I opened my Cook’s Illustrated magazine today (Nov./Dec. 2008 issue), and the center story is about CHOPPING! We’re all happy to know that CI and I both give the same advice.—Julia Pantoga
More Cooking 101: Chopping October 4, 2008
By Julia Pantoga
Chopping is the cute 4-year-old of cooking. We could hardly tolerate 4-year-olds, if they weren’t so darned cute. I’d probably rarely cook, if it weren’t for chopping.
Remember all the mind tricks I encouraged you to use for housework? You won’t be surprised that I recommend some also for cooking. The first trick I want you to play on yourself is to do all of your prep work and clean-up long before you will be cooking. By the time you cook, you won’t remember errant spinach that stuck to the side of the refrigerator—that will be a distant memory of something you cleaned up long ago.
Principles of Chopping (right-handed instructions)
Let the tool do the work. Human beings have been cooking since the dawn of time and, ever since they have been making tools, they have been making cooking tools. It is very, very unlikely that you will try to do something in the kitchen (except open certain jars) for which there is not a tool that will do the work for you. If you are ever having physical difficulty doing something in the kitchen, you are likely using the wrong tool, or the tool you are using is not good (by the way, you all know that dull knives are much more dangerous than sharp knives, don’t you?).
Use the right tool for the job. Over the years, I have accumulated a lot of chopping tools, but my favorite, hands down, is a knife. As much as I love my knife, I must admit that sometimes other tools are better suited for the job at hand (for example, a food processor for chopping raisins).
Minimize the number of tools you use. Remember, each tool that you use is going to have to be washed.
Use several cutting surfaces. The purchase of a packet of four cutting mats was one of my best kitchen purchases. Having several cutting surfaces means that I don’t have to stop to wash my cutting board because it reeks of onions; I can throw it in the sink, grab a clean one and continue chopping and wash the five I’ve used all at once.
Chopping with a Knife
First of all, minimize your movements. Every time you lift the knife up completely from the cutting board, you are moving the knife. It’s safer and requires less energy to move the knife as little as possible. Whenever I can, I “rock the knife” (this has the added benefit of making you look like a real pro in the kitchen). That is, I keep the tip of the knife on the cutting surface, push the vegetable through the knife blade with my left hand, then “rock the knife” up and down with my right hand to chop.
Flat surfaces on the cutting area make whatever you are cutting more stable. Before I chop something, if it doesn’t have a flat side already, I make one. When things that you are chopping are rolling around, they are at their most dangerous; this is when it is the most likely that you will have vegetables and knives flying around.
So, here’s how I’d dice a carrot:
First, I’d cut the carrot carefully in half. If it were a big carrot, I’d lay the flat sides down and cut the carrot halves into thinner strips.
Then I’d lay the carrot strips flat side down on my cutting surface and use the “rock the knife “ technique to dice.
Stay tuned for more chopping and cooking tips;. The holiday season is fast approaching (can you believe it?), so we need to move towards getting ready for that next week.