Cooking skills: Where and how you start to learn to cook is likely to vary but there are basic skills and lots of them. One of these is knife skill. You need to build up confidence and develop skills in knife handling. The basics are constant, used over and over again, even in some quite complicated dishes. The photographs in this article illustrate basic knife skills you need to learn.
1: Knife skills - knowing how and knowing why: Knowing ‘how to’ use a knife for cookery preparation might come from seeing someone demonstrate, in a class or watching a TV programme or watching someone in your own family. It is only when you start to do it yourself that you really learn. Chopping and slicing requires the learner to be dextrous, with good hand and eye co-ordination and the ability to make judgements. Onions, for example, rarely remain in their tight vegetable layers. They slip and slide and fall open just as the knife is descending so the end result is never as regular as one might anticipate.
What is there to learn? You need to learn pressure control and understand density (carrot compared to cucumber for example) and consider matters such as the thinness and the thickness of the slicing. If you slice too thick the onion may remain with texture and crunch when the other ingredients are softened, alternately if you slice too thin the onion may appear to dissolve away in the juices and never really be seen. You need to think ahead and have some expectations in terms of texture for the dish you are planning to make.
Why not go straight into using a food processor?This would mean you could miss out learning to ‘slice and chop’. But you will never have the pleasure of knowing you crafted the product with your own hand. Processors are ideal when you have loads to do and only a short time. The results are never perfect. Some bits always get stuck round the edge and stay irregular, or of course become over-processed and more akin to a puree than first intended. I use a processor sometimes but I also know how to chop and slice. The choice of knife depends on the size and age of the learner and the task in hand. Probably a 10cm vegetables knife is the best choice with a chopping board. Moving on to using a French cooks knife with a slightly longer blade when feeling more confident.
Dicing come after slicing. Dicing is a mathematical delivery of two sessions of slicing, one 90 degrees to the other. It is neat, exact and can be varied for each dish you make, sometimes delivering chunky pieces and sometimes extremely fine dice cubes. Once knife control has been mastered and is secure you can slice, dice and chop forever, the muscle memory will be learnt and in your repertoire to return to when you want. You might say it is like riding a bicycle.
Higher level knife skills are carving, jointing, boning and filleting. Read Kitchen Knife skills by Marianne Lumb for a super, in-depth explanation of knife use and skills.
Or visit www.foodafactoflife.org.uk pages about knife skills to find a sheet like this:
Use the sheet to hep you to prepare samples like these below:
Or use pages like these used by Food teachers in secondary schools:
Many knife skills start with the basic of holding a fruit or vegetable safely before starting to cut with a knife. The two basic holds are Bridge hold and Claw hold. The best training for these holds comes from www.foodafactoflife.org
Here is the link to the Claw hold and the Bridge hold:
Here are some images to help you visualise different styles of cutting using knife skills:
Onion whole, half, then sliced into wedges suitable for stews, curries, hotpots or casseroles.
Using a knife to trim beans.
Finally slice again to form even length batons of carrot.
Potatoes are cut into chunks approximately the same size using a sharp knife such as a cooks knife.
Knife skills make the difference between thin, medium and thick slices.
Knife skills can be used on fruits, here a strawberry fan.
Using knife skills with tomatoes, sliced, wedges, waterlily and chopped.
Lemons can be transformed using a sharp knife to make wedges, twists, butterfly and slices.
Fish knife skills depend on the type of fish you have. Flat fish need different knife skills to round fish, and shellfish are different again. One of the first knife skills learnt when using fish are those of filleting and skinning. For more advice and skills training visit https://foodteacherscentre.co.uk/fish-heroes/
Achieving precision when using a knife:
Spring onions: Slice the end 3cm shoots of spring onion into 4 lengthwise and then immediately plunge into ice cold water for a few minutes. The sliced ends will curl and look decorative.
Fresh Mango – cut either side of the slim oval stone, then cross hatch the flesh just up to the skin but not through it. Push the skin to make the mango flesh protrude from the surface. Skim along the skin with the knife to remove the skin and leave diamond shaped pieces of juicy mango. (see below)
Sometime referred to as a hedgehog cut.
Chopping – fine chopping with a French Cooks Knife: use for parsley and other herbs to impart flavour.