I know how to cut vegetables. Trust me, I do. Early in my career I was a lowly prep cook. I was part of a very large system, at a very large kitchen, that fed 15,000 people TWICE a day! My job was to cut vegetables, all day every day. I did this for months! From six in the morning to five in the evening, nothing but onions, carrots, celery, peppers. I spent HOURS cutting.
When you spend that much time with a knife in your hand, you start to find the methods that work efficiently and quickly, as well as those that will give you elbow and wrist problems. With hundreds of hours holding a sharp blade, I was able to give this much thought.
There are specific methods for holding and using the knife that will give more consistent results with greater speed and accuracy, while saving wear and tear on your body. These techniques take into consideration the grip, the knife-hand, and the non-knife hand.
The Grip - The safest and most effective grip for using a chef’s knife is not the way most people hold the blade. Most often, I see home cooks holding their knife like a club or a tennis racket, with all fingers wrapped around the handle.
The problem with the club grip is that the blade can spin in your hand. It’s potentially dangerous to be cutting vegetables and have the sharp edge of that steel suddenly lunge for your non-knife hand. The blade should always be at a 90 degree angle to the cutting board and strangling the handle with all your fingers makes this difficult to maintain.
The correct way to hold a chefs knife is by pinching the knife between thumb and forefinger just in front of where the handle meets the blade. This part of the knife is called the “Bolster”. With this pinch on the metal part of the knife, your other three fingers can then wrap around the handle. The first bend of your index finger should rest on the spine of the blade and extend down the side.
It’s an important part of knowing how to cut vegetables to have the safest and most effective grip on your knife, but it’s the motion or method of using the knife that will give you consistently cut items that will then cook at the same rate.
“Consistency of cut is consistency of cook”, I’m fond of saying. One of the best ways to assure all your items are cut the same size is to keep the knife as steady as possible during the prep work. Instead of lifting the blade off the cutting board with each stroke, it’s better to employ the Tip Fulcrum Method.
The Tip Fulcrum Method simply means that you keep the tip of the knife in contact with the cutting board and use it as a balance point for all your cutting. This makes the knife hand dumb. Its only job is to keep the tip of the knife down, and cut with a circular motion. Up, down, forward, and return. It’s like dipping water from a bucket with a spoon, not directly up and down, but slightly circular to take advantage of the sharp edge.
Now it’s the non-knife hand that becomes the brains of the operation. When the Tip Fulcrum method of the knife-hand meets the “kung-fu grip” of the non-knife hand, then the cutting becomes easier and safer.
All the fingers of the non-knife hand should be curled toward your palm, looking like some type of martial arts punch, thus the kung-fu grip as I call it. The knife will be guided by the middle knuckle of the non-knife hand, which will dictate the increment of the cuts.
The whole system works accurately and efficiently when given some practice. The proper grip on the knife, along with a circular Tip Fulcrum method, supported by the knuckle of the non-knife hand moving in the increment of the desired cut, becomes effortless after some practice. I can even do it blindfolded now!
It’s not a fancy or expensive knife that will show you how to cut vegetables, it’s the method. While this two-handed technique feels awkward to many people at first, they eventually find that it is the safest and most accurate way to achieve excellent results.