The life of the wife is ended by the knife – Basic skills in the kitchen 1.0
Cooking is a dangerous venture. Stoves can explode. Spontaneous cases of hyper-sensitivity for peanuts can be developed. And left arms can be lost in fights with malicious mixers. There are a lot of dangers and reasons to shy away from the kitchen and to only eat out. However, cut-off limbs and damaged sensory neurons, because of bad knifing skills, can and should be avoided – at all times. Losing a limb is not necessarily a nice thing to experience, but luckily it also is a rather rare thing to happen and often calls for huge-ass kitchen equipment. Something most of us don’t own. At least I don’t. Yet. But however ridiculously underequipped a kitchen or a cook might be: everyone owns a knife. And sometimes that very thought makes me shiver.
In the kitchen I’m not big on rules and when I first started thinking about this blog I decided to ignore all of them. Always. Usually I tell friends to cut their potatoes in any shape they like and to use the spices they think match. I encourage them to experience food and cooking themselves: “Just do what you think makes the most sense, there is no right or wrong.”. But really, sometimes there is. Not always obviously.
The way you like to cut your tomatoes or to chop your onions really is not of anyone’s business. A grown up should be allowed to do whatever he wants to with his kitchen knife. As long as he doesn’t harm anyone doing so. This is a free country, after all, and I don’t think we should base our cooking on any kitchen manual by any author. But after all the things I’ve seen my friends doing with their knives I realized that sometimes some rules make sense.
While it might be devastating to lose your index fingers, it would at least be a bit unpleasant not to feel your fingertips for the better part of a year or two. (While sensory neurons can grow-back they are not exactly much of the speedy-type. If they happen to grow back to their former attachment-point they do so only at a very slow pace). If you are very unfortunate you might even acquire a phantom-fingertip.
So in order to look after your loved limbs, why don’t you have a look at the following tips? (by tips I obviously mean dogmatic rules you shall not break or else you will be damned to cook in hell’s kitchen for eternity. No seriously, I expect you to learn how to use your knife, when you want to join me in cooking. I would be rather disappointed if you didn’t. But I guess you have to decide yourself how much that means to you).
I’ve been cross-checking a few videos and texts online in order to determine the essentials of using a knife. I picked the three videos I found to be most informative. And I did this for a reason: While there are a few things chefs and bloggers and all people talking about preparing food disagree upon (e.g. the number of knives one apparently needs: ranging from just one to what seems to be a few dozens) there are also quite a few things they agree upon. I guess the latter are more important for the time being:
“Keep your fingers save at all times.”
Use your knife in a way that results in the biggest distance between the blade of the knife and your fingers. It is rather self-evident, that this will help to avoid wounding.
“Exercise as much control as possible.”
Whatever cutting method you chose, make sure that it enables you to exercise full control during the cutting-process. Some ways of holding your knife increase the risk of wiggling while cutting, which in turn decreases safety enormously. But even a firm and save grip might not be worth much if the surface you are cutting on is unstable. Chose a rather heavy board to cut on and if possible place a damp kitchen towel between work-surface and board in order to increase the grip between the board and the surface beneath it, and thus to decrease the risk of unexpected surface-movement. The sharper your knife is, the more accurate your cutting will be and thus the more control you may have over the result.
“Neither speed nor coolness have any importance when it comes to cutting.”
I assume that you have two main goals when slicing, dicing or cutting. Your primary goal is most likely “getting the job done”, while your secondary goal hopefully is “not to harm yourself (or others)”. If you aim at utilizing your knifing skills in order to impress and court a possible mate you might want to reconsider your priorities. Vegetarian or not, I expect that your target will prefer their salad finger-free.
This being said don’t forget that you are free to choose what-ever method you find appropriate, as long as it follows these three rules. The following videos are mere suggestions.
This is a video of Jamie Oliver demonstrating how to use a knife safely.
In this video Alton Brown talks about control while using a knife and about what he finds to be the appropriate grip. Note, that this is a video advertising products by a certain brand, it might be possible that not all knives shown in this video are necessary in order to cook properly.
Chef Tomm further demonstrates how to cut different ingredients and addresses the issue of speed.
Interestingly chef Tomm and Jamie Oliver note that cutting one-self seems almost inevitable, I dare to differ here. If you follow the guidelines summarized above and make sure to keep a slow pace, you might very well spent a life without battle-scars.