Whether you are a parent, a weekend cook, a party host, a professional baker, or a caterer, you may be interested in learning and mastering the most important advanced knife skills that can help you prepare the best meals at work or at home.
Sometimes people think getting better at culinary pursuits just means cooking more and taking time to practice knife techniques is not high on their to-do list. However, the efficient use of knives can mean faster prep time and fewer accidents.
Have you noticed celebrity chefs already have their vegetables and other foods perfectly cut and waiting in individual bowls? That is because they have a team of cooks working behind the cameras to help them prepare. Do you have that luxury? Probably not.
Most of us need to feed our families after work or have limited time to prepare for hosting. Learning the best skills with your knives will help you prepare more quickly and spend less time in the kitchen. And while kitchen accidents are never eliminated, the risk of cutting yourself is substantially decreased when you practice and master proper knife use.
Learning the three most important advanced knife skills will involve gaining the proper techniques and practicing as long as it takes to master your knife skills.
What Are the Three
Most Important Advanced Knife Skills?
Knife skills begin with safe and practical cuts. Many non-professionals develop efficient methods of chopping, mincing, and dicing without ever cutting a finger, and they can consistently and effectively feed their families and even host extravagant parties.
1. Uniform Cuts
There is a big difference between making one useful cut of meat versus making consistently uniform cuts. Whether large pieces of meat or small pieces of vegetables, if you cannot cut uniformly you will suffer from unevenly cooked food.
When cut sizes vary, smaller pieces end up overcooked while larger pieces end up under-cooked. And advanced culinary student or professional should be able to cut all their pieces to a desired and consistent size.
2. Aesthetic Cuts
Sometimes your mouth waters just by seeing an attractive meal on your plate. It makes a big difference when food looks appealing. Uniform cuts not only allow your meal to cook evenly; they also look more professional on the plate.
You also have an opportunity to add splash to your plate by cutting visual displays that make your food enticing to your friends and customers.
3. Variety of Cuts
There are a variety of cuts that need to be in the arsenal of an advanced cook. You must be consistently able to make uniform cuts of different types, and this will also add to your aesthetics. Different types of cuts can create a brunoise or batonnet to demonstrate your professional credibility and make a visually appealing plate.
Preparations for Using Advanced Knife Skills
The ability to make a variety of knife cuts will add to the essential knife skills of uniformity and aesthetics. You must be able to determine the type of cut that is most appropriate to your dish.
Two diced vegetables can cook at very different rates. Something dense, like a potato, will take longer than something less dense, such as celery. A good cook may choose to use a smaller cut for the potatoes and larger cuts for the celery, and they will probably cook the potatoes first before adding celery.
Chefs will often square an item they are about cut. Consider a carrot. It is rounded and different parts of its body are drastically different in size. On the other hand, a square shape can be cut anywhere and maintain a uniform length and width.
Sometimes referred to by the French term parer, squaring off your food involves cutting off the rounded portions to leave a square shape, more precisely a rectangular prism, that allows you to cut continuous uniform planks.
It is still important, once your food is squared, to cut your planks evenly, with your knife penetrating the food item at a 90-degree angle to the cutting board. Many chefs like a high cutting surface for this task.
Of course, squaring a carrot leaves a lot of unused carrot pieces aside from your planks. Is that OK? Extra food does not have to mean wasted food. If you host a party or cater an event with uniform cut and aesthetically pleasing presentation, there plenty of things you can do with the leftovers. You'll need lunch for yourself the next day, after all. Extra carrot sections can always be used in a soup or stew.
What Types of Cuts Can
I Make with Advanced Knife Skills?
A Julienne cut, also known as an allumette, is an advanced knife skill that cuts food into long, thin sticks. The cut food is sometimes referred to as matchsticks. Small Julienne-style French fries are a common example of Julienne cuts.
Julienne cuts are a prime example of squaring off food for uniform cuts. Again, the trimmings do not have to be wasted; they make fine stocks, soups, and purees. While Julienne cuts can be used on meat and fish, they are typically applied to vegetables.
A “Potage Julienne” is made up of julienne-cut carrots, beets, leeks, celery, and chervil. Sliced onions add a curved visual to the dish and minced lettuce and sorrel are another visual element.
Once food is properly Julienne cut, it can be turned and finely diced to create a brunoise. Once your Julienned food is diced, it results in cubes, usually 3 mm or less and about 1/8-inch wide.
The traditional French brunoise is even smaller, with cubes 1 or 2 mm and a width of about 1/16 inch. A brunoise often uses carrots, celery, leeks, and turnips. After making the brunoise dice, the uniform food items are typically blanched before being put in ice water for color. Brunoise diced foods are often used as garnishes on dishes such as a consommé.
The difference between a brunoise and a traditional dice is the size. Even a small traditional dice is still bigger than a brunoise dice.
A batonnet cut begins with a typical squaring off of the food item. You cut both ends off your food and square the sides. Keep your scraps so they are not wasted.
Cut your squared off item longwise into quarter-inch planks. Then, with your planks stacked, turn them the opposite way and cut them into quarter-inch strips. You now have ¼ inch by ¼ inch strips.
To complete them as true batonnet cuts, measure each strip between two-and-a-half and three inches long. The technical measurement of a batonnet is ¼ inch by ¼ inch by 2.5-3” long.
A larger stick-cut is the baton. A baton is a Julienned food at least ½ inch by ½ inch and 2-1/2 inches long. A baton can be the basis for a large dice cut. The largest traditional dice cut is 3/4 inch × 3/4 inch × 3/4 inch.
