Cooking Class: Making the Cut

Cooking Class: Making the Cut

How to hold a knife, dice an onion, julienne a carrot, make a basil chiffonade and make garlic paste.

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The chef’s knife is the workhorse of the kitchen, but using it correctly is not always intuitive. When properly handled, this large knife is safer and more efficient than a smaller utility knife for cutting vegetables and fresh herbs. It may seem like most cutting is done with the blade tip, but the opposite is true: The part closest to the hilt does most of the work. Use the tip to brace the knife on a cutting board, which will help steady it as you cut. 


How to hold the knife (see image above):

Grip the handle with your dominant hand, putting your thumb and forefinger on the blade itself. The closer your hand is to where the knife drives into the food, the less effort you will use, and the more control you will have. Use your opposite hand to brace the food, with fingers pointing down and knuckles forward.

How to dice an onion

Peel the onion. Thinking of it as a globe: Cut it in half from pole to pole. Put one piece of the onion close to the edge of the cutting board. Place one hand on the onion, with your palm down and fingers up. Hold the knife with the blade parallel to the cutting board and walk the blade through the onion toward the root ball, stopping ¾ of the way through. Repeat at desired intervals. Then direct the knife tip into the onion, perpendicular to the cutting board and just shy of the root ball. Cut downward in desired increments. Slice the onion into a dice. Repeat with the other half.   


How to julienne a carrot

Peel the carrot and cut into 2-inch sections, squaring off each piece so the carrot sits flush on the cutting board. Slice planks about ¼-inch wide. Lay these planks flat and slice them into pieces that are about 2 inches long and ¼-inch thick.  

How to make a basil chiffonade 

The best way to cut basil is to slice it into very fine filaments. Stack six to 10 leaves of basil on top of each other. Roll the leaves into a tight “cigarette” shape. Then, directing the knife with your knuckles, slice the cylinder into fine threads, with the knife moving down the “cigarette” of basil.  


How to make garlic paste

Peel the garlic cloves. To chop the garlic, hold the knife handle with one hand like you would hold a bicycle handle, and rest the fingertips of your other hand on the knife tip. Pile the cloves and walk the knife through them several times. Once the knife has passed through, reform the pile and repeat. To make the paste, sprinkle a pinch of salt over the coarsely chopped garlic. Then lay the knife blade flat and scrape it against the garlic repeatedly until a paste forms. The same technique can be used to make ginger paste. 

Homework: Stir-Fry Vegetables

Serves about 3


For the stir-fry

3 tablespoons canola oil (for cooking)
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, thinly sliced
1 cup shiitake mushrooms, sliced 
1 head of broccoli, florets only
1 red pepper, sliced
1 quarter head of cabbage 
4 cloves of garlic (pasted)
1 square inch of ginger, peeled, finely chopped
1 jalapeno (de-seeded and diced)
6 leaves of basil (chiffonade) 
Cooked jasmine rice

For the sauce

½ cup chicken stock
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin or rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon chili paste (optional)


1. Heat a wok over high heat.

2. Add the canola oil and turn wok to coat all sides.

3. Place onions, carrots, mushrooms, and broccoli into the wok. Stir-fry for about 3 minutes.

4. Add the red pepper, cabbage, garlic paste and ginger. Stir-fry for 2 minutes.

5. Whisk together sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Pour over vegetables; stir-fry another 2 minutes.

6. Remove the wok from heat. Add the jalapeno and basil and toss to coat.

7. Serve over jasmine rice.

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