Five Knife Skills Every Chef Should Know

From entry-level cooks to the most successful chefs, the most commonly used skills in the kitchen are knife skills. Every culinary arts education is steeped in proper knife skills. And to progress from the entry-level jobs to a chef requires top notch knife skills.

Don’t fret if your knife skills aren’t up to par. Every California cooking school graduate and beginning prep cook has plenty of opportunity to practice those valuable skills. In fact, as a new member of a kitchen team, you may come to think that your knives have become part of your hand. You will cut early, and you will cut often. Prep work almost always means knife work.

In the mean time, let’s take a look at some of the most basic and important knife skills that you’ll be required to master during your culinary arts education.

Chop

This most basic of knife skills is simple to learn and the best for cutting proteins or produce that doesn’t have to be cut into uniform sizes. The most common chop uses the tip of the knife as a fulcrum while moving the knife up and down keeping the tip of the knife in contact with the cutting board. Take care to keep fingers away from the blade. Pros use their knuckles against the blade to protect finger tips.

Slice

Slicing differs from chopping in that a slice requires the blade to be come up from the cutting board. The tip of the blade is placed at the farthest point of the object to be cut at about a 45 degree angle. The first cut is away from you as you push the back of the blade through the object. The tip of the blade should touch the cutting board before the rear. Depending upon size, a backward cut that pulls the knife with the tip touch back through the object may be necessary.

Chiffonade

While technically classified as a cooking technique, chiffonade is also an important knife skill. It is used to cut herbs or leafy green vegetables into long strips for cooking or a garnish. First, stack the leaves into a pile and roll them tightly into a long, tight tube. Next, turn the tube a quarter turn and cut across it no more than 1/8 inch apart. This will produce fine ribbons of leaves.

Julienne

The julienne cut is a strip cut that results in uniform strips or matchstick-like cuts. A strip cut begins by cutting the food into uniform planks. Next stack the planks and cut into uniform strips. There are several strip cuts that include:

  • Fine Julienne - 1/16 inch × 1/16 inch × 2 inches
  • Julienne - 1/8 inch × 1/8 inch × 2½ inches
  • Allumette  - ¼ inch × ¼ inch × 2½-3 inches
  • Battonette - ½ inch × ½ inch × 2½-3 inches

Dice

The dice is a basic knife cut that results in food being cut into uniform cube shapes. All dice cuts begin with first doing a strip cut and turning the strips a quarter turn before cutting to your desired cube size. There are several dice shapes that include:

  • Fine Brunoise - 1/16 inch × 1/16 inch × 1/16 inch – begins with a fine julienne
  • Brunoise - 1/8 inch × 1/8 inch × 1/8 inch – begins with a julienne
  • Small Dice - ¼ inch × ¼ inch × ¼ inch – begins with an allumette
  • Medium Dice - ½ inch × ½ inch × ½ inch – begins with a battonette
  • Large Dice - ¾ inch × ¾ inch × ¾ inch – begins with a larger battonette cut

Even if you never go to a California cooking school and never work in a professional kitchen, mastering these basic knife skills will greatly improve your cooking and the taste of your food.

This article is presented by California Culinary Academy. California Culinary Academy offers culinary arts and pâtisserie and baking training programs in San Francisco, California. To learn more about the class offerings, please visit Chefs.edu/San-Francisco for more information.

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