Archive for the 'How to Use Your Knife Like a Pro (tm)' Category

Video Blog: How To Hold Your Knife

Monday, September 7th, 2009

Before you’ll be able to cut anything, you’ll need to be comfortable with how you hold your knife. Here’s a quick video seminar:

I’m Here to Help

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

Anyone who was with me in the audience for the Anthony Bourdain lecture at the Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland (Pittsburgh) last night heard Mr. Bourdain compare the programming on the Food Network to pornography: watching actors on screen going through motions that you yourself probably won’t be replicating anytime soon. He contrasted that with Julia Child, who inspired the nation to improve their cooking skills and elevate their cuisine.

I just want you to know that I’m here to help. I want to assist you in recognizing your knife as the most important tool in the kitchen and aid you in learning to use it more efficiently and effectively. From there, once you have the ability to dissect your vegetables instead of chasing them around the cutting board, you’ll find any recipe easier to follow and reproduce, from home fries to cassoulet of beef. Learn to use your knife like a pro.

Moreover, I’m here as a resource for your questions. Email me your culinary problem, and I’ll offer you expert advice. I can almost guarantee you that you won’t find another chef with my expertise who is so easily accessible. Mr. Bourdain? Most certainly not. But, fortunately for you, i work for free under relative obscurity and don’t have to worry about an influx of thousands of emails per day. Which isn’t to denigrate the breadth of my knowledge or the quality of my expertise, but to point out that you have access to my brain that you wouldn’t to Alton Brown’s or Anthony Bourdain’s or Mario Batali’s.

So, take advantage. Step up to the plate and answer Mr. Bourdain’s challenge. Elevate your cuisine.

Knife Recommendations

Friday, March 14th, 2008

Knife Guy asked:

What type of Chef’s knife do you recommend?

I mainly recommend the knife that feels right to you.  Definitely high carbon stainless steel, and I advocate spending at least $85-$100, assuming that you’ll treat the knife well and get it professionally sharpened 3-4 times a year.

The knife should be sized appropriately to your hand and have a weight balance that you are happy with—so hold at least 4 or 5 different knifes before you decide on the one you want.

For my full guide to shopping for a knife, read this article and for more tips on the best way to use your knives, follow the links in my knife skills table of contents.

Happy Birthday, Corduroy Orange!

Friday, August 10th, 2007

It’s hard to believe but today marks one year that I’ve been writing Corduroy Orange. During the past year, I’ve uploaded 210 posts (counting this one) and have received 132,583 page views from 36,417 unique IP addresses; since December, I’ve been averaging more than 10,000 page views a month. It’s a lot more attention than I expected I’d be getting—thank you for reading!

I think the portion of the content that I’m particularly fond of is the knife skills instructional section. I’ve said it hundreds of times, and I’ll say it thousands more: the knife is the most important tool in the kitchen. A good, sharp knife, and the knowledge of how to use it will cut your preparation time for every meal significantly. A good, sharp knife used incorrectly can sever a fingertip. It’s worth your time and attention to learn how to use your knives in a safe and efficient manner.

Not only that, but once you are to the point where you’re cutting your vegetables to consistent sizes, the quality of your cooking will go up as a result, because every piece in your pan will cook at an identical rate, as opposed to the small pieces burning while the larger pieces are still half-raw. So, if you haven’t already looked at it, check out my knife skills table of contents and follow the links for a step-by-step guide to using your knives in the best manner possible. Then, look at my vegetable cookery crib sheet to see what order you should put your well-cut vegetables into the pan so that the vegetables that take the longest to cook get the most time. If you’d like some further assistance learning better knife skills and cooking techniques, private instruction is available in the Pittsburgh area on a limited basis. Email me for more information.

As long as I’m giving plugs for the oldies-but-goodies that are stashed in the site’s vaults, I think it’s also worth mentioning my zucchini muffins, especially as we’re entering the time of year when zucchini abounds. They are the best zucchini muffins I’ve ever eaten. For a special treat, pair them with my sweet caramelized red onion marmalade, which is really quite good. I can see you making a face; it’s the same one my sister made when I told her we’d be having zucchini muffins and red onion marmalade. Know what she did? Asked for thirds. And fourths, if I remember correctly. The cooking technique of caramelizing the onions brings out their natural sweetness, which is then accentuated with the addition of liberal amounts of pure maple syrup and/or honey.

