Knife Skills – Three Basic Cutting Techniques (and a Bonus!)

Proper cutting technique is both safer and produces a better ingredient for your dish. Though there a plenty of fancy cuts and advanced techniques, these will all be useless without a solid foundation is the most basic cuts.

 

Three of the most basic cuts are the tap chop, rock chop, and the cross chop. All three are very similar, but can produce a variety of cuts. And for anything else, there’s the bonus cut: the draw (or draw slice). Now for the culinary school graduates, there may be other names to these cuts. Maybe even something in French. For the home enthusiast, these names should do.

 

Safety First

 

Before trying any new movements with a knife, make sure you’re using the knife safely.  It’s generally agreed that “the pinch” is the best way to hold a knife.  This means hold the handle of the knife with the middle, ring, and pinky finger. The index finger should be on one side of the flat of the blade, and the thumb on the other side.

 

It’s also important to keep your guide fingers safe so that fingertips don’t wind up in your dinner. Always keep the fingers curled backwards into a claw-like conformation.  Keep the thumb tucked behind the fingers so that it doesn’t get the knife either. The section between the first and second knuckles acts as a guide and keeps everything nice and safe.

 

 Tap Chop

 

The tap chop is literally just that… a tap that chops. It’s a vertical motion with the blade that is great for slicing thick or thin. Keep the fingers on your off hand way back stabilizing whatever you’re cutting, and then bring the middle (or belly) of your blade down. If you’re maintaining your knife well, then it should have a sharp enough edge to just shave off whatever thickness of cut you just aimed for.

 

This is a great way to chop or slice narrow, stable objects. If it’s round and wobbly (like a carrot or cucumber), then cut the item lengthwise first to make a flat surface.

 

This cut works best of firm items like crunchy fruits and vegetables.  A sharp knife will also make short work of softer items like tomatoes, but it’s not a very effective way to deal with most meats, fish and seafood.

tap chopping
How to Tap Chop

Rock Chop

 

This cut is named after the rocking movement it produces, not the ability to chop up stones.The rock chop is great for dealing with flat or thin items like spring onions, chili peppers, or even meats (so long as a rough cut is all right). The roll chop is based on the tip of the knife being stationary and the blade rotates up and down off that pivot point.  The motion is still entirely vertical, but now it’s only the handle of the knife that moves up and down, not the whole blade.

 

The rock chop can also be a fast-moving cut, so it’s important to keep the fingers well out of the way. The edge of the knife should never be lifted above the second knuckle.  If you’re rock chopping a thicker item that would need the knife to come up over the level of the second knuckle, raise the guide hand to keep contact with the flat of the knife.

 

This cut can be used for a variety of cuts, from fine to rough.  It’s also handy for making thin strips or slices of veggies so long as they’re not too wide. Cutting longer items into strings, strips, or slices is better suited to the draw (the bonus cut).

rock chopping
How to Rock Chop

 

Cross Chop

 

The cross chop uses the rock chop as its foundation.  Again, the tip of the knife stays in one place and the blade pivots around that point. But instead of being a mostly vertical motion, the cross chop also moves the knife in a sideways arc. It’s ideal for fine chopping, mincing, or some quick rough cuts. How finely chopped the results are depend only on how many passes you make with the knife.

 

There is a safety concern with the cross chop, though. With the sideways motion, there’s no safe place to put the guide hand on the cutting surface. Instead, rest the guide hand on the spine of the knife.  Keep the hand flat, and apply gentle pressure to the knife.  If you place the guide hand close to the tip, it will help keep it anchored as the knife pivots up, down and side-to-side. Be very careful not to let the fingers curl downward as they can get caught on the edge and take one or more fingertips off.

 

The cross chop is often fairly chaotic and messy. Should your ingredients start spreading out over the cutting surface, just use the knife edge to scrape everything back into a pile and keep chopping until you get the desired fineness.

cross chop
How to Cross Chop

 

Draw

 

The draw is another handy cut, especially when working with long items. Cutting an eggplant or a large carrot lengthwise is virtually impossible with a rock or tap chop (unless your knife is huge and razor sharp). Instead, you can use the draw.  Place the tip of the knife on the cutting surface (in the same position as a rock chop) on the far side of whatever you’re cutting.  Then draw the blade straight towards yourself, dragging the tip through the ingredient you’re cutting.

 

This technique is handy, but it also requires a lot of care.  It’s harder to use the guide hand to control the knife without getting in the way, which could end in blood and/or tears. Instead, keep the guide hand as far from the knife as possible, and don’t try to go too fast.

This technique does require a well-maintained knife to be effective, though. When sharpening and honing, it’s important to work the entire edge.  Some chefs do prefer differential sharpness along the length of a knife, but those who use the draw keep the edge nearest the tip sharpest.

draw slice
How to Draw Slice

 

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