It's easy to become intimidated watching famous chefs chop away, achieving both speed and accuracy whilst hardly paying attention at all, yet when you try to recreate their motions at home end up with uneven dicing and occasionally a sliced finger. At Divertimenti, we are proud to be the exclusive UK stockist of the high-quality Yaxell knives from Japan. Our range also includes knives from household names Wusthof, Kyocera and K Sabatier. This post aims to highlight a few basic pointers, that combined with consistent practice will allow you to chop like a pro.
Invest In a Good Knife
A good knife is an essential tool for any aspiring cook. For more information on what kind of knife is best suited to your needs, take a look at our knife buying guide - don't underestimate the importance of a high quality, sharp knife suited for the purpose as it will make all the difference.
Start With an Onion
Once you have your knife, start with the basics - dicing an onion. First, cut the onion in half from top to bottom, slicing the root clean in half. Secondly, trim the sprouting (top) end and peel off the skin and any tough outer layers, stripping down towards the root - the root should be helping the onion keep its shape and stay intact. Pull the skin away from the base but do not cut the root off, then discard the skin.
Next, place one half of the onion on the chopping board cut-side down, with the root pointing towards the left if you're right-handed, and pointing towards the right if you're left-handed. Supporting the onion with your non-dominant hand, make several parallel slices down through the onion to the board - again from root to tip but still leaving the root intact. The distance between the cuts will help determine how finely diced the end result is - this part is up to you.
Then, take hold of the onion again (still using your non-dominant hand), but use your hand as if it were a 'claw' with your fingertips resting on the onion and your nails at 90 degrees to the onion. This position is key to successful chopping - you'll be able to maintain a good hold on the object you're chopping, but should you slip, the only part of your finger that will come into contact with the knife is your nail.
Using this holding technique, make one horizontal cut through the onion towards the root (still, leaving it intact). If you are aiming for a particularly fine dice, two or three of these horizontal cuts can be made, but one is good for beginners to get the hang of it.
Finally, make several cuts through the onion to the board, this time cutting the onion widthways. Your 'claw' is crucial at this stage as it will stop the onion losing its shape and falling apart. You should now have a perfectly diced half onion! Repeat with the other half and make sure to practice often to perfect this technique.
Cutting Julienne Strips
Being able to cut a carrot, cucumber or courgette into batons, either large for crudites or small for Asian salads and the likes is a useful skill that you will use time and time again.
First, trim the vegetable to make it oblong. A round carrot is almost impossible to slice lengthwise as it will roll all over the place - if you slice it down four sides you create four flat surfaces which will help make things easier. Next, cut it into the lengths you desire.
Now use your knife to cut thin slices lengthways down the vegetable. Once the vegetable is slices, lay slices flat on the chopping board and cut them lengthways into batons. Tip: to turn this into a fine dice, simply 'cross chop' the batons across horizontally!
Tools that help you get perfect results are a julienne peeler - just like a vegetable peeler but with a serrated blade that helps easily slice carrots, courgettes, cucumbers and similar veg; and a mandolin which will product paper-thin slices of potato, fennel and similar.
Chopping herbs is most likely the easiest way to practice the all-important 'wrist action' - the fluid movement of chopping where the tip of the knife never leaves the board. This can then be applied to slicing and dicing,
Take a handful of parsley, excluding any woody stalks in your left hand. The key with chopping herbs is to be in control of them rather than having to chase leaves around the board, so use your fingertips to compress the leaves as much as possible.
Now grip the knife in your right hand and begin to chop the herbs, holding them together all the time with your left hand and inching your fingers back to keep out of the way of the knife as it moved forward. Once again, the 'claw' is useful at this stage. Instead of chopping in a downward motion, try to anchor the tip of the knife on the board and then slide the knife forwards across the herbs, moving the heel of the knife only. Next, slide the knife back towards you, lifting the heel but keeping the tip of the knife constantly in contact with the board. The action is a rhythmical rocking one, all movement is contained within the wrist rather than the upper arm.
Hopefully you find use in these tips and tricks to help improve your chopping skills. The secret to getting really good is just practice, practice, practice so make sure to apply and practice these wherever you can.