The First Few Weeks of Culinary School | Part Three: Knife Cuts
This might be the most important lesson in this whole series. It was the first thing we actually ‘did’ in culinary school, it’s the first step in any MOP (read Part Two for more on terms) after reading it all the way through, and it’s the basis for any professional culinary education.
Why? Because it’s something you’re expected to know if you call yourself a cook, chef or any related moniker. You are not a professional unless you know what a certain knife cut looks like and can execute it with precision, no matter what you’re cutting.
I’ve been tested on this a few times, both in writing and in practice, when applying for jobs at restaurants. When your chef says, “julienne that case of carrots,” you grab them and get started. You are expected to know what julienne looks like and how to do it without question. By the way, this would be a terrible (read, punishment) job, as a case of carrots is 50 lbs. of unpeeled, unwashed, rock-hard produce to maneuver into such a precise shape.
Why are knife cuts so important? There are a few reasons. First, recipe timing is affected. If a recipe calls for chopped tomato and it’s small-diced, cooking time is drastically reduced. Second, it affects consistency of texture and flavor. If all recipe items are to be diced the same size, but one item is bigger than another, it influences the flavor of the bite more than the smaller bits. Third, it affects measurement for a recipe. Imagine 1 tbsp. sliced garlic vs. 1 tbsp. minced garlic; one is much less quantity-wise than the other. It also affects flavor because the smaller the cut, the more surface area is exposed to heat/liquid/other ingredients, meaning it imparts more flavor the smaller it’s cut.
Perhaps most importantly, though, is that knife cuts affect a food’s appearance and appeal. Imagine a perfect pico de gallo. All the ingredients are cut the same size, perfectly scoopable on a chip and each element imparting an equal amount of flavor. Taking the time to make sure each bite is identical, and that each item is the same size, makes a dish look way fancier and professional than throwing together a bunch of misshapen bits.
Below is a quick guide on typical knife cuts, ones that come up often in recipes and that are the keystone of kitchen terminology. If one’s missing, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll address it. For home cooks and commercial cooks alike, this is a critical element of flavor and style, so I certainly hope this helps shed some light on the often confusing word of culinary terminology. You got this!
What It Means
|Allumette||¼” x ¼” x 2 ½” (French for ‘matchstick’|
|Julienne||1/8” x 1/8” x 2 ½” (specifically a culinary term)|
|Batonnet||½” x ½” x 2 ½” (French for ‘short stick’)|
|Cube||Typically 1” x 1” x 1” unless otherwise described|
|Dice||¾” x ¾” x ¾”|
|Small Dice||½” x ½” x ½”|
|Fine Dice||¼” x ¼” x ¼”|
|Brunoise||1/8” x 1/8” x 1/8” (specifically a culinary term)|
|Chop (Rough Chop)||Uneven non-precise pieces, typically ¾” to 1” in size|
|Mince||As small as possible without pureeing, but no specific dimensions|
|Chiffonade||(for herbs/leafy greens) Long thin strips created by stacking leaves from largest to smallest and rolling into a tight trundle, then slicing thinly across the roll to form thin ribbons (French for ‘turned into rags/ribbons’)|
|Tourne||a geometric shape 2” long, with 7 sides formed – think elongated soccer ball (French for ‘turned/turning’)|