. Of course, they cost money, but might be worth your cash and time.

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Where do you live? Even some smaller cities have classes that include knife skills.

Welcome!

I second Pepin, and also recommend poking around on Martha Stewart’s website. I have pages from her defunct Everyday Food magazine that illustrate cuts. She may have videos on this. The PBS channel, Create, has shows by Pepin, Stewart, and the group at Cook’s Illustrated (America’s Test Kitchen)/Cooks Country.

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Well, I recommend a couple of video from Norman Weinstein (he teaches knife skill at CIA). He also has a book which you may want to buy later:

I would start with the High and Low Techniques

An Edge in the Kitchen is a great book. It includes knife history, knife selection, knife care, knife cut…etc. So it isn’t just about knife skill.

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YouTube has lots of videos. For a more community based way forward, local colleges which have catering departments often run short courses for non-professionals.

All good recommendations. Not only do you need to learn the cuts but how to accomplish them and keep your fingers intact. Curl those fingertips

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I concur, having sliced off 3 partial fingernails in the past 4 years in my distracted chopping. I still wince when thinking about it. The finger curl is not natural to most, but it’s key. You can also buy a finger guard like this, although it definitely slows your chopping a bit. But it does preserve your fingernails. :slight_smile:

I’ve never mastered the finger curl but since I am a home cook without a need for speed, and have short nails, it hasn’t been a big deal. The times I’ve cut myself have been when I mistakenly left a knife in the dishpan. When prepping an onion, I halve it pole-to-pole, then peel, leaving the skin attached at the root end. I press down on that bundle of skins, which anchors the onion half onto the cutting board. With this method, your fingers are completely out of the way.

Short of a video or book, I think the most important things to know are to 1) rest the heel of your hand on the handle, while pinching the top of the blade between thumb and index finger, and 2) slide the blade forward and down as you slice; don’t use a straight up&down chopping motion. This is especially important when working on hemispheres like onion halves, where the vertical chop can lead to the blade sliding off to one side, perhaps into your fingers.

Also worth mentioning: depending on your personal preference, you can often use a coarser cut with your vegetables than the recipe or the TV chef call for. I happen to favor chunkier texture in most soups and sauces, so I generally use a medium dice rather than smaller, or brunoise, and batons rather than matchsticks. Cuts like brunoise require more skill, and higher-quality knives.

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I’ve never taught myself the “curl” either and have teeny tiny cuts. I’ve done far worse with my mandoline.

When I first got my EdgePro sharpener and got my knives razor sharp I sliced the tip of my left index finger nearly clean off slicing a butternut squash using a pull back technique. The tip was hanging on by a little hinge. I had not really learned technique. I’ll save you the graphics but it was really messy

Stupid me, I pushed the tip back on and bandaged it tightly and kept working. I had dinner guests coming. Took nearly a month to heal but it looks normal now and works just fine. Lucky, because in retrospect it was really really dumb

Using a mandoline without the hand guard or a kevlar glove is asking for something very bad to happen to you.

Though the only time I ever SERIOUSLY cut myself was in college, before I knew better about keeping my knives sharp, and I nearly sliced off the tip of my finger while cutting raw chicken. And what did I do? Wrapped it in a paper towel and finished cutting, made dinner, ate, and by midnight, when the bleeding would not stop no matter how much pressure I used, I ended up at student services with 4 stiches to hold it together.

Shockingly, I did not suffer a massive avian flu episode.

Keep your knives sharp. Way safer.

In theory.

Yes you’re right, but when super sharp there is little resistance to slow it down. But it is a surgical clean cut :slight_smile:

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Sharp knives also means the knife will generally go where you intend it to go. Dull knife means you will saw at a the little tendon in raw chicken, the knife will slip and you’ll end up cutting you rather than your dinner.

That’s how it worked with me, anyway.

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If you have a Sur La Table or Viking store nearby, check if they offer classes. The local Clinic affiliate hospital offers cooking classes and may offer skills classes as well.

Thanks for so much feedback so quickly. I think I’ll start by taking a look at the online video resources posted and then maybe picking up a book or two. Right now, I work full time and take care of a toddler so I’m trying to find things that I can do at home after he’s in bed. I look forward to being able to share some of these things with him when he’s a little older although he already does a great job of picking leaves off herbs and snapping peas.

Thanks for the welcome! I was excited to come across your community. I’m in Phoenix but my life commitments at the moment make it difficult to sign up for an in person class or course. I do have evenings free when my son is asleep so I was hoping to get some practice in when all is quiet. :slight_smile:

I’m also in the Phoenix area. If/when you have some free time, there are several choices you have here. Easiest would be a one-day class at Sur la Table (Scottsdale, the only store with a kitchen). Some of the local culinary schools will have classes and/or an instructor willing to teach you. I was on staff at SCI (a looong time ago) and we regularly had requests for knife skills classes. Posted on the staff board, someone would usually make the private arrangements. Call Scottsdale Community College or AZ Culinary to see if there are any low-cost options. Even EVIT (East Valley Institute of Technology) is a possibility. When I was teaching “red finger-nailed ladies” I always recommended a 5# bag of potatoes and a couple of free hours. By the time you’ve gone through all these, you ought to be pretty confident. NB: a really sharp knife is a “must” otherwise, you’re wasting your time and risking injury. Also, slice a portion off the long side of the potato so that it lays flat on your cutting board. It’s easier to learn if you’re not fighting a rolling object. 2nd hint - a damp towel under your cutting board will make a motion-free surface. Please make certain that your board is large enough to be an actual work area. Those 8"X8" things ought to be illegal.
As others have pointed out, there is always YouTube.

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That really described my back-then mentality. Cut yourself? Burned yourself? No big deal. Keep cooking, eating and clean the dishes.

Sill in pain? Oh crap… maybe I should go to an emergency room afterall. Student service is cheaper though.

Can’t people just put fake fingernails?

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold