in: Featured, Food & Drink, Living

• Last updated: April 20, 2022

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.

A fundamentals of cutting in thte kitchen.

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.

Man cutting onion with knife.

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

Man cutting onion with knife.

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

Man slicing onion with knife.

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

Man cutting onion with knife in horizontal view.

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

Cutting onion into small pieces with knife.

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.

Man cutting garlic clove with knife.

Man chopping garlic with knife.

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

Minced garlic.

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

Minced garlic with flat side of knife.

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.

Herbs of stack leaves.

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

Man rolling the herbs leaves.

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

Man chopping the herbs leaves 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.

Keep those knives sharp!

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

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