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Kitchen Fundamentals: Basic Knife Skills

1 Onion, diced
2 Tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 Jalapeno, finely diced
2 Cloves Garlic, minced

As someone who writes recipes for a living, it’s my job to make cooking easy and enjoyable for others. I suppose my “job satisfaction” comes when people tell me that a recipe of mine turned out to be one of their favorite meals. However, I’m not always so lucky.

Things that may seem clear to me can look like hieroglyphs to others.

For example, check out the list of ingredients at the top of the page. Hopefully, the ingredients themselves are recognizable to everyone. What may not be so clear is the actual state of the ingredients. What do I mean by diced, chopped, minced?

Honestly, it’s somewhat of a gray area.

You see, each writer, chef, cook, etc., has their own explanation of such terms. Some go as far as providing exact descriptions–“dice your tomatoes into ½ inch cubes .” I suppose that’s nice, but such rigid descriptions remind me of baking–not my forte.

I’d rather not pull out a Webster dictionary, so instead I’ve put together a simple picture to demonstrate the following state of ingredients in descending order based on size: Roughly Chopped, Julienned, Diced, Finely Diced, and Minced. Keep in mind that this is my definition. You or others may envision a fine dice to be finer, or a rough chop to be rougher . . . that’s okay. I come from the school of thought where recipes are meant more to be guidelines than scientific formulas. Again, that’s probably the reason why baking is not my strong suit.

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Podcast #186: The Legend and Reality of Frank Sinatra
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kitchen knife skills chop diced minced peppers

When working with peppers as pictured, always cut from the inside out–the waxy outer surface can cause the knife to slip.

I’ve put together a few picture reels to assist you in learning some of the very basic knife skills. Specifically, I’ve included photos on the best way to go about dicing an onion, mincing/pasting garlic, and finely chopping herbs. I find that these are the skills that I use most in preparing meals.

How to Dice an Onion

By keeping the root end intact, this method ensures that you can quickly dice an entire onion without creating a mess. Keep in mind that the more narrow your incisions, the finer the dice.

dicing dice an onion slicing off top

Step 1: Slice off the top of the onion, about ½ an inch into the surface.

dicing cutting onion slicing vertically in half

Step 2: Rest the onion vertically, slice in half through the root end, and peel back the outer layer.

cutting slicing onion vertical incisions with kitchen knife

Step 3: Make vertical incisions down to the root end.

cutting slicing onion horizontal cuts incisions

Step 4: Make horizontal incisions down to the root end.

slicing cutting onion dicing small pieces

Step 5: Dice the onion accordingly and repeat with the remaining half.

How to Mince Garlic

This method will allow you to quickly peel and mince garlic. By smashing the entire clove, you also release the flavorful juices. Adding kosher salt and making a paste comes in handy when adding garlic to a salad dressing or marinade.

how to mince garlic smash clove with side of knife

how to mince garlic knife skills finely chopped

Step 2: Peel away skin, and run the knife through the garlic until it is finely and evenly chopped.

how to mince garlic add sea salt knife skills

Step 3: Add a few pinches of kosher salt to work as an abrasive.

how to mince garlic use knife pressure paste texture

Step 4: Use pressure and the flat side of your knife to work the ingredients back and forth on the board, until the mixture resembles the consistency of a paste.

How to Chop Fine Herbs

This process is actually defined as a “chiffonade.” For herbs which bruise easily (basil, sage, etc), this method allows you to cleanly and delicately slice herbs without damaging their texture.

how to finely chop herbs knife skills stack leaves

Step 1: Stack 6-8 leaves on top of one another.

how to chop fresh herbs roll leaves root side

Step 2: Carefully roll up the leaves starting from the root end up to the tip.

how to chop fresh herbs finely chop with knife

Step 3: Use a knife to finely chop the herbs, resulting in long, thin strips.

Of course, these are just the fundamentals. Master everything here, and we’ll move on to butchering wild game in the near future.

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Keep those knives sharp!
MM

Kitchen Fundamentals Series:
How to Make a Whole Roasted Chicken [3]
The 6 Knives Every Man Should Have in His Kitchen [4]
Basic Knife Skills [5]