Tuesday, June 9, 2009

How NOT to cut yourself when cooking!

When I was first learning how to cook, I used to cut myself all the time chopping vegetables and meats. I figured out from watching cooking shows, that there are definitely some knife skills needed to avoid losing a digit in the kitchen! Since I changed the way I hold my knife, it's been probably about 10 years (knock on wood!) since I've nicked myself while cooking. This is not to say that I haven't had several other types of kitchen mishaps, but I seem to have gotten the chopping thing down pat!

Rule #1: Keep your knife tip down on the cutting board

You get into the most trouble when you are continuously lifting your knife each time you chop, dice or slice. Try keeping the tip of your knife on the cutting board then raising and lowering the body of the knife to cut. If you follow this rule, you'll have much greater control over your knife and will, in turn, decrease the likeliness of lobbing off a digit.

Rule #2: Curl those fingers

The hand that holds down whatever you happen to be cutting should have fingers curled under. This is one more step in ensuring that you don't slip with the knife and nick the tip of a finger.

Rule #3: Choose the right knife for the job

Use common sense when choosing your knife; in other words, don't use a cleaver when you need a paring knife. I typically use a chef's knife (pictured above) for most of my chopping, dicing, julienning and slicing. It's my go-to knife, and I'm very comfortable using it on most vegetables and meats. If you're phobic about larger knives, use a paring knife for chopping and slicing and a steak knife for slicing cooked meats. Just make sure you're using a good quality knife that maintains sharpness (don't forget to sharpen your knives periodically!).

Rule #4: Positioning is EVERYTHING

Put some thought into how you are placing your foods on the cutting board. Make sure that you have the flattest part of any meat or vegetable down, so that it's not sliding all over the cutting board. For example, when you're cutting a bell pepper, the inside of the pepper should be face-up on the board. This way you have more of the pepper's surface area on the board and are also cutting through the easiest part of the pepper first. The same principle applies with onions and other round veggies. Make an initial cut (say, cutting an onion in half), then place the flat side down on the cutting board. One more tip related to positioning is to move the vegetable/meat, not the knife. If I'm chopping green onions, my knife remains in the same place, while I move the onions under the blade using my opposite hand. The more you move your knife around, the more likely you are to need bandaids later!

Rule #5: Put raw meats in the freezer before slicing

The more supple the meat is, the more it's going to slide around on the cutting board. If you put it in the freezer, even for just a few minutes, the meat will be easier to slice. This tip is especially helpful when you are thinly slicing meats. Make sure you don't freeze your meats completely; you'll have a tough time getting your knife through!

For excellent video instructions on knife skills, please visit www.rouxbe.com, select "drill downs" and search "knife skills". There are five tutorial videos that will help you master the use of knives in your kitchen.

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