May 08, 2015


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Using your Chef's Knife: Introduction to Classic Cuts

It's pretty likely you've heard the word julienne before, as in the salad, or maybe something you picked up in a movie. But what does it mean? If you’re just getting started in the culinary world, you’ve got a lot to discover, and learning to use your knife a little more skillfully is the perfect place to begin. In this blog, we’re going to touch on some basic knife cuts. Knowing these cuts are important for two reasons: consistency and aesthetic. The more skilled you become with a knife, the more you’ll be able to succeed in these two areas, and believe us, people will notice.

Consistency: when it comes to knife cuts, consistency means making sure you’re cutting the same way, every time. As a result, the food turns out the same way. This is important because inconsistent sizing leads to inconsistent cooking time. Nobody wants one carrot that’s crispy and another that’s mushy. By practising consistency you raise the quality of your dish considerably.

Aesthetic: The other important reason to practise your cuts. If you’re eating alone in front of the television, it probably doesn’t matter how fancy your dicing is, but if you’re hosting a dinner party, precise, aesthetically pleasing work is huge. This can mean the difference between something turning out blah and brilliantly. We’re visual creatures, and the way food looks has a huge impact on how we perceive its taste.

On to the cut

A chef’s cuts are generally divided by size and shape. Sizes can range from several inches (or centimetres if we abandon the imperial system for a moment) down to tiny millimetres. On the other hand, shapes are pretty limited; today we’ll talk about strips and cubes. Many a chef has pondered the immortal question, which came first – the strip, or the cube? We cut strips into cubes. Hmm. I guess it wasn’t that hard to figure out after all.

The First Steps

Things can get pretty complicated from here, and we’re not enrolling in culinary school just yet, so we’re going to try and keep things simple. We’ll drop a few French words, but that’s it, we promise.

First is the taillage. This is cutting your object (let’s say a carrot, for ease and consistency) into uniform shapes and sizes. So take a few carrots and tronçonner, or remove the edges and cut the pieces to a similar length. Then cut thick slices, or tranches, to be cut down to size. The goal is to create a bâtonnet, or consistently sized sticks.

Get out your ruler

How long depends on your goal. A standard julienne might be 3-5 cm (if we flip back to metric, you’re looking at 1/8 x 1/8 x 1-2 inches), where a jardinière is a slightly thicker baton, in the region of 4/5 x 1/5 x 1/5 inches or 2-5 cm x 4mm x 4mm.

And there are more, if you’re not satisfied with these dimensions. You’ve got your chiffonade, your fine julienne… suffice to say, you’ve got choices in the kitchen. Now that you’ve got your vegetable cut into your chosen size, though, what do you do next?

Sure, you could just eat it. Nobody would blame you for it – you’re probably tired and hungry by now. But if you still want to use your knife for something, let’s move on to chopping, dicing, and mincing. Really, they’re the same thing, but again we’ve got lovely French words for different sizes. Chopping is big and bold, mincing is smaller and finer. Dicing is a nice middle ground.

Cube it

Let’s say that you went with the jardinière, and now you’ve got 0.5x5cm batons. Why not get out the old grade-school ruler and start dicing. If you want precise 0.5 cm cubes, you’re looking at a macédoine. We like to think that this cut was named after Alexander the Great’s brave Macedonian warriors, but we’re probably wrong.

Keep in mind, if you’re angry and upset right now at the idea of using a ruler in the kitchen, when we say precise we really mean consistent. The size of a macédoine can be 5 mm cubed, or it might be 4. It might even be 6 mm. You get to choose. That’s the fun of being a chef. Just as long as they’re all the same.

In English this time?

So, let’s sum up without any fancy terms: take your vegetable of choice, and then peel and wash it. Cut off the ends and sides so it’s nice and rectangular. Cut it into long, thick slices, and then stack those slices and cut them into your batons. Then take your batons, stack them, and cut them into nice, even cubes. Isn’t using your new knife fun?

And voila! You now have a delicious macédoine of carrots. Your mother will be very impressed. Why not invite her over for dinner tonight?

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