Cutting Techniques Demystified!

For those of you out there that read a recipe and get frustrated by all the different cutting terms that aren't explained or shown in photographs, here is a quick and easy look at some of the techniques you might encounter - - complete with photographs to show you what the end product should look like!

For my own part, I will do my best when I post recipes to describe how certain ingredients should be prepared and show you how they look.  If you have questions about the best way to handle an ingredient when you are trying one of my recipes (or someone else's for that matter!), please post them to the comments sections, or just send me an email.  I would love to hear from you!  Don't see a technique you want to know more about?  Just ask!

Red Bell Pepper - Chopped
Chop:  When you see this in a recipe, they are telling you to cut the ingredient into smaller pieces.  What size of pieces will vary depending on the recipe you are making and what food you are chopping, but it is safe to assume that you want to keep all the pieces at approximately the same size so they cook at the same rate.  It isn't important that they are exactly the same size or shape (which differs from some of the below).

There are a lot of different techniques that work well when cutting certain vegetables, and everyone seems to have a different trick they think is the "best".  I say, do whatever makes you most comfortable and leaves your with all your fingers!  The only way to get better at using that knife is to actually use it!  So don't beat yourself up over imperfect cuts.  The better you get at cutting, the more enjoyable cooking will become.  What used to take me a lot of time, is now just second nature to me and I find I can focus more on the tweaking of the recipes and not worry so much about the chopping.

Red Bell Pepper - Diced
Cube: The name here actually gives some cue as to what they are looking for.  When a recipes says to cube an item you literally want to cut the item into cubes, or small squares.  You want them to be about 1/2 inch to an inch in size unless the recipe indicates otherwise.

Dice:  This term means exactly the same thing as cube, but the pieces should be smaller.  When a recipe calls for something to be diced, you should cut it into smaller square pieces usually between 1/4 and 1/2 inch.  This cut works well when you want the finished product to be somewhat "prettier" than just chopping everything up.  The food will also cook more quickly when the pieces are smaller in size.  Where you might have to cook larger pieces of chopped potato or veggies for a longer period of time, if you cube or dice them they will cook more quickly in a hash or sauté.  This is a good time saver for week night meals or quick breakfast dishes when you are in a hurry.

Slices of yellow onion
Slice:  To slice something means to cut a thin flat piece.  The recipe should tell you what the desired thickness is by noting thinly sliced or refer to an exact measurement such as 1/4" thick slices. In a lot of cases it will be up to your personal taste - - such as a slice of tomato for your burger.  You can cut it thicker or thinner depending on your preference.  There are not always hard and fast rules!

One of the other key things to know about here is that what ingredient you are slicing will determine what tool you use to do it.  For example if you need to slice certain types of cheese (yes, I know that was predictable wasn't it?!) you can use a wire cheese slicer or a knife that is made for slicing cheeses.  If your recipes calls for slicing bread, you will want to use a serrated knife (the ones with the little teeth) to help make your cuts smooth and even.  If what you need to slice is not as firm as an onion you can often place it in the freezer for just a few minutes or keep it in the fridge until you need to slice it which will also make the cutting easier.  [This trick works great for when a recipe calls for grating softer cheeses as well, such as gouda or provolone.]

Julienne:  This term is most often associated with carrots, or at least that is how I first became familiar with it.  When a recipe calls for something to be julienned they are looking for match-like strips.  Ideally all the pieces should be the same size - - as consistently as possible.  Of course, if you aren't planning on photographing your food for a blog, it is really about the texture and cooking time so don't sweat it if your cuts aren't perfect!  Of course there is a great sense of satisfaction when you add those pretty little carrots to your salad!  So to master the art of julienne, you first slice the item and then cut the slices into the thin match stick strips.  If you own a mandolin then creating this shape is quite easy.  You can simply slice the item to the desired thickness and then cut it into the match stick pieces.  If you want to practice your knife skills and learn to control the blade this is a perfect cut to practice with. (photo coming soon!)

Minced garlic
Mince:  Similar to chopping, mincing means to cut food into small pieces.  When you see this term in a recipe they are looking for very small pieces - - much finer than chopped.  For things like the garlic in the picture it actually becomes somewhat of a rocking motion when you cut it.  If you have a knife with a slightly curved blade this will make mincing go quickly.  Leave the tip of the blade on the board and place your free hand on top of the blade - - (not the sharp side and careful of those fingers!) pressing down on and anchoring the tip.   Then use your cutting hand to pivot and guide the knife through the ingredient until you get the desired size you want.

Usually a recipe calls for something to be minced so it distributes evenly throughout the dish, or in some cases such as with anchovies it just melts into the sauce altogether.  For recipes where you don't want a large bite of raw garlic or jalapeño using this technique will bring you great results.

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