GIF Tutorial: Essential Knife Skills with a Mission Chinese Cook

Pro blade-slinger Henry Molina shows us how to cut things like a professional.

  • Knives up! Click through the gallery to get schooled by this gentleman.
  • While it may still look badass when Molina does it, here's how not to pick up a knife. Grabbing the handle like this is called a hammer grip, and it's how most amateurs hold their blades.
  • Pros use the pinch grip, demonstrated here. Let's break that down a little...
  • Your index finger (plus middle finger depending on preference) goes on the outside of the blade.
  • Your thumb goes on the other side, so you are essentially pinching the base of the blade between your thumb and index finger.  Wrap your ring finger and pinky finger around the handle of the knife for stability. Molina notes that this should be a loose grip, which will give you more fluidity of movement.
  • What about your other hand? This is the part that's more dangerous to get wrong, since it's the hand that usually gets injured. Step one: Get that thumb behind the guide hand and out of harm's way!
  • When you're holding something like, say, an onion, the fingers of the guidehand should be tucked behind the knuckles. You can then press the flat part of the blade up against the knuckles, using it as a guide for the blade without fear of slicing off a fingertip.
  • Here's how it looks in less exaggerated form. Chopping swag on a hundred thousand trillion.
  • How not to cut something—Molina notes that in addition to using the hammer grip, a common mistake is the way people approach the cutting board. Coming straight at it puts a huge amount of stress on your wrist and constricts your range of motion.
  • Instead, work at a natural angle across the board. No repetitive strain injuries 'round here!
  • Okay, got all that? Time to cut some motherfuckin' garlic. In case you didn't know, peeling a bulb of garlic is for chumps—here's how you get the cloves out with the palm of your hand.
  • And here's the proper way to loosen the skin on a clove of garlic: simply press the blade against it and smash. This is if you want large hunks of garlic.
  • Yeah, yeah—that was basic. Here's the real revelation: A technique you probably don't know for finely chopped garlic. With the tip of your blade, start by making small cuts lengthwise that don't quite go all the way to the root of the clove.
  • Next, do the same thing horizontally, so you've essentially scored the clove in both directions.
  • Now, when you start chopping, all the pieces will be of uniform size. GENIUS.
  • Guacamole time! Opening an avocado is easy—simply cut into it, then spin the avocado around the blade.
  • Twist the two halves, Oreo-style. BAM.
  • To remove the stone, just hack into it with your blade (be careful not to swing wildly), then a slight twist will dislodge it.
  • When dicing an avocado, use the tip of your knife to score it in both directions while it's still in the skin. If you remove the meat first, it first it will be too soft and mushy cut easily.
  • The ol' scoop technique. Hopefully you know this.
  • Onions are most people's worst nightmare in the kitchen. This part probably looks familiar...
  • ...and then things devolve to random chopping, leaving pieces of completely different size. Needless to say, this is how not to do it.
  • Molina says you should handle the onion just like the garlic: Start with vertical cuts all the way along the onion half...
  • ...then make your vertical slices, going all the way to the top.
  • Once again, the final chopping now yields evenly sized pieces.
  • Cooking with acid is the key to delicious cooking. To get good juice out of a lemon, roll it on the cutting board to loosen it up.
  • Now when you cut it in half, it'll be easy to squeeze.
  • If you want lemon slices, don't push down too hard with the blade or you'll lose too much juice.
  • Instead, saw through gently to preserve the shape of the fruit.
  • If you've got a microplane, make it rain.
  • And that's a wrap, players.

Photos and GIFs by Liz Barclay

Celebrity chefs with sprawling restaurant empires at their fingertips do a lot of things, but cooking generally isn’t one of them. If you want to know how the dirty work gets done—the descaling of fish, the peeling of potatoes, the chopping of ridiculous quantities of onions—you’re better off going down the line and talking to the cooks who are in the thick of it, day in and day out.

To wit: For our first installment of FWF kitchen-skills tutorials, we hollered at Henry Molina, a cook at Mission Chinese Food on the Lower East Side. If you haven’t been to Mission, know this: It is insanely busy all of the time. The kitchen is small, and it turns out a startling amount of food each day. For Molina, that means working quickly, efficiently, and sans any unexpected trips to the hospital. While some of the stuff he does isn’t relevant to the home cook, the fundamentals—like how to actually hold a knife properly—can take your kitchen prowess to the next level.

Here, Molina breaks out his blades and shows us how to cut some things you use all the time: garlic, onions, avocados, and lemons. You think you know, but you have no idea…

[NOTE: None of this works if you have a shitty knife. For tips on buying a chef's knife that won't break the bank, check out our interview with Brendan McDermott, Knife Skills Expert at the Institute of Culinary Education. Or just buy a Nenox Wa-Kiritsuke like Molina and be a goddamn boss.]

Click through gallery above to see Molina demonstrate each of his essential knife-skill tips. You can follow him on Twitter @HenryAMolina.

  • JILLIAN

    I wish I could say I learned ANYTHING new or helpful with this series. It was all straight forward beginner’s 12 year old stuff.

  • Stu_Por

    Didn’t know some of it, really useful and lucid presentation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sethanewsome Seth Abbott Newsome

    I already learned these skills, but I think this is a great way to present them. I remember when I first learned the proper way to cut an onion, I felt like such a chump after randomly hacking at them for so many years. Good job!

  • JR

    gifs wont load

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=21104265 Stirling Matheson

    I always go for the radial cut when dicing onions… saves a lot of time.

  • Eugene Morgan

    Spooning out avocado is for chumps. Cut the half lengthwise into quarters and peel back the skin. Then dice the meat as desired. Saves time and avocado.

  • http://www.facebook.com/idimitrakopoulos Iason Dimitrakopoulos

    moar!

  • Guest

    The vertical cuts on the onion are completely useless (the onion, unlike the garlic, is in layers) and hey’re also dangerous for any beginner, as well as otherwise skilled knife users. I’ll never understand why the advice always includes those stupid vertical cuts. Has nobody but me ever studied the form of an onion?

    • Insatiable Booksluts

      d’you mean the horizontal cuts, mate? Because without the vertical cuts, you get sliced instead of diced.

  • Alan Hope

    The horizontal cuts on the onion are completely useless (the onion, unlike
    the garlic, is in layers) and hey’re also dangerous for any beginner,
    as well as otherwise skilled knife users. I’ll never understand why the
    advice always includes those stupid horizontal cuts. Has nobody but me
    ever studied the form of an onion?

  • YUKIJAPANESE

    yea looks easy but dont be trying to do that shit with your weak ass knives at home. i work at a japanese restaurant and the most important thing is a good knife. but yea he just gave yall the basic weak ass skills

  • Margarita Mandoki McClain

    I would love to show this in class, but slide 11 makes it unusable in a high school setting. Any chance of getting a slightly edited copy?

  • Bridie Rollins

    I think this was an excellent show of basic beginner knife skill and that folks are far too critical of its simplicity. I personally know folks who can’t even do any of these things because they have never learned how to even hold a knife let alone use one. I will happily pass this along for them to learn from.

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