Friday, January 18, 2008

Ask Mary: How to Hold a Knife

Dear Mary,
What is the best way to hold a knife to get the best results when prepping food?
Thanks, Darby

I didn’t realize there was a proper way to hold a knife until my first day of culinary school. Watching my instructor, I understood that the chefs on TV could chop their food without looking because they had learned a basic, vital culinary skill. Appropriately, the first six weeks of school were really and truly about becoming comfortable with the knife, and gaining a thorough understanding of a chef’s most important tool. At school I practiced five days a weeks for eight hours a day, chopping onions, carrots and celery. After, we mixed those vegetables together into what the French call a “mirepoix,” and used them for chicken, vegetable and beef stock. I’m not kidding – we made bucket loads.

At first, as we were learning, everyone was cautious. But as we got further into the course, everyone started to get a little cocky. One day, when we were working hard on our mirepoix stash, a guy started screaming. We all looked up, saw him holding a bloody finger, and watched as he fainted, taking the guy down next to him. The teachers told us to get back to work, called the ambulance, and proceeded to bandage up one student after another. After the first victim, it was like a chain reaction. Sometimes you just have those days!

Luckily, I avoided slicing my finger on that fateful day, however, I’m not entirely immune to finger slicing. Once I did a real number on my pointer while cutting an apple on a wet cutting board. But don’t let these tales scare you. Just remember that once you get comfortable with the knife, you still need to be extremely careful.

When it comes to using a knife, practice makes perfect. Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work for you the first time, or even the second. Put your forefinger, pointer finger and thumb on either side of the blade – with the three remaining fingers wrapped around the base of the knife. This will give you the maximum amount of control that you’ll need. It may feel awkward at first, but the more you do it, the better you will get. For more tips on holding a knife, refer back to this week’s webisode.

Happy Cooking!
Best, Mary

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