By Elettra Wiedemann
Sometimes the thing stopping us from making a homemade meal isn’t the cooking time, or the grocery shopping we’d have to do after work. It’s the prep. Chopping and dicing can turn a 20-minute recipe into a 60-minute ordeal. Knife skills are one of the first things you learn in cooking school (remember this scene from Julie & Julia?), and with good reason: Having good knife skills are a real game changer in the kitchen, because it makes a super efficient, slicing, dicing, and chopping machine. And, it’s much easier than you think. Once you’ve got these basic techniques down, you’ll be able to mince and matchstick with confidence. Plus, you’ll only need 1 or 2 knives (a chef’s knife and a paring knife) in your kitchen arsenal to do it!
Related: 3 New Ideas For Our Favorite Fruit
ALL PHOTOGRAPHY BY DANNY KIM; FOOD STYLING BY LAUREN GERRIE.
Level I: We’ve Been Holding Knives Wrong Our Entire Lives
The first thing to know when it comes to knives, cooking, and chopping is that you’ve probably been holding a knife wrong your whole life. But don’t be embarrassed! The correct way to hold a knife may not seem intuitive at first, but once you see how it improves mobility and efficiency, you’ll find it hard to go back to your old habits. Here’s how it goes:
1) Hold the knife handle in your hand with the blade facing up (sharp side facing you).
2) Now, close your hand around the handle and turn the blade down to face the table or your work surface (sharp side facing away from you).
3) Inch your grip up on the knife handle until your index and thumb just reach the metal part of the knife.
4) Curl your index finger slightly and rest your index knuckle on one side of the blade, with your thumb pushing against the other side of the blade.
5) Pinch the blade between your index knuckle and thumb, while continuing to hold the knife handle. When it comes to knife skills, your fingers stay still and your wrist is doing all the work.
You’re now holding the knife like a professional chef would! Let’s chop an onion.
Related: Icelandic Foods That Blew Our Minds
Level II: Chop An Onion Like A Pro
Chopped onions are called for in many recipes, so it’s important that we know how to do it properly andquickly! With your new knife-grip skill as a starting point, you are ready to tackle this. Here we go:
1) First, your whole onion should have a root side and a stem side. Chop off the stem side so you have a flat surface on that side, and keep the hairy root side intact.
2) Now, lay your onion on your work surface with the newly flat surface acting as a stabilizer. Slice the onion in half through the hairy root, and peel off the layers of onion skin.
3) Before you start chopping, it’s important to keep in mind that you should not slice or cut through the root until the very end. Leave about a quarter of an inch from the root clear when chopping.
Related: The Easiest-Ever Coleslaw Recipes
4) Lay your halved onion flat side down on your chopping board so that it is stable. Place your non-chopping hand very flat across the top of the onion. Turn your knife parallel to the table, and do two to three cuts into the onion (remember: not all the way to the root!).
5) Remove your hand from on top of the onion, and you’ll see that there are some natural lines that are part of the onion’s skin. With your non-chopping hand in a bear-claw shape, use the natural lines as rough guidelines for where to cut downwards, keeping clear of slicing through the root.
6) Now, turn the onion 90 degrees and cut the onion in the opposite direction (cross-wise). Can you believe it? You’re chopping an onion with pizzazz!
7) If you need to, cut around the root and slice the remainder of the onion.
VOILÀ! You have a diced onion! You’re ready to take it to the next level: mincing garlic.
Level III: The Best Way To Mince Garlic Without A Garlic Press
We can all squeeze garlic through a garlic press, but there’s something strangely satisfying about smashing the individual cloves, and chopping them up into teeny-tiny pieces with a paring knife. Plus, it’s great practice for developing those knife skills. It might seem daunting when you watch celebrity chefs do it on TV, but mincing a clove of garlic is actually really simple. Check out our tutorial below
1. Pick off a garlic clove, set it on the table, place your paring knife straight over the top, and bang down hard to crunch the clove.
2. Peel off all the skin and then set your “naked” clove on the chopping board in front of you.
3. With your non-chopping hand in a bear claw shape (to avoid cutting your fingers!) start slicing the garlic straight down and perpendicular to the table.
4. Once you’ve sliced the entire clove in one direction, bunch the pieces together, and dice them in the opposite direction.
5. Bunch again, and slice them in the original direction again. Repeat until you have your minced garlic the size that you want it.
Here’s a secret chef’s tip: If the garlic gets a little sticky and annoying to handle, just sprinkle in a little bit of table salt, and that should fix right up!
Now, let’s talk about how to perfectly chop up potatoes, so they cook evenly and perfectly!
Level IV: The Chopping Trick For Perfectly Cooked Potatoes Every Time
Chopping a potato is easy, but I always end up with a bunch of different sized pieces, some of which end up cooking faster than others (or get charred into oblivion). Here’s how to avoid those rogue crunchy bites of potato once and for all!
1. Cut your potato in half lengthwise, and set the flat sides down on the chopping board or working surface.
2. Slice both halves of the potatoes lengthwise and then flatten them out your surface.
3. Now chop them again, into french fry-like shapes.
4. Once that’s done, separate them into two equal sized piles of sliced potatoes, and turn 90 degrees.
5. Now, chop the potatoes again straight down to make diced potatoes.
Look at you go! Now you’re ready to core and slice up a tomato, professional chef-style.
Level V: How To Dice A Tomato
To dice a tomato, you basically want to maneuver around the core and slice up all the meaty tomato goodness. Here’s how:
1. Place your tomato on a chopping board with the root facing to the side. Slice off the root part and discard.
2. Flip over the tomato and cut off a little bit of the bottom end, so that you have a flat surface that will be stable. Discard the bottom.
3. Turn the tomato so it’s resting on one of the flat surfaces you just cut.
4. Cut off all the yummy tomato “meat” around the core. You should be able to do this in five to six slices.
5. Slice those pieces in one direction, then the other direction.
BOOM! An expertly diced tomato. You’re a pro! Now, you’re ready for some serious French skills, like the Julienne.
Level VI: How To Cut Perfect Matchstick Carrots
“Julienne” might be a scary-sounding cooking term, but it just means long, thin matchstick shapes. Once you’ve demystified the word, learning to do it yourself really isn’t so tough. This technique creates perfect little strips of veggies to add to salads, sides, and more. So, next time you’re in the kitchen, impress your friends with matchstick carrots; it’s easier than it sounds! You can also apply this method to other vegetables — peppers, celery, and more.
1. Cut off the top of your carrot and set aside. Then chop off the narrow bottom part.
2. With your non-chopping hand in a bear-claw shape, hold the carrot steady while you slice carrot sticks in a downward motion.
3. Then, cut down each of your carrot sticks into thinner, baby-carrot sticks. You just julienned!
Read This Next: Does This Salad Frustration Make You Crazy? Here’s An Easy Fix