Foams, gels, and sous-vide techniques have all become shorthand for high-end modern gastronomy, but the true mark of a good chef still boils down to fundamentals—and in many cases, that means knife work.
Being able to cut things in a timely and efficient manner is essential for any chef working in the frenetic environment of a kitchen, where there are usually at least five tasks to be juggled at once.
But bringing pro-level skills home can help less harried cooks be more efficient as well—not to mention look like badasses in front of their friends. In our first knife-skills tutorial, we hit up cook Henry Molina (formerly of Mission Chinese Food) to show us the basics: how to properly hold a knife, how to slice garlic and onions, and how to halve an avocado. Simple, but absolutely necessary maneuvers.
Now that you’ve mastered those entry-level skills, we brought in all’onda chef Chris Jaeckle to demonstrate some intermediate-level techniques that every home cook should have in his arsenal. Jaeckle, who happens to be a former teacher’s assistant at Johnson & Wales Culinary School, points out some common mistakes people make with veggies— like bell peppers and cabbage—and sheds light on the precise science of fileting a fish. Bust out the cutting board and sharpen your knives: It’s time to cut some sh*t!
Gifs by Danny Scanzoni
How to Chop a Cabbage
“I picked cabbage for a specific reason,” says Jaeckle. “In coleslaw you always come across those big, chunky pieces. And there’s an easy way to avoid that.” First, slice the head in half.
Then quarter each half.Here’s the crucial step: Come in at an angle to remove the rib and stalk. Doing so gets rid of unpleasant flavor and, most importantly, gives you a flat surface to anchor your hand while cutting.
Without the fear of losing your grip on a wobbly chuck of cabbage, uniform slices are easily attainable.
How to Cut, Peel, and Dice Bell Peppers
“People usually cut peppers lengthwise,” says Jaeckle. But this is NOT the way to go. “What do you f**king do with this? How do you get rid of all the pith?” Look familiar?
Instead, take the top and bottom off.
Take your knife and cut down the middle through one of the ribs.
Then come in with your knife and, while rolling the pepper out, filet it. “It removes all of the unpleasantness of the pepper in one motion.”
“Then you can get these nice long even pieces.”
You can also cut the “sheet” into individual segments to achieve different lengths.
Peeling a pepper can be a tricky task. “I staged at Daniel when I was 18,” says Jaeckle. “They asked me to peel two cases of bell peppers. I didn’t know any better, so I immediately fetched a veggie peeler and went to work. Four hours later I finish, and all the cooks are silently laughing at me.” So how do you work around the nooks and crevices? Once again, remove the top and bottom. This time, cut down through the white lines.Simply peel to remove the pieces.
And voila! Now it’s much easier to peel the skin on an individual section.
How to Julienne (a Carrot…and Other Things)
Wanna get fancy with your carrot? Try julienning. First, peel your carrot. Why? “Where do you think farmworkers go to the bathroom?”
“The julienne measurements are technically ⅛ x ⅛ x 2 inch.”
Square off the carrot so you have a flat surface to work with.
Slice into ⅛-inch strips and stack them like playing cards. “This depends on your skill set. Some people feel comfortable with two; others with four.”
Again, slice them into ⅛ inch strips so that they look like matchsticks.
Pro tip: turn your knife over when sliding food across the cutting board to avoid dulling your knife.
How to Filet a Fish
If you can filet a vegetable, then you should know how to do the same with a fish (in this case, a mackerel). Come in under the front fin until you hit the bone. Give it a little wiggle and push through to remove the head.
With your hand flat on the fish, come in above the white line. “You want to take as few strokes as possible since the fish flesh is very delicate,” says Jaeckle. “The more you hesitate, the choppier it becomes.”
You should be able to feel the tip of the blade on the rib bones.
Lift the upper flesh, score above the spine, and go through the rib cage.
Lift the flesh and tilt the knife in so you don’t get any waste after you come under the rib bone.
Repeat the process for the other side.
This time come in just above the back fin.
Flip upside down and guide the knife underneath the spine.
Make sure to remove the gunk by slicing and rolling over. “That’s the area where its innards are.”