Lately, I’ve been thinking about knife skills. Not just what they are, but why they are. If you take a cooking class, the chef starts by teaching knife skills, so clearly they are foundational to cooking. But why?
Chef Jim, where I work, taught me once that cutting foods into smaller pieces increases the amount of moisture available for tasting. Moisture serves as a vehicle to carry flavor molecules into your taste buds. The more moisture, the more flavor. And that explains the appeal of my dad’s chopped salad. He chops up lettuce, tomato, onion and other ingredients into very small pieces that markedly increase the amount of flavor (and mix of flavors!) released with every bite. And how does Chef Ira create that magic? With his knife.
I watched a whole bunch of youtube videos on knife skills and learned all about weight and balance, chopping and dicing. I learned how to make my fingers into the shape of a spider that crawls backward along the celery stalk as the knife rocks back and forth to form uniform, bite-size pieces. I learned to peel half an onion in 1 second flat, to tell the stem from the root, and then to use that root to keep the onion together as I slice and dice. Whether it’s strawberries, carrots, or kale, knife skills make all the difference.
I watched a few videos about mincing garlic. I learned to mince garlic in an imaginary quarter-circle area, and to use the back of the knife to draw stray bits of garlic back into the 90 proscribed degrees of intention every so often.
Knife skills are so valuable because we use them to increase flavor. Have you ever tasted something so good that you put down your fork and sat still? Concentrated on the flavor and let it run over your tongue, fill your mouth, satisfy your soul? On those occasional, extraordinary occasions, I never search the kitchen cupboard afterward for a little something extra. I am already thoroughly satisfied.
Knife skills are everything.