One of the most impressive things about watching a talented chef cook on TV is seeing their knife work. Chefs like Jacques Pepin and Gordon Ramsey make it look so easy to get that perfect julienne, a fine brunoise or any other cut in what seems like a few seconds – and usually without even looking down at what they’re doing. Most home cooks don’t need to have knife skills like a three star chef, but a solid set of knife skills will serve you very well in the kitchen. Learning to cut things properly means that you’ll spend less time prepping your food and it will always cook evenly, whether you’re dicing up apples for a muffin recipe or slicing onions for a stew.
The best way to learn good knife skills is by taking a class with a professional chef. Many cooking schools offer these sorts of classes for amateur (or aspiring pro) chefs on evenings or weekends, but Craftsy offers a free Complete Knife Skills Class where you can get a good foundation without leaving your own kitchen. I’m partnering with Craftsy to give readers some insight into their ever-increasing array of cooking and baking classes. The knife skills class is a great way to try them out because these skills are essential to becoming a better cook and, of course, the class is free! All you need is your computer, a good knife, a cutting board and something to cut and you are ready to get started.
As a baker, I don’t get to practice my knife skills all the time, so I sat down to watch the class in order to inspire myself to to brush up on my knifework. The class covers the basic types of knifes that you should have in your collection and what they are used for. It covers the set up for your workstation and, most importantly, has many reminders about knife safety. After all, it won’t matter how fast you are able to chop up a carrot if you accidentally chop off a finger while you’re doing it!
The instructor in the class does a great job breaking down the most basic skills that you need to use a knife like a professional. There are three things that you need to know: how to hold the knife, how to hold your guiding hand and how to slice with your knife blade efficiently. He covers them slowly and the camera work is great, so you can clearly see exactly how he is handling the knife.
I followed along with the instructor while he demonstrated a few basic cuts: planks, juliennes and brunoise, also known as fine dice. It’s easy to tailor the cuts to get the size you want for whatever you’re cooking. For instance, you might want a very fine dice for a potato hash, but you might prefer a larger dice for a roasted potato side dish. I had apples and celery on hand in my kitchen and practiced the cuts on those in preparation for turning them int a salad. Carrots and potatoes are usually the vegetables that are best suited to practicing knife work, since they are firm and give you a lot of surface area to practice with. The second portion of the class demonstrates techniques for working with different types of fruits and vegetables that might require slightly different techniques than your average carrot.
You really do need a good knife to get the best results from this class. A good knife doesn’t mean an expensive knife (although a great knife will last you for years and is a good investment for someone who loves to cook). A good knife means a knife that is sharp and well-cared for. The last portion of the class covers knife sharpening – including a neat tip for sharpening a knife without a dedicated knife sharpener – and knowing how to sharpen a knife is just as important as knowing how to work with one. A sharp knife makes cutting safer and easier, which in turn makes prepping and cooking faster. And as your knife skills improve, you’ll be able to impress your friends at your next dinner party with your ability to wield a honing steel and chop like a pro.
By the end of the class, you’ll end up with a great idea of how to get the most out of your chefs knife, solid basic knife skills, and plenty of new tricks for working with some common fruits and vegetables. For instance, you’ll learn how to easily chop an onion without crying, how to cut a whole bunch of cherry tomatoes or grapes simultaneously and how to neatly cut the zest from a citrus fruit for getting a little extra flavor into a recipe. All you need to do to improve your skills from there is practice. It may take a barrel full of potatoes, but sticking with this basic technique will have you chopping better and faster than you did before, and you’ll be on your way to chopping almost as well as those TV chefs.
The Complete Knife Skills Class is completely free and well worth trying out. The entire class is about two hours long and can be watched at your own pace, so you can watch in stages or invite some friends over for a night of knifework. Just plan to buy things that you can cook and eat afterwards, to put all that chopping to good use!
Disclosure: Baking Bites is a Craftsy partner and this post is sponsored by Craftsy. Any commentary given and all opinions expressed are my own.