The Vocabulary of Knife Skills

Knife Skills Knife Display - smWe had a great Knife Skills class with kids and parents today.  Everyone was enthusiastic and excited to be learning such an important skill, and brought their serious, grown-up selves to the class!  We had lots of fun, no one cut themselves, and many new techniques were learned!

If you are ever considering a cooking class of any kind, I highly recommend Knife Skills.  Whether you take it from me (you really should) or someone else, it is THE MOST IMPORTANT cooking class you will ever take.  You can take a class that teaches you a series of recipes, and all you will know is those recipes.  But a technique class like Knife Skills is something you will use for just about every single recipe you ever make.

There is a vocabulary to Knife Skills, like knowing the difference between Honing and Sharpening, or Slice and Dice vs. Chop and Mince.  Here are some of the basic terms you should know!

Cooking Terms Used in Knife Skills 101

Chef Christy’s #1 Rule – No Flesh, No Blood, No Fingernails in the Food!

Slice – To make long thin cuts in food.

Dice – To cut food into small cubes about 1/8 to ¼ inch wide.

Chop – Using quick, heavy blows of a knife or cleaver to cut food into bite-size (or smaller) pieces. A food processor may also be used to “chop” food.  Chopped food is more coarsely cut than minced food.

Mince – To cut food into very small pieces. Minced food is in smaller pieces than chopped food. Garlic, mushrooms, herbs, ginger and other aromatic foods are often minced before adding to a recipe. Minced foods tend to blend into foods.

Chef’s knife – A widepointed blade with a rounded edge for ease of using a rocking/chopping motion. Offset handle for knuckles to clear the cutting board.

Santoku – Japanese style knife with a blunt nose and flatter blade angle, best for slicing cuts of meat and chopping/mincing.

Paring knife – A small knife between 3 and 4 inches for doing small work and garnishing cuts with fruits and vegetables. Bird’s Beak = hooked-nose paring knife

Slicer –A thin blade up to 12 inches long used for slicing large pieces of meat such as hams and roasts. A serrated slicer is used for cutting neatly through crusty breads.

Filet knife – A thin blade between 6 – 8 inches long, used to filet fish and cut around bones in poultry and meats. A filet knife has a flexible blade, while the same shaped knife with a stiff blade is called a boning knife.

Peeler – Vegetable peelers have two-sided blades for ease of peeling with a back and forth motion. The cutting blades can have different depths, making some more useful for thin-skinned vegetables such as carrots and others better for thicker-skinned squashes and eggplants.

Garnishing tools – Microplane for small grating, zester, butter shaper, ripple cutter,apple corer and many other specialty tools are available for decorative cuts.

Sharpening Steel – A long, pointed, thin round rod attached to a handle, ideally about 12 inches long, made of extremely hard, high-carbon steel or ceramic, used to keep a fine edge on sharp knives. Knives are honed by drawing them (while applying slight pressure) across the steel at a 20- to 30-degree angle. Doing this 5 to 6 times on both sides of the blade prior to each use keeps the blade razor-sharp. Dull blades will not be helped by a sharpening steel; they need to be resharpened on a whetstone and then fine-honed on a steel.

Whetstone- Rectangular blocks made of the extremely hard carborundum (silicon carbide). They are fine grained, often with one side slightly coarser than the other. Knives are sharpened (metal is removed) by drawing them across the oiled stone at a 20 degree angle on first the coarse and then the finer side. Fine-honing is then done on the steel.

Sharpen and Hone – Sharpen a knife by using a stone, removing metal and straightening the edge. Hone a knife by using a steel, aligning the microscopic burrs along the edge to make it razor-sharp.


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