How to use a chef's knife
Knives are the most important component of any kitchen, and more specifically, chef’s knives truly optimize the quality of the cooking process.
However, it’s no use being the proud owner of a chef’s knife, but not fully understanding how to use it. To help, we’ve outlined the fundamentals of using such a knife below.
Before whipping out the chopping board and cutting away, it’s important to learn how to best grip a chef’s knife. The best knives feel like an extension of one’s arm. Whether or not this is the case is determined very much by the knife’s handle as well as how it’s gripped.
There are two predominant ways to grip a chef’s knife. The first is to position the thumb of the dominant hand on the forefront of the handle nearest to the blade, whilst the remaining fingers curl to the other side. This is the ideal grip when handling tough ingredients.
For softer ingredients, rather than curling all fingers to the opposite side of the thumb, only the index finger is needed.
Either way, be sure not to clutch the handle too tightly. For optimal performance, the knife should feel natural and relatively loose in one’s hand.
A third and slightly more tricky grip technique is the pinch grip. This entails the thumb and index finger holding opposite sides of the blade, making it ideal for when maximum control of the knife is required. Whilst it’s more difficult of a technique than the above mentioned grips, the precision that is capable of makes it well worth mastering.
The non dominant hand, also known as the ‘guiding’ or ‘control’ hand serves a purpose too. It’s responsible for holding down and keeping the ingredients on the chopping board stable, while the dominant hand cuts away.
When doing so, to ensure that it’s out of harm's way, the guiding hand should adopt the ‘claw grip’. This entails tucking the fingers inward, with the side of the knife blade resting against the knuckles.
Now, educated on the different grips, cutting can commence. There are eight key types of cuts, each of which a chef’s knife is ideal for executing.
Fortunately, once one has grasped an understanding of how to use a chef’s knife to slice, chop, and mince, the remaining cutting techniques, such as the julienne and brunoise, become second nature.
To slice, simply place the ingredient on the chopping board and ensure that it is stabilized. To aid with this, it may help to cut the ingredient into an appropriate shape that allows it to lie flat on the chopping board.
Once a stable and safe environment has been established, place the tip of the knife against the board, and pull the knife back towards the ingredient. Slice through the ingredient by continuing to pull the knife in a backwards motion, before pushing the remainder of the blade down and moving it forward to complete the slice.
The tip of the blade should remain on the board for the duration of the slicing motion. With a little practice, using a chef’s knife to slice quickly becomes an intuitive action.
Chopping is just as simple!
To chop, stabilize the ingredient on the chopping board as usual, and cut into the ingredient by manoeuvring your chef knife downwards into it, whilst pushing the knife slightly forward.
With your guiding hand in the claw grip, cut up and down to produce bite sized pieces.
The ideal candidates for mincing are herbs and small vegetables, such as garlic. It’s a technique that requires precision, and a chef's knife is certainly up to the job!
To start, hold the tip of the knife against the chopping board ahead of the chosen ingredient. Next, cut from left to right with minimal space left between each cut, whilst keeping the tip of the knife anchored to the chopping board. Placing the guiding hand on the spine of the blade may help to apply extra pressure.
If an even finer result is desired, simply recollect the minced ingredients and repeat the mincing motion.
A chef’s knife is only as good as it’s maintenance, and this takes the form of resharpening and cleaning.
It’s a given that a chef’s knife will require resharpening at some point. Of course, the most skillfully made chef knives start off in a sharp form and have great edge resistance too. Despite this, when a knife's sharpness diminishes, it becomes apparent in the cuts it produces. Therefore, sharpening your chef's knife is critical, and a leather strop or whetstone are the ideal tools to do so!
The health of a chef’s knife is also impacted by how it’s cleaned. Dishwashers are an intrinsic no go. The environment is far too aggressive. Instead, wipe down the blade with a moist cloth as you’re using it, and when the time comes to clear up, use warm water and a cloth to wipe the blade clean, drying it immediately afterwards.
Just as knives shouldn’t be exposed to direct sunlight or extreme heat, too much moisture can damage them too.
Proper use of a chef's knife is a culinary art, of which learning to grip it, cut with it, and care for it, are fundamental components.
To get each of these aspects right, practice is required and thankfully, chef’s knives can be used for all types of cooking, so practice is inevitable!