Get a refresh on the essentials of good knife skills
Choosing a chef's knife: Your chef's knife is your ally in the kitchen for everyday use, so buy one that feels comfortable in your hand: not too heavy or too light, not too long or too short, just right. Browse through several kinds and brands of chef's knives and give them all a try. But remember: you only need one solid knife. And a good knife does not have to be expensive.
Your knife should be sharp: Make sure your knife is sharp and honed to cut through ingredients cleanly and easily without needing to use a lot of force. If it does not, take it to a professional knife sharpener to get it fixed up. If you had your knife sharpened recently, it may just need to be honed on a honing steel to straighten out the edge.
If you are not sure if your knife is sharp enough, try slicing through a tomato or a piece of paper that you are holding up in the air. Sharp knives can get through tough tomato skin without damaging the soft flesh inside or make a clean cut through a piece of paper.
How to hold the knife: Good knife skills start with holding the knife properly; pinch the blade of the knife where it meets the handle between your thumb and first finger, then wrap the rest of your fingers around the handle. Do not lay your first finger across the top of the blade. This position gives the most leverage and control as you cut and dice. It might feel a little awkward at first, but if you keep practicing holding your knife this way, it will quickly start to feel natural.
Use the ‘Claw’ to protect your other hand. Be sure to protect your other hand as you cut: use the ‘Claw’ position. Curl fingers of your opposite hand into a ‘claw’ and rest just the tips of your fingers on top of the ingredient to cut. Tuck thumb in; your wrist should be parallel to the cutting board. As you slice, move your fingers back, still maintaining the claw formation. If your knife slips as you cut, it will hit against your knuckles or fingernails, protecting you from a serious slice.
Stabilize your cutting board. Last but not least, stabilize your cutting board by placing a rubber mat or a damp paper towel underneath to keep it from slipping as you cut, helping you work more quickly and safely.
Five recipes to practice your knife skills
Here are five recipes that all involve a fair bit of chopping. They are good practice recipes if you want to focus on your knife skills and still get dinner on the table.
Potato, Squash, and Goat Cheese Gratin
Barbecue Chicken Cobb Salad
Chickpea Waldorf Salad
Vietnamese Spring Rolls