So I recently convinced you, using the Hypnotoad that you need a new knife. That is all fine and good, but now, what are you going to do with it? Well I am going to outline the basic cuts and sizes you can do, and give you an idea what people are asking for in various recipes.
Everything that can be done with a machine was first done with a knife. I suggest you get a couple carrots and potatoes and practice some of these cuts. It speaks a lot to the need for proper cuts that as a Culinary Student, our first proficiency was knife skills and cuts. Let me tell you, no room for errors there!
Got your attention? Well, in this case size makes all the difference. In order for things to be cooked in the same amount of time, they need to be of the same size. A great example of this is something as simple as making mashed potatoes. If you cut them different sizes either because you are lazy, or just never cared, you will wind up with some pieces that are way over done and water logged, while others are barely soft enough to mash properly. If they are all the same size, roughly, to begin with then they will be cooked uniformly.
Size is also important from a purely aesthetic standpoint. A great example is a nice cup of a clear soup, when you see the veg inside, they should all be the same size, all the way to the chicken size as well. Not only does this make them cook similarly, it also looks great when they are uniform.
Some cases, it still doesn’t matter what the size, and a great example of this is going the be a stock. This is where they will all be cooked well past doneness while we extract as much of the flavor as possible, and then discarded to boot.
CUTS AND SIZES
Lets’ take some space here and talk about the different cuts. Some of them have many names, and some, you may never even use, but at least you know what we are talking about in chef-speak. Most of the names come from French, as does most of the training, classically speaking. So follow along at home!
BRUNOISE (light green) Broon – wahh
This is a very small cube shaped dice method. The shape is key one this, and usually this cut is saved for garnish, or when the product will be cooked so fast the products need to cook rapidly. When used as a garnish, the size usually means you don’t even have to cook the product, and this is usually the case with something like a Consommé. The size of the product is 1/8th of an inch cubed. Great to practice on a carrot.
MINCED (not pictured)
Minced is basically a rough chop, but done very fine. This is usually reserved for Herbs, garlic, and most members of the onion family. An important note is that usually when it comes to these items, the smaller the cuts, the more oils are released, which also means the stronger the flavors they will yield. If you want a specific size, it is usually smaller than 1/16th of an inch. Shape is not so important.
SMALL DICE (orange)
This is a great cut for soups and regular veg. It is a good size that cooks relatively quick, but also fits on utensils nicely so one can get several pieces on a spoon or fork for instance. It is also easy to cut as most veg is that size naturally, the flesh of a Pepper, the dice on an onion, the width of celery all are great examples. The shape is very important as this size is usually kept and served with the finished product. Nothing shows care for your products like great knife skills! Final cuts should be 1/4 of an inch cubed.
ROUGH CHOP (blue)
Hey, food can be blue, well, maybe not so much. I was shooting for purple like an eggplant, but it came out more blue. Oh well, use your imagination! ANYHOW, the rough chop is exactly what it sounds like. It is a carefree cut to be sure, but you want your pieces at least in the same ball park as far as size goes. This a great size for stews and roasted veg, and gives a very rustic look to foods. Obviously you can cut larger or smaller dice and keep it neat as you wish. Size is usually in the 1 inch range.
The Julienne cut is a very well used cut, so much so I am sure most people are at least familiar with it, unlike its larger cousin Baton. Julienne is a very pretty cut when it is done well. It makes a great garnish to soups, on top of meats and in various types of slaws. It is one of those cuts that cooks very quickly indeed. The best tool for cutting this cut is a Mandoline. Do pick up a cut resistant glove at the same time, trust me! This is a great tool to get uniform cuts. We will go into that later though! Final size is always 1/8″ x 1/8″ and about 2-3 inches long.
CHIFFONADE (not pictured) Shiff – oh – nod
Chiffonade deserves a place here with the Julienne as it is closely related. It essentially is the julienne cut, but with thinner products so it is only two-dimensional. A great example is Basil is very often cut in this way, along with lettuces and other flat produce.
BATON (dark green) Bat – on
Baton is commonly called the French Fry cut as it is about the size of shoestring fries. It is a great size for veg that is to be served by itself along size a main. Root veg cooked this way tend to require a little time to cook, and sometimes even blanching ahead of time to make sure its cooked all the way through. For instance, if I were to put French Beans and Carrots together, I would use this cut. I would also cook the carrots in water until about 80% done, before I cooked them together. This way both would be complete at about the same time.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT SIZE
A great rule of thumb is to have all the products you are cooking be roughly the same size and shape. By looking at what you are cooking, and how long you will need to cook it for can have a great deal to what cuts you will choose to use.
Practice your cuts when you have time and on something as simple as mashed potatoes. What a great chance to get everything the same size. A salsa is a great example of something that it is KEY that everything is the same, so make a new one, and get creative!