ON COOKING: Chef Dez on using a chef’s knife

Here’s part 3 of his series on selecting knives, cutting boards, and cutting safety

Email your cooking questions to Chef Dez at dez@chefdez.com.Email your cooking questions to Chef Dez at dez@chefdez.com.

Email your cooking questions to Chef Dez at dez@chefdez.com.Email your cooking questions to Chef Dez at dez@chefdez.com.

by Chef Dez

As the final entry of a three-part series on cutting, this column will focus on cutting techniques. The previous columns on knife selection and cutting boards.

Now that you are informed about how to start your knife collection and which cutting boards to use, it is time to focus on the act of cutting itself. Nothing is better than having a personal one-on-one lesson on cutting, but I will try to do my best in written form to communicate some basic tips to get you started.

When holding a chef’s knife, it is important to have it balanced properly in your hand to reduce fatigue and improve control. To find this balance point, carefully place approximately the middle of the flat side surface of the knife’s blade on your extended index finger a couple of inches over a cutting board. Slowly move the knife, so that your finger travels up or down the side of the knife’s blade, to find the position on the knife where it is completely balanced by your one finger. At that point place your thumb of your same hand on the opposite side of the blade and wrap your remaining fingers around the handle.

On a good quality knife, this balance point will be approximately on the first inch of where the blade extends from the handle. This is usually because the knife has a full tang, and the weight of this full tang in the handle offsets the weight of the remaining steel in the knife’s extended blade. It may seem awkward at first, to grasp the base of the blade in your hand, but after regular practice, it will become comfortable. Holding the knife in other fashions, such as having the index finger extended on the top of the knife when cutting, will reduce the amount of control one has and increase the chance of injury. If you find these instructions on holding a chef’s knife are unclear, I recommend searching the internet to get a visual of this technique.

Placement of the opposite hand (the one holding the food) is also just as vital to prevent injury. One should grasp the product in a claw-type fashion, with the finger tips bent inwards and the thumb tucked behind them. Having the finger tips bent in towards the palm of the hand will get them out of harm’s way of the knife blade, and thus reduce the risk of injury.

Always practice precision and the speed will come in time. Having precise cuts is better than risking an injury. Welcome the chance to practice your knife skills with every opportunity and efficiency will come naturally.

Dear Chef Dez:

Any tips on cutting a loaf of bread horizontally without it being uneven? For example, cutting a full loaf of French bread in half to make garlic bread. Every time I do it, it is never even.

Pam C., Airdrie, Alta.

Dear Pam,

After starting the cut, it is important to watch where the top edge of your serrated knife is as it moves along the loaf. Don’t watch the part of the knife closest to the handle as it will follow the same even path simultaneously as the top edge. It is closer to where your hand is controlling the knife, and thus less chance for error as long as the knife is even by watching the top edge.

Also be careful to keep your other hand completely flat on the top of the loaf as you cut. Any fingers that could be carelessly hanging down off the side of the loaf are susceptible to being cut accidentally.

As an extra precaution, continue to move this hand down the loaf as you cut, keeping it an inch or two away from where the knife is doing the cutting at all times. When you get close to the end of cutting the loaf, move this hand over to the other side of the bread (that has been cut already), to prevent injury as the knife exits the loaf.

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– Chef Dez is a food columnist and culinary instructor in the Fraser Valley. Visit him at www.chefdez.com. Send questions to dez@chefdez.com or to P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, B.C. V2T 6R4

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