So, thanks for stopping by on occasion to kill some time and learn about cooking. Remember to support your local farmers. If you’re not sure who they are, you can search for them by zip code at Once you’ve found them, call them up, visit them, buy their food… they’ll be glad to meet you and tell you all about what they do. Learn your knife skills! And save the liver!

Cutting Mangos

Monday, July 23rd, 2007

Chef -

Now that summer is starting, I’ve been buying a lot more produce, specifically mangos. Each time I cut my mango, I get worried I’m going to cut my fingers off because I have not been able to find a good way to get at it. (That, and, as you know, my knife skills leave something to be desired). Do you have any recommendations on the best / most efficient way to cut a mango?


There are a couple of ways I’ve seen to cut a mango, but the way I’ll describe makes the most sense to me. It’s easy, it’s safe (includes precautions against a rolling fruit), and it makes for a very attractive presentation.

Step one, peel the mango, using your vegetable peeler. It’s possible to cut the mango first and then remove it from the skin, but when following that method, you’re likely to get a bit of stringy texture to the fruit.

Step 1: Peel It.

Next, cut a chunk off of the bottom of the fruit so that you have a level surface to rest it on to make your next series of cuts. There may be a bit of resistance, in which case, you’re also cutting off a sliver of the pit, but that’s okay–the main goal with this step is to make sure that all you cut during the rest of the process is the fruit (not your fingers).

Step 2: Cut flat bottom

Now, put the mango on the flat surface you’ve created. This will enable you to cut the bulk of the flesh off without having the mango roll and slide away from you. It’s never easy to cut a moving target, and there’s no reason why you should have to try.

The mango now has, you will notice, two broad sides and two narrow sides to it. The seed is in the middle of the fruit, and most of the meat is on the broad sides. Look at the fruit from the top. You should see that there’s a sharp peak in the center. This is the general outline of where the pit is. Cut down the broad sides where the pit isn’t. The mango should be soft, so if your knife runs into something hard, you’re trying to cut through the pit. Don’t. Back off from it slightly and you should slice through the tender fruit like a warm knife through butter.

Step 3: cut the broad side.

Turn the mango around and repeat the process for the other broad side.

Step 4: cut the other broad side.

At this point, you should notice that the flat bottom you cut is no longer as steady as it used to be. Stop thinking of it as the bottom and plop that mango down onto one of those nice, broad, flat ends you just cut. A stable cutting surface is a safe cutting surface.

The pit comes out closer to the thin sides of the fruit than it does to the broad sides. Cut around it as best you can, remembering that the pit is curved and the ideal line will also be curved, not straight. If you don’t get all the meat off in your first go-round, you can always shave away at the seed until you have everything you can get off of it.

Step 5: use the new flat edge as your stable surface to cut the remaining flesh from the pit

Next, put the pit off to the side and take the pieces you’ve cut from the mango. Use the point of your knife to slice through the fruit as thinly as possible. Try to keep the cut pieces in place as you slice them apart; it’ll be easier to plate the mango that way.

step 6: slice thinly

Slide your knife under the cut pieces and transfer them to a plate for service. I usually serve two people with one mango: First, I plate one broad side, fanning the slices slightly when I transfer them to the plate. Then, I lay one narrow side crosswise over top of that. If I have other fruit around (such as blueberries), I may opt to add a few of them to the plate as a tasty garnish.

Step 7: plate and serve.

Ode to the Bench Scraper

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

If there’s one piece of kitchen equipment that I’d name as a must-have (after a good knife or three and maybe some cast iron pans), it’s a bench scraper. They’re so useful that I have three of them, so that I’m pretty much always guaranteed to have at least one clean.

The most common use I have for a bench scraper is to collect the pieces of food that I’ve cut and transfer them to a bowl or a hot pan. It’s wide enough that you can fit much more food onto it than you can onto a knife, plus you don’t run the risk of cutting yourself.

In fact, they’re so handy that when I was packing kitchen equipment to take with me on my trip to a woodlands cabin this past weekend, I made sure to take one along.

They’re also handy for portioning dough or scraping cutting boards clean.

Photo credit: Nestor Gomez

I’m Going Bananas!

Friday, January 5th, 2007

Peeling bananas minutely more quickly

The time difference this tip makes is admittedly miniscule if you’re only cutting a banana or two; but, believe me, if you’re preparing bananas foster for a banquet of 500, those milliseconds add up.

