Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Chop ‘Til You Drop: The Ultimate Guide to Slicing, Carving, and Cutting Your Food into Tiny, Affordable Pieces

It may seem daunting, but one of the easiest and thriftiest ways to make meals taste better is to cleave, dice, and mangle your own ingredients. There are two reasons for this:
  1. Lots of foods lose flavor and vitamins the second they’re sliced open. As a general rule, the less meat and produce are handled, the better they’ll taste on the table, and the better they’ll act in recipes.

  2. Pre-cut fruit, veggies, and meat can run FIVE TIMES the cost of simply buying the food whole. Case in point: at FreshDirect.com, jumbo carrots go for $0.79/lb, while 16 ounces of baby carrots and celery sticks cost a whopping $4.99. That’s nuts.

Now that you’re convinced that hacking your own comestibles is the way to go (you are, right?), let’s get to chopping.

First, a smattering of rules:

  • Chop safely. Knives are sharp bastards by definition (thus the expression “sharp as a cliché”), and it’s stunningly easy to slice through a major organ if you lose your grip. Chopping slowly, paying attention, and/or watching this video might save a finger.

  • Chop with a sharp knife. A dull one forces you to put more oomph into the motion, increasing the chance of injury. Honing and sharpening tools can help maintain a knife’s razor-edged glow, as seen here.

  • Chop with the right knife. Using a pairing knife on a pumpkin might take awhile, and a chef’s knife applied to an apple peel could do some serious damage. This video, from About.com, is a good guide for matching knives to their correct targets. Hormel has a nice text-n-picture rundown, too.

  • Chop after you shop. You’ll save buckets of time and energy down the line if you hew your food as soon as you get home. Certain fruits and vegetables (apples, pears, etc.) won’t hold up, but others (cantaloupe, pineapples, etc.) will stay edible for ages in the fridge or freezer.

  • Chop uniformly. This is only if you intend to cook with it, but cutting food into similar-sized pieces will help them roast, bake, or boil equally.

  • Chop smart. Besides Big Green, the all-purpose emerald hoodie I bought senior year of high-school, a $90 knife skills class was the best investment I ever made. I buzz through food about three times faster now, and don’t fear losing a hand half as much. Check nearby cooking schools to see if they offer one-off lessons.

Next, we move on to a few chopping terms that always come in handy.

  • Chiffonade
    “Thin strips or shreds of vegetables (classically, sorrel and lettuce)” - The New Food Lover's Companion via Food.com
    Instructions
    Video (click on "chiffonade")

  • Chop
    “To chop means to cut foods into pieces. This is a larger cut than dice or mince and generally does not need to be uniform.” – Food.com
    Instructions
    Video

  • Dice
    “To cut food into tiny (about 1/8- to 1/4-inch) cubes.” - The New Food Lover's Companion via Food.com
    Instructions
    Video

  • Julienne
    “Foods that have been cut into thin, matchstick strips.” - The New Food Lover's Companion via Food.com
    Instructions
    Video

  • Mince
    Smaller than a dice, it’s just about the tiniest cut you can manage.
    Instructions (garlic example)
    Video (click on “mince”)

Finally, it’s on to specific foods. Whether you’re hacking at a pomegranate, potato, or pork roast, these videos and instructions should provide some guidance for your first time. Remember, though: be careful. I take no responsibility for injuries other than my own. (Which are numerous and ouchy.)

FRUITS

VEGETABLES

MEATS

That’s all, folks. Please let me know if a link is dead, or if you have any other suggestions. I welcome them with open arms, which are finally healing from that bout with a butternut squash.

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3 comments:

Hops said...

You make it sound far less probable that someone like me will forfeit a finger in the process, however I am still skeptical.

JenB3569 said...

I found some truly useful tips on here. Some good suggestions even for someone who's married to a chef. (Yes I still have to cook now and then - LOL!) I don't want to be nit-picky, but the tomatoes are listed under vegetables. They should be in the fruit category.

avocado said...

these are amazing tips. I found a site with some cool avocado tips and wanted to share it.

howtocutanavocado.com