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04.26.2004

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chop chop 
how to prep + cut  your veggies 

by Yee-Fan Sun
 | 1 2 3

In all other matters, I swear I'm pretty easy to get along with. But when it comes to the kitchen, I cannot lie: I do not share well with others.

My boy's always accusing me of being a kitchen-hog, refusing to let him help out when the blue moon hits and he makes an attempt to cook. And while I remain less than convinced that this is the sole reason he's rarely the one in charge of dinner -- the fact that the highlights of his repertoire are scrambled eggs, franks and beans, and a ramen-black-bean-creamed-corn concoction that he's actually proud to have invented seems to me a far more compelling rationale for me being the primary cook -- there's no denying that I have a tendency to get awful antsy watching someone else try to cook for me. Especially when that someone looks pretty clueless in the kitchen. And particularly when that someone is holding a knife.

Yes, I feel a near-physical pain watching someone ineptly wielding a chef's knife, bringing the blade up and down in a slow, deliberate guillotine motion, or hacking away at the poor veggie like a woodchopper trying to split a log. It's the same uncontrollable reflex that makes me cringe when I see some poor schlub banging away at a keyboard with just his two index fingers. It's all so terribly inefficient, and looks ugly to boot.

Still, I recognize that nobody's born knowing the proper method for mincing garlic, or julienning carrots, or dicing onions. And for those willing to listen, I'm always happy to offer a bit of friendly advice. Whether your culinary aspirations are strictly down-home simple or exotic gourmet, I'm of the firm opinion that every quasi-adult should learn a few basics of veggie prep technique. And not just because it'll keep me from wincing should the opportunity every arise for you and I to share kitchen space.

what you'll need
vegetable peeler | Spring for one with a nice, comfortable grip.
paring knife | A 3" blade is ideal; 4" is okay as well. Just make sure it's sharp.
chef's knife | I like my 6" blade; just big enough to get the job done, not so heavy as to make me feel like using it's a workout. Again, a sharp edge is key -- the only times I've ever cut myself while chopping (knock on wood) were all the result of a struggle with a dull blade.
cutting board | The bigger the better.

a general note on technique
Most professional chefs keep their fingertips safe by tucking them under and holding the veggies in place with their knuckles. Given my spaz-klutz tendencies, I've tried to adopt this technique, but for me, it's just too awkward. If you can train yourself to use the knuckle method, by all means do so. Personally, I just make certain to keep my fingertips clear as best I can, giving the blade a decent berth and keeping my fingertips curved just enough so that they're not sticking straight out towards the blade.

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