If you’re spending any time in the kitchen preparing your own food, knowing some of the basic knife cuts is a crucial piece of the proverbial puzzle. And although good knife-work makes food look pretty dang nice, it also serves several functional roles in the kitchen.
Consistent knife cuts ensure that everything cooks evenly because everything is the same size. In addition, properly handling a knife is going to prevent you from hurting yourself. So, whether you’re cooking our Mongolian Steak Bowls, or going south-of-the-border with the Street Corn Salsa that appears in our Vegetarian Tacos, knowing your knife cuts is a great place to start.
But Before We Start Slicing and Dicing…
- If you like your fingers attached, make sure your knife is sharp. A dull knife requires more force and is more likely to slip when cutting veggies, which makes it much more dangerous than a well-honed blade.
- Be sure to hold your vegetable with your fingertips curled inward and away from the blade, claw-style.
The basic chop is going to be your bread-and-butter for just getting it done. Use this cut where precision and appearance aren’t super important. To chop, cut your vegetable into small enough chunks that several can fit onto a large spoon.
You can find this cut in our Lamb Meatloaf with Adobo-Tomato Dressing, Paired with Pecan-Mashed Sweet Potatoes. Before boiling the sweet potatoes, chop them into medium-sized pieces. This will ensure even, quick cooking.
Mincing is great for use with small vegetables that need to be evenly incorporated into a dish. Most commonly, mincing is used with fresh garlic, like in the Ricotta-Garlic Bread that’s served alongside our Steak with Rosemary-Roasted Tricolor Potatoes.
To mince garlic, peel the clove and slice it lengthwise. Turn those slices perpendicular to your blade and give them a chop. Repeat this until the garlic is cut into tiny, similarly-sized pieces.
Pro-tip: Keep chopping even more to create homemade garlic paste!
To dice a vegetable is to simply cut it into cubes. Within the dice cut, though, there are three distinct sizes: large dice (approximately ¾-inch), medium dice (½-inch), and small dice (¼-inch). Before you go grabbing the ruler, though, these measurements are approximate. The exact size is not as important as consistency.
To dice, first slice off any round sides of your vegetable. This will give you flat edges that you can safely hold against your cutting board. Then, cut the squared vegetable into slabs that are the width of your desired dice. Then, cut those slabs into long batons, and finally into cubes.
Dicing is a popular cut for use in salsas like the one in our Tilapia Tacos with Pineapple-Corn Salsa, Avocado, and Lime Crema.
We’re moving into fancier cuts here, so make sure that knife is sharp. The julienne is a long, matchstick-like cut that is often found in stir-frys, coleslaws, and other veg-heavy dishes. One popular use of the julienne is when caramelizing onions, like in the Caramelized Red Onion and Pine Nut Farro which appears here.
The simplest way to do a julienne is to cut your vegetable into large planks of your desired length and thickness, stack them on top of one another, and then slice those planks finely.
A rondelle is basically a nice, pretty coin. This straightforward cut is particularly useful with carrots, like those in our Roasted Carrot and Pistachio Penne.
To make a rondelle, hold your knife perpendicular to the vegetable and make even slices, about ⅛ to ½-inch thick.
When it comes to leafy herbs like mint or basil, the chiffonade is the cut to know.
Fresh herbs are full of flavorful oils, and if you cut them too much, those oils get pressed out of the leaves. If you’ve ever chopped some herbs, only to find a green-stained cutting board… you’ve gone a little too far. To allow these oils to properly express, without smashing them into your cutting board, try the chiffonade.
To chiffonade, gather a pile of leaves from your desired herb. Neatly stack several of them on top of one another, and then roll them up into a tight, cigar-like tube. Slice the herbs into thin ribbons, and that’s it! This is a great way to handle the fresh, bright mint found in the Mint-Yogurt Sauce on our Mediterranean Quinoa Bowls.
Now that you’ve reached the end of this handy cheat sheet, you’re now one step closer to being the best cook in town!