Instead of peeling the banana and then cutting it down, cut off each end of the banana and then slice it in half lengthwise before peeling it.

slice banana lengthwise first

Once you’ve done so, it will easily come free of its peel with none of those annoying strings attached.

peel the sliced banana with no strings attached

Then, you’re ready to make a banana split; or, slice it crosswise and combine it with citrus and kiwi for a tasty fruit salad.

fruit salad!

Peeling a Kiwi

Thursday, January 4th, 2007

The knife skill that isn’t

Sometimes the key to having great knife skills is knowing when to use a different tool. For instance, if you want to peel a kiwi (perhaps to add it to the fruit salad we started yesterday by cutting citrus sections free of their pith and membrane), you’ll only need your knife very briefly, to cut off each end of the fruit and cut the fruit in half. Then, reach for an ordinary spoon and use it to separate the fruit from the peel.

using a spoon to peel a kiwi

It’s the easiest way I know of to get that soft, tasty fruit out of its hairy skin.

Sectioning Citrus

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2007

Get perfect, pithless results in minutes

Even if I’m happy to peel an orange and eat it out of the hand with each section in its membrane, I find the membrane to be distracting in a fruit salad. As for a grapefruit, if I’m eating it by its lonesome, I don’t peel it out of hand; I cut it in half and section it with a spoon. My friend Tom used to peel grapefruits and eat them, but even he didn’t eat the tough membrane of that fruit. Instead, he’d bite it open and pull it aside with his teeth and then gnaw out the flavorful juice cells: a messy project that left his hands dripping with sticky juice. There’s no need to go through that trouble (and if you’re making a fruit salad that I might eat, please don’t do it that way). Instead, pull out your chef’s knife and follow these steps toward perfect citrus sections.

1) Cut off both ends. This will give you a stable surface to work with and also expose the pith line.

the pith line as marked by the knife tip

Pith is that bitter white stuff that lines the inside of the peel.You want to cut away both it and the exterior membrane wall to expose the juice pockets.


Knife Skills Table of Contents

Tuesday, December 5th, 2006

Step-By-Step Guide to Using Your Knife Like a Pro
I was looking through all of the knife skills information I’ve posted on Corduroy Orange and realized that, though I have a fairly comprehensive set of instructions, the order in which I posted the various bits and pieces isn’t necessarily the most logical in terms of walking someone who wants to learn the secrets of making excellent knife cuts through the process of learning how from beginning to end. Even if you look at the “How to Use Your Knife Like a Pro” category page, everything is listed sequentially by when I posted. Today, I aim to rectify that situation by providing a table of contents based on the logical order in which a serious knife skills student would want to read the posts:

How to Use Your Knife Like A Pro

A Step-by-Step Guide by Jesse Sharrard
© 2006 Corduroy Orange

  1. Introduction: Why it’s better to have good knife skills than a good food processor.
  2. Buying Knives: What you should look for when buying cutlery, including choosing a knife to fit your hand, deciding how many different knives you need, and what styles they should be.
  3. How to Hold Your Knife Properly: Let’s face it, used incorrectly, the knife can be a dangerous piece of equipment. Holding it in the proper manner is the first step toward using it as a valuable culinary tool.
  4. Basic Technique 1: Learn the names of the different sizes of cuts and how to make them, then practice by cutting potatoes: lots and lots of potatoes.
  5. A Great Way to Use the Potatoes: Here’s a great recipe for using up the piles of potatoes you’ll be cutting.
  6. Peeling Garlic: It doesn’t have to be a time-consuming process. Following this simple technique will help you get it done more quickly than you thought possible.
  7. Basic Technique 2: One of the few exceptions to the basic technique involves cutting onions. They’re round, concentrical, and require a couple of special tricks to be cut into even pieces. Better yet, using proper technique will help you get the job done without setting your eyes on fire.
  8. Maintaining Your Blade: Over time, your blade will grow dull. Here’s what you need to know to make sure that it constantly stays sharp.
  9. Pitting an Avocado: Many knife skills guides give bad advice on how to do this. Here’s a safer way.
  10. Intermediate Knife Cuts: Carrots are a fairly hard vegetable, and it doesn’t help much that they’re round. Here’s a time-saving technique that will help you make quick work of your carrots.
  11. Advanced Knife Skills: Once you’re feeling comfortable with your blade, you’re ready to tackle this technique of separating the meat of the pepper from its seed core in a single cut.
  12. Defining Cooking Methods: You can cut anything you want, but if you don’t know how to cook it, it’s not going to do you much good. Surprisingly, there are only twelve different ways to cook something. Becoming familiar with the options available to you will make you more efficient in the kitchen.