It took a lot of establishing information but it’s finally time to move our lessons into the kitchen. In culinary school, the first thing you do in the kitchen is learn how to properly use a knife so that’s where we’ll start, also. To properly use a knife, you first have to know how to hold one. Holding a small knife is pretty intuitive so I’ll focus where people tend to go wrong… with large knives. If you haven’t read my post all about knives, you might want to check it out.

Today, we’ll focus on chef’s and santoku knives since the method is the same for both and they’re more likely to be mishandled than any other. A good knife is weighted so that if you hold it properly, it will be evenly balanced and easier to control. The image below (which was kindly loaned to me from the good people at Fante’s in Philadelphia) is the perfect illustration.

Wrap your hand around the handle where it meets the blade. Your index finger should rest on one side of the blade while your thumb is pressed against the opposite side. This will give you optimal control.

The longer you’ve used knives with a different technique, the harder it will be to transition to using a better grip but I highly encourage you to stick with it. People are often afraid of cutting themselves but sliding your hand closer to the center of the blade will give you more control and the less likely you’ll be to make a mistake. I can not stress enough how important it is to have a sharp knife for cutting vegetables. Not only will it require less muscle to get through the tough cuts, you’re actually less likely to cut yourself if you keep your knife sharp. True story.

Let’s use this technique to cut an onion. This isn’t the only way to cut an onion but it’s the way we were required to do it for ACF competitions (for speed and accuracy) so it’s been beat into me.

Slice the onion in half, going through the root. 

Slice off the end opposite of the root. This is when I find it easiest to peel off the dry, outer layers.

This is where it gets a little difficult to explain in photos. Lay the onion flat on the cutting board with the sliced end facing toward your knife blade. Place your left hand on top for support (see below) and, starting closest to the cutting board, slowly cut slices through the onion that are parallel to the board. Slices should be as wide as you want your final onion pieces and should end about an inch before you reach the root of the onion. It’s important to not use a sawing motion, that creates a lot of room for cutting yourself. Instead, start with the widest part of the knife at the tip of the onion (like in photo 1). Pull the handle toward you as you slice into the onion toward the root, creating one long cutting motion. You’re simultaneously pulling the knife toward you and through the onion, toward the root.

I failed to show how I hold the onion with my left hand in the above photos so I thought I’d add this one from a previous shoot. Apply just enough pressure to hold the onion in place but not so much that it makes it more difficult to run your knife through it.

Here’s what your onion should look like so far. Notice the cut lines running parallel to the board.

Next, make slices perpendicular to the cutting board, starting at the end of the onion farthest from you and working toward you. Curl your fingers in just a bit and rest the side of the blade of the knife against your fingers. This will allow you to use your fingers as a guide to ensure you cut exactly where you want to cut. Keep your fingertips curled in to avoid a trip to the ER! Keep the tip of your knife about one inch from the root. Otherwise, the onion won’t stay together for the rest of your cuts.

 Here’s what your onion now looks like. A few of my onion pieces have already jumped ship.

Now you can cut cut across your previous slices to finish dicing most of your onion.

Cut until the end of your previous slices. Remember how we didn’t cut the inch of the onion closest to the root? We’ll take care of it now.

 Turn the onion down so it’s flat on the board.

 Cut slices.

Turn the slices and slice through them to dice them. You can also tackle that last root part of the onion now.

Repeat the above step with the other half of your onion.

I hope this all makes sense, let me know if it doesn’t. Learning to use your knife properly is difficult at first but I know from experience that it make a difference. Stick with it and you’ll be amazed at how fast you can chop through veggies!

Next Post: Classic French Knife Cuts
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