A paysanne cut is a country-cut of vegetables. A country-style cut is usually rougher and less precise than some others, but that does not make it a lesser cut. In fact, if we understand the value of aesthetics, those looking for a down-home meal can have their heart set on paysanne cuts.
You must cut the vegetables thinly but within the natural curves and shape of the food. They are often cut into flat planks. For instance, you can cut paysanne carrot pieces and they will not be squared. Instead, they highlight the natural shape and size of the carrot.
Chiffonade cuts are used to slice very thin foods such as herbs. Cutting en chiffonade involves stacking the food to slice. You then roll up leaves, such as basil leaves, into a tubular shape and slice them into uniform sections. This is a common method for cutting garnishes.
Butterflying meat is typically done for grill cooking. If you have a thick filet, you can spread it over a larger surface area by making it into thinner cuts. When the meat is spread open, it looks like a butterfly spreading its wings.
The appearance of the butterfly meat can add to your dish's appearance. Some people like to butterfly a large chicken breast and then close the wings over a stuffing.
This cut helps the meat cook evenly because the surface of the filet lies flat on the grill, and it also helps thick cuts cook through for folks wanting a well-done piece of meat. It also helps the meat cook faster.
An advanced chef knows what knife to use for any given advanced cut, and this is one of the most important knife skills when cutting to debone. Deboning meat involves a specialty knife used to separate the meat from the bone.
Deboning takes a lot of practice, but it is a vital skill for advanced chefs to have. Some cooks and patrons prefer bone-in choices for various meats, and other people like bone-out. Your knife skills should accommodate either.
The idea that leaving the bone in will make your meat more flavorful is a misnomer, because the marrow that contains the flavor does not escape the bone during the cooking process.
However, the marrow can break down and add flavor when simmered or braised. If you choose to debone, you will need either a boning knife or a filet knife.
A boning knife has a narrow blade with a sharp tip. It is stiffer than a typical filet knife and usually around six inches in length.
Traditional filet knives have a more curved blade and a similarly sharp tip. Overall, they range in sizes longer than a boning knife, from six to 11 inches. With a proper knife, deboning is done by separating the meat, poultry, or fish from the bone.
While many of us have carved the Thanksgiving turkey, carving meat with advanced knife skills is a skilled trait. Properly carved meat results in attractive and uniform portions of food. It is another skill needed in country-style cooking and comfort foods.
Knife Skills that Professional Chefs Value Most
While advanced knife skills are important, they are built upon fundamental skills. The skills that chefs most value in the kitchen are a combination of both. So, what knife skills do professional chefs value the most?
Know and Perform Your Cuts
Understand the fundamentals of cutting your food. What is the difference between chopping and dicing? What is better for vegetables that will go in soups? What is best for herbs?
From there, you need the advanced knowledge and knife skills to know the dimensions of a proper brunoise and batonnet. How does a brunoise build upon a Julienne?
Can you butterfly a steak or debone a chicken? Can you professionally carve a turkey? Or for more professional appeal, can you cut Julienne style? Can you perform a chiffonade on your herbs? The importance of these cuts ranges from cooking your food evenly to making a beautiful dish.
Sharpen Your Knives
Sharpening knives is a basic but invaluable skill to have in the kitchen. Sharp knives are actually safer than dull ones, but very few people are consistently skilled at sharpening their knives.
Sharpening stones are either water stones or oil stones, and they come with a particular grit ranging from fine to coarse. The classic knife angle for sharpening is 22.5 degrees to the stone. You must run the entire edge of the knife from the top to the bottom of the cutting surface along the full length of the stone.
Some chefs use steels to sharpen knives rather than stones. Steels can keep knives sharper longer because they can individually hit the microscopic grooves on the blade. One of the best knife skills and habits is to give your knife two or three strokes on the cutting steel every time you start a new job.
A dull knife is a useless knife. Many cooks, even good ones, suffer through long periods of time wrestling with dull knives. It is crucial that you can quickly and effectively keep your knife razor sharp.
Know the Best Knife for the Job
Is a paring knife the right choice for mincing garlic? What size and shape of blade gives the most dexterity for a particular job?
Understanding the proper knife to use is one of the most important knife skills to be valued in the kitchen. What blades make for the cleanest slicing? When is a serrated knife appropriate?
What knife handles offer sturdy leverage? These are everyday questions that are important because they are so common. There is nothing more practically valuable than understanding the right knife for the job.
Learning advanced knife skills not only increase your professional worth, but it gives you a lifelong skill that will always be useful. Beyond the basics of holding a knife, holding food, and being safe, furthering your skills will allow you to work faster and more efficiently.
You must be able to make uniform cuts. Some foods you cut have fat areas, thin areas, and everything in between on one piece of food. The average Joe slices it into pieces that vary in size and width. Then the larger, thicker pieces take longer to cook than the small, thin pieces. Uniformity ensures that you have predictable cooking times, evenly cooked food pieces, and better aesthetics.
Aesthetics are another critical skill that cannot be undervalued. From the pleasing sight of uniform planks to decorating knives that give your cut watermelon an edge with patterns, a pleasing dish can wet someone's appetite as much as smell. Garnishes also go a long way in the aesthetics of your plate and properly cut garnishes are crucial. A chiffonade cut vegetable leaf or a brunoise diced garnish can take your plate from good to great.
Finally, you must have a versatile arsenal of cuts and understand each. This goes hand-in-hand with aesthetics. You cannot enhance your plate with a brunoise garnish or a chiffonade leaf if you do not have chiffonade and brunoise cuts in your toolbelt.
Different cuts help you cook accurately as well as aesthetically. You need to know what cut is appropriate in any given situation. Uniformity, aesthetics, and variety of cuts are the trademarks of an advanced cook with advanced knife skills.