One common complaint I hear from readers and students is that they are often crunched for time after work and don't have more than half an hour to prepare dinner. Another thing I've noticed? A recipe that might take a less experienced home cook 60 minutes to make, only takes me 30-40 minutes. This isn't a humblebrag! It's simply that years of professional training mean that I'm able to get organized and cut vegetables more quickly. Great recipes, nutritional knowledge, and creativity are all important in the kitchen, but if we are talking about pure speed? Knife skills are where it's at.
So today I wanted to share a few tips to help you improve your knife skills and speed up the time it takes you to prepare a healthy recipe.
1. Learn the proper way to cut each vegetable.
Some aspects of "knife skills" apply to anything and everything that you'd want to cut, like holding a knife firmly where the handle meets the blade. However, many of the nuances of knife skills change depending on what you are cutting, since each vegetable needs to be prepared a little bit differently. Looking for some guidance? My talented kitchen apprentice Stacey Hutson just wrote an article for the website Mashed outlining different kinds of produce and the best ways to cut them. Another great resource? The cookbook The Vegetable Butcher by Cara Mangini (see my summary of it on my cookbooks resource page), which takes readers through the produce alphabet (from artichokes to zucchini) and shows with photos how to prep each vegetable.
2. Take a knife skills class.
The only way to truly improve a skill is to practice it! Taking a dedicated knife skills class gives you the opportunity to focus on that one skill rather than trying to learn a whole bunch of different things at once. It's the #1 type of class I recommend for home cooks to take--I mean, beyond my classes obviously ;)--and they are often very affordable compared to fancier or date-night style classes. Look for "knife skills" on The Chopping Block's class calendar or keep an eye out on listings at your local grocery store, community center, or culinary school. If you are looking for more one-on-one attention or have questions specific to your diet or kitchen, a private class may be a good fit for you as well.
3. Stock up on the right tools.
All the articles and classes in the world aren't going to help much if you are using a pairing knife to cut your veggies. Choose a chef's knife or a santoku (see above photo) so that your hand doesn't hit the cutting board when you chop. A knife doesn't need to be expensive but it does need to be sharp. Find a stainless steel knife in the $60-$120 price range (more than that is unnecessary for a home cook) if you want it to last a lifetime but plan on getting it sharpened at a hardware store 1-2x a year. (All the Chicago chefs go to Northwestern Cutlery in West Loop for sharpening, $4/knife). Be sure to also have a large cutting board with a wet paper towel underneath it to keep it from sliding around. Curious what specific tools I have? Check out my kitchen tools page to see my new favorite everyday knife and my large plastic cutting board.
Interested in getting speeding up your prep time beyond knife skills?
Click the button below to read an article I wrote on Top 3 Tips for Getting Organized in the Kitchen. Learn how I mise en place (while only getting 1 dish dirty), where I stand in the kitchen to save time, and even where the trash goes!