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Everything You Need To Know About Knife Techniques (From A Professional)

Published: 
Tuesday, September 18, 2018
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A chef’s tools, specifically the chef knife, is considered an extension of the chef him/herself. After years of use and practice, seasoned chefs gain the ability to use their knives with the fluidity of a master painter’s brush stroke. On the other hand, the average home cook may casually chop or dice items the fastest way they can which often results in the final product lacking uniformity or consistency. Professionals practice proper knife techniques for a few reasons including the fact that uniformly cut items will also cook uniformly, they are more visually appealing and result in an overall higher quality, end product.

Today, we will go through the various knife cuts with explanations so you can upgrade both your kitchen skills and overall ‘put-in-house-ability’. The French are credited with being the first at formalising cooking as a professional skill and are touted to have the best cuisine in the industry. As a result, classical French cuisine is most widely taught as the basis for culinary education, hence culinary manuals use mostly French terms for the various techniques and skills. This means that by default this is a bit of a French lesson as well, being that the names of the cuts are French—lucky you.

Before we go right into the techniques, it must be stated that safety and efficiency are key in any kitchen environment and as such, there are proper ways in which to hold a knife. The hand which holds the knife should employ something known as the pinch grip. This entails holding the blade of the knife, pinched between the index finger and thumb, while the other three fingers control the handle of the knife. This allows more control and manoeuvrability of the blade in addition to being more ergonomically favourable. The hand which holds the item to be cut should employ a technique known as the cat’s paw. This entails curling the fingers in toward the palm while the blade remains annexed to the knuckles, ensuring that it is never angled either inward or outward throughout the cutting process. The thumb must also remain curled behind the fingers and is used to control the item to be cut; whether to feed or retreat it to or from the blade respectively.

Combining these techniques are oftentimes uncomfortable at first but with practice, it ensures that one can work with the highest degree of efficiency and the most safely.

The following are the various knife cuts used in professional kitchens with explanations and in some cases, dimensions of what the cuts should be according to classical French cuisine.

Fine Julienne

This cut measures 1/16 x 1/16 x 2 ½ inches. They are very fine strips often used for garnishes and items such as potatoes, carrots and celery.

Julienne

This cut measures ⅛ x ⅛ x 2 ½ inches. They are fine strips also used mostly for garniture because of how delicate they are.

Fine Brunoise (pronounced broon-wahz)

This cut is derived from the fine julienne and measures 1/16 in x 1/16 in x 1/16 inches. These are the smallest cuts and are used for garnishing.

Brunoise

These are derived from the julienne and measure ⅛ x ⅛ x ⅛ inches. Commonly used for garnishing as well, and may be seen in thin, clear soups such as consommé.

Allumette

Also known as matchstick cuts, these measure ¼ x ¼ x 2 ½ inches. This cut is usually used on vegetables and ensures that the item is cooked evenly and quickly.

Macedoine (small dice)

These measure ¼ x ¼ x ¼ inches and are derived from the allumette cut. Again, this allows quick and uniform cooking.

Batonnet

These look like little sticks and is actually a crude translation of the term. They measure ½ x ½ x 2 ½ inches.

Parmentier (medium dice)

These are derived from the batonnet and measure ½ x ½ x ½ inches. It’s a good rule of thumb technique to use when a recipe book doesn’t specify exactly what size to dice items.

Carre (large dice)

These cubes measure ¾ x ¾ x ¾ inches and may be used in hearty soups or other items that allow for a longer cooking time, considering the size of this cut.

Paysanne

This word translates into “peasant style” and are simply even slices of an item in their natural shape. There is another train of thought that describes the paysanne as being slices of an item that has the shape of two straight sides that come to a point, while the other side is rounded but many chefs refute that description.

Lozenge

This is a diamond shape cut with the dimensions ½ x ½ x ⅛-inches. These can be used as garnish and help make attractive presentations when all are cut uniformly.

Rondelle

The rondelle or “round” cut are even slices of a round item. Items such as carrots, daikon radish and parsnips are often cut with this technique because of their naturally round shape. The slices may range between ⅛ to ½ inches.

Tourné

Also known as ‘turns’, this is a cut that is considered difficult to master as the end product must have a barrel or rugby ball shape with seven equal sides. Items cut into tourné are always used in a visible way in a dish because of how much work it takes and how much wastage it has the potential to create as there is a large amount of trim left behind after shaping the item.

Chiffonade

This cut is generally used on leafy vegetables such as cabbage, lettuce or herbs. The technique requires rolling a number of leaves into a tight log shape, after which they are finely shredded using a chef’s knife. All slices of the log must be uniform and have a thickness of between 1/16-inch to ⅛-inch.

There you have it; all the basic knife cuts used in professional kitchens. While some may argue that you can cut items in any number of shapes and sizes, these are the ones most commonly used in classical French cuisine. There may be one particular cut that I have left out—the French term used when one cuts one’s hand trying all these fancy techniques. I don’t know how to say it in French myself but when it happens the French words that immediately enter my mind are expletives… and this is a family friendly newspaper.

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