Staying Sharp in the Kitchen
Chop. Dice. Mince. Slice. Is there really a difference? Actually, yes! When it comes to cooking and baking, there are several ways to cut up food.
My good friend, Juliana Gallin, and I have created a list to help even the most aichmophobic folks become pros with the knife, whether they’re mincing herbs for a pot roast dinner or grating a lemon to add some zest to lemonade.
CHOP: Cut into bite-sized pieces, 1 inch or smaller.
CUBE: Cut into a uniform cube shape, around ½ inch.
DICE: Cut into very small cubes, around 1/8 inch to ¼ inch.
MINCE: Cut into very small pieces, smaller than 1/8 inch.
SLICE: Cut into thin, flat pieces.
SHRED: Cut into small, narrow strips, usually with the large holes of a grater or a food processor fitted with a shredding disc. Cooked meat is also often “shredded” using either your hands or two forks to pull it apart.
GRATE: Reduce to very thin shreds, usually with the small holes of a grater, a Microplane grater, or a food processor fitted with a grating disc.
JULIENNE: Cut into matchstick-sized strips, around 1/8 inch thick by 2 inches long.
CHIFFONADE: This French term (literally, “made from rags”) refers to a preparation of leafy vegetables or herbs by cutting them into fine strips or shreds (for example, “basil chiffonade”). To cut a chiffonade, make a little stack of like-sized leaves, roll them up tightly, and then slice the roll to create little bundles of ribbons.
Now that we’ve gone through a few of the basics of cutting up food, I think it’s important that you have the proper tools as well. High-quality knives are more expensive, but they’re worth the investment, especially since they’ll last longer, stay sharper, and make cutting food easier (and safer!).
CHEF’S KNIFE: A 6-inch or 8-inch chef’s knife is a must for any kitchen, as it can cut meat and vegetables.
PARING KNIFE: Great for peeling.
PROPER BREAD KNIFE: Who doesn’t love sliced bread?
SANTOKU KNIFE: A sleek sharp knife that’s more expensive, but is ideal for smooth cuts.
GOOD CARVING KNIFE: Come Thanksgiving or Christmas the family will be glad you have one!
KITCHEN SHEARS: These kitchen scissors are great for snipping herbs, dicing chicken, or even opening packages.
One last note from one Lazy Gourmet to another: Keep your knives SHARP. It makes prep easier, faster, and safer. Have your knives sharpened about once every year and use your honer (that long, cylindrical piece of steel that comes with many knife sets) to keep your blades in top shape.
ROBIN DONOVAN is the author of Campfire Cuisine: Gourmet Recipes for the Great Outdoors and coauthor of the New York Times bestseller Dr. Gott’s No Flour, No Sugar Diet. Her articles have appeared in popular publications including Cooking Light, Fitness, The San Jose Mercury News, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and The San Francisco Chronicle. She met her good friend, JULIANA GALLIN when they were both college housemates in Santa Cruz, CA. Together, they wrote The Lazy Gourmet: Magnificent Meals Made Easy (Viva Editions). They continue to cook and eat together regularly, sharing recipes, ideas, successes, and still the occasional culinary disaster. Read their food blog at www.twolazygourmets.com.