Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Knife Tips, Collected at the Stonewall Kitchen Cooking School

As the summer marketing intern here at Stonewall Kitchen, I’m doing a lot of different things – from attending meetings, helping with research, and preparing for events, to attending some of the Cooking School classes to collect tips and useful kitchen information.  I was told these tips would be used for various aspects of the social media work done here.  I had no idea that would turn into me actually using some of them and later blogging about it.

According to Pat Bagg, guest chef instructor of the first Cooking School class I attended, knowing how to use a knife in the kitchen makes all the difference.  This was something I certainly did not know, and am only now starting to figure out.

A few weeks ago I happily agreed to help our Event Coordinator, Sarah, prep for the Taste of the Nation event in Portsmouth, NH.  My assumption was that I’d mostly be scooping things or just filling containers and getting food ready for transport.  Well, first I ended up cutting croissants into smaller pieces that would later be drizzled with Chocolate Raspberry Jam.  This was simple enough, but upon finishing, my new task was dicing a pepper.  I think previously the most complex thing I had done with a vegetable was peel it.  After that, I was given the task of cutting up some watermelon, another thing I had surprisingly never done before.  Luckily, I have slowly been accumulating a working knowledge of knives and how to use them, so I diced and cut away.  A grouping of tips I had learned became extremely helpful.  I’ll warn you now, we couldn’t show all of them in pictures, but I’ll do my best to describe the picture-less tips just as well for you!  

To start, I want to talk about your grip on the knife... No fickle finger!  This is pictured on the left, while the right picture would be a correct knife grip.  It’s potentially surprising, but keeping your finger wrapped around the handle with the rest of your hand, instead of trying to steady the knife with an outstretched finger, does actually give you much better control.

Next, when cutting peppers, cut on the fleshy side and not the shiny side.  The outside of the pepper, because of its shininess, is slippery.  I remembered this shortly after starting to cut on the shiny side and having slight difficulties.  This should also help with cutting even slices or even dicing because the blade won’t be skidding or slipping across the vegetable.

When you stop and think about it, you realize that everything in nature is round… And chasing something around a cutting board with your knife because it’s rolling all over the place is a great way to slice yourself, instead of the fruit.  Start by cutting your food in half and setting down on its flat side so it can no longer go anywhere.  If I had been continuing to cut this lime, you would have seen the lime sitting motionless and flat in the next picture.

Okay, last tip with pictures... Everyone is always afraid of cutting themselves, especially when getting into the idea of sharpening knives.  First and foremost, you should always be cautious when using knives however there are some ways you can make it more difficult to accidentally cut yourself.  The best way to do this is to cut using the claw method; your fingers will thank you later.  This is always a good position for your guide-hand, because you have no exposed fingertip to cut!  Here, I was cutting the rind off of this grapefruit (I had already cut the bottom so it would sit flat), by following the curve of the fruit with the knife.  As you can see in the first picture, when I started the blade was pretty close to my guide-hand fingers.  With such a sharp knife, the claw method may have saved my fingers, and at the very least made it a much more comfortable cut.

I love the way these pictures came out for me to share with you, but I do have a few more important tips that you'll have to rely simply on my description to understand.
  • To cut efficiently, the tip of the knife should never leave the cutting board.  Whenever I got into a 'cutting groove,' especially when I was dicing peppers, it was because I had managed to do this.  This works best with some of the knives that have blades on the more curved side, and then it becomes kind of a rocking motion.  
  • And last but not least: when scooping things off the cutting board with the knife, use the dull side instead of the sharp one.  This seems logical, but it’s also safer and easier to do so; not to mention, less scary for a knife handling novice like me.  I will admit, since first hearing this tip I have seen chefs do it both ways, but scooping food off the board works just as well with the dull side of the knife, so I see no reason not to do it that way! 

I hope these tips are as helpful to you as they were to me!  And if you've been cruising through a kitchen your entire life you may use these skills on a daily basis, but a review of the basics never hurt anyone, right?


  1. Great tips. Thanks for the refresher course. I'm adding a link to this on my website!

  2. Great post. These tips help me a lot. :)

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  4. This is a very useful article. I guess it’s time for me to purchase a knife sharpener and start getting all of my blades in the kitchen sharpened. Just curious, have you heard of the DMT knife sharpener? From what I've read it's one of the best sharpening tools in the industry.

    - Max

  5. Thanks for share this article, it very useful for me.
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