Knife Skills 101

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Want to know the single most important thing I’ve learnt throughout my adventures into cooking?
It wasn’t new foods.
My knife collection
The 2 on the left were $2 each and the
3 on the right are from Kmart.

It wasn’t new cooking techniques.
It wasn’t new flavours or spices.
It wasn’t new cuisines or TV cooking shows and competitions.
You must have a sharp knife!

I cannot emphasise this enough.
A sharp knife makes the difference to how I cook, what I cook, how I cook with it and most importantly, how I end up at the end of the meal. A sharp knife means you have control over your produce and you have control over how the meal is cooked and presented. A sharp knife means at the end of the meal you are safe, with no cuts to fingers or nails, and you feel successful and happy rather than stressed and upset.
So, make sure your knife is sharp!
I’m not talking about going out and buying THE most expensive knife brand you can imagine. If you can afford it, go for it. I don’t use expensive knives and I cook every day. I use 3 knives from Kmart and 2 knives from a cheapy store where my husband paid only $2 for each knife. I don’t even have a knife block to store them in. Most of the time my knives live in the dishwasher because they get used so often.
The one thing I did buy for myself was a knife sharpener. At first I bought a knife stone but I didn’t really see much benefit from it. I was using it as is and I’ve since read that you’re supposed to wet the stone before grinding the knife against it. I haven’t tried this on the stone but it could work. I eventually got myself a Kleva Sharp – you know the ones where the chef is cutting shoes because his knife is so sharp!
I don’t cut my shoes with my knives (would you seriously do that??) but I do cut vegetables and fruits and meats with them, and my knife skills have improved out of sight! In 2009 I tried to cut thin slices of a potato to make a potato bake. I got doorstops of potato because I was using a blunt knife. In 2013 I can now finely slice the potato because I have a sharp knife, but I also have learnt that a large knife is key.
Using a larger knife works well for most produce I chop. I find that the large knife keeps my fingers away

from the blade, and gives me more control over the item I’m chopping. I find this is so because the knife sticks out to either side of the food and the blade is steadier because it is supported evenly on either side. When I used a small knife in 2009 I got off-centre cuts because the knife was smaller than the potato. I’ve also found that I get more control when I place the food closer to the handle. I’ve got more balance with the food closer to my hand and I can see where and how I’m cutting so that I can get those nice even and finely sliced pieces I’m after.

Summarizing so far, knife skills 101 include:

  • Have a sharp knife (and sharpen it regularly!)
  • Use a knife larger than the food you’re chopping.
  • Chop the food closer to the handle, rather than further along the blade, for more control.

There are 3 knife techniques which I hadn’t realised I’d even picked up until I was researching for this post. I have been watching Jamie Oliver cook for a few years now and I never realised that I’d learnt his 3 chopping techniques:

  1. Tap chopping.
  2. Rock chopping.
  3. Cross chopping.


Tap chopping is chopping using a straight up and down cut to a steady beat.

Rock chopping is chopping keeping the point of the knife down on the board as you only lift the handle of the knife to slice through the food, while you continue to do straight up and down chopping.

Cross chopping is where you also keep the point of the knife down on the board, but you move the handle of the knife up and down while gently creating an arch or crescent through the food. You then use the flat part of the knife to gather the food again and once more keep the knife point down and make the arch across the food.
To really explain what I mean, watch this video of Jamie Oliver demonstrating to a class of teenagers. Yes, Jamie chops fast, but he has control, and so much of it he can chop without even looking!
So please, take a look at how you’re chopping. Are you getting your fingers in the way? Watch how Jamie keeps his fingers out of the way while using his knuckles as a guide. Take a look at the way you hold your knife and the respect you show for yourself, the food and others around you.
Please, be safe in the kitchen, but most of all, let yourself experience the many wonders of food and cooking when you have control of the kitchen, rather than it having control of you.
Leave me a comment if you know of any other ways to chop, or if you have any helpful tips and tricks for using your knife. Or just leave me a comment to show your appreciation. Thank you.

Good luck!

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