Danville Express

Living - March 2, 2007

Epicure: A cut above: Slicin' and dicin' your way in the kitchen

by Jacqui Love Marshall

Carpenters, gardeners and surgeons are quick to admit that their handiwork is only as good as the tools and instruments they use. And the same rule of thumb applies to cooking. Inspired cooking requires a reliable stove/oven, great utensils and, above all, good knives. A sharp blade with the right grip paired with a few basic cutting skills can make a noticeable difference in your culinary results.

Even if you also use your Cuisinart, Kitchen-Aid and other prep appliances to manage some of your chopping and slicing tasks, all cooks should master the standard cuts by hand. Moreover, food cut into same-size bites will aid in uniform cooking and browning, enhancing food texture and flavors, and improving the aesthetic and tasting value of any dish.

Knife basics:

You don't need dozens of knives - just a few well-made ones that are kept clean, sharp and cared for. You'll want at least four different styles:

* Paring: A short-blade knife used mainly for precise cutting, like peeling, coring and trimming.

* Serrated: A knife with scalloped teeth allows for cutting through soft foods like breads, tomatoes and cakes without crushing them.

* Slicing: This knife has a long flexing blade for slicing meats or filleting fish.

* Chef's: Its long, broad blade has weight and leverage to handle chopping a variety of fruits, vegetables and other ingredients.

Purchase a sharpening stone to keep your knives sharp and in their best shape. Or, if you don't have the time or inclination to sharpen them yourself, inquire about knife sharpening at your local grocer. Many grocers offer special knife sharpening days or drop-off services. Treat your knives and yourself to regular re-sharpening as needed. You'll notice the difference as you cut and cook.

Cutting basics:

Before cutting, it's advisable to anchor your cutting board by placing a damp paper towel or dish towel underneath. This should prevent any slippage. Also, it will be easier to achieve uniform pieces if you trim odd-shaped food items so they have four straight sides. With large items, like onions, cut the item into large chunks (halves, quarters, etc.), then cut sections into smaller and smaller pieces to achieve the desired size and thickness.

The best knife grip is holding the handle close to the blade and using your thumb and forefinger to grasp the blade. Then, with your other hand, holding down the item to be cut, curl your fingers/thumb under and begin cutting with easy top-down-to-bottom-down motions. Use your curled fingers to move the un-cut part of the item toward the blade as you chop off pieces. The more you practice this technique, the faster and more fluid your cutting skills will become.

Even if you don't consider yourself a master at cutting now, you probably employ the 12 standard types of cuts already. It's helpful to mentally group them by shape and size:

Very small

Brunoise: Very small cubes, 1/8" and uniform size

Chiffonade: Cuts of thin, fine ribbons, mostly herbs and greens rolled up and cut

Mince: Very small pieces but not uniform shape; often for onion, garlic, ginger, herbs, etc.


Dice: Smaller uniform cubes, 1/4" Medium Dice: Same size cubes, 1/2"

Julienne: Narrow, thin strips, 1-2" long and 1/16" thick

Fine Chop: Small pieces similar in size but irregular shape


Medium Dice: Same size cubes, 1/2"

Matchstick: Smaller than baton cuts, 1-2" long and 1/8" thick

Coarse Chop: Large pieces, usually in rough shapes & uniform size


Large Dice: Uniform cubes, 3/4" or larger

Baton: The widest stick cuts, 1-2" long and 1/4" thick

Bias Cut: Medium to large pieces cut on an angle; often for stir-fry and garnishes

So, sharpen those knives and hone those cutting skills! The combo will ensure that your culinary achievements are a cut above the rest.

Jacqui Love Marshall lives in Danville with her vintage-car-loving husband, two pugs and binders of recipes. Her column runs every other week. E-mail her at Epicure@DanvilleWeekly.com.


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