The recipe calls for you to mince the garlic, coarse chop the onions, dice the carrots and brunoise the red peppers. And let’s not forget slicing the zucchini and shredding cabbage. Before you chuck the recipe in frustration and order a pizza for dinner, take a few moments to understand the basics of food preparation. Taught in culinary schools as “knife skills,” you’ll soon be coarse chopping like a pro, and that vegetable knife in your knife block will become your new best friend!
Preparing and Holding the Knife
Television chefs love to impress with their lightning-fast chopping skills. But you’re not on TV, and who are you impressing anyway? Holding the knife correctly and not chopping off your fingers are your goals. The raves come when you serve your well-prepped and presented meal, sans body parts!
Be sure your knife is sharp; a dull knife won’t chop. Hold the knife in your primary hand with your thumb on one side of the base of the blade, your forefinger on the other side and the handle pressed up against your palm. Your hand actually straddles the part of the blade that connects with the handle. Pre-prep the vegetable by slicing it into workable pieces that’ll yield a 1/2-inch chop.
Hold the knife over the victim and rock the knife from the tip to the base as you chop through. Some chefs keep their other hand on the top of the knife to apply the right amount of pressure, while others guide the vegetables toward the knife with their knuckles. The tip of the knife shouldn’t move, only the blade and handle.
Defining the Chop Cut
Before putting knife to vegetable, let’s begin by understanding the different types of cuts and why they are important to the recipe. It’s all about cooking evenly and within a specific time frame. A carrot that’s been cut into a 2-inch spear, called a batonnet, takes longer to cook than one that’s been coarse chopped into ½-inch‒¾-inch chunks.
If you are sautéing an onion, which might take about 20 minutes before it becomes translucent, you’ll want a coarsely chopped carrot that’ll be done around the same time. Getting the texture of both right is important to the person eating the dish. A raw onion and mushy carrot are hardly pleasing to the palate.
At the same time, a coarsely chopped zucchini takes less time to cook than coarsely chopped cabbage, so plan your sautéing around the texture of the vegetable as well as the chop. The shape of each morsel isn’t as important as the size. Remember ‒ you’re coarse chopping.
Getting the Chop Right
“Eyeball” the chop to keep the sizes consistent. A calibrated cutting board is great for the beginning chef as it indicates sizes and shapes of the various chops and slices as well as inches to keep your spears and juliennes the same size.
An onion is probably one of the most difficult vegetables to coarse chop into consistent-sized pieces. Many cooks recommend cutting the onion in half from the root end to the top. Remove the skin and place the cut-side down on your chopping board with the root-end to the left, if you are right-handed.
Slowly slice through the onion, from the flat side toward the root, keeping the slices 1/2-inch thick. Turn the onion around and slice into 1/2-inch pieces starting at the root end and going toward the front. Turn it around again so the flat side is facing right. Now chop. Your coarsely chopped onion is ready for the sauté pan!
Chop slowly and remember ‒ you’re not on TV!