“Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills.” — Napoleon Dynamite

Though I love to cook, the truth is I have no real skill in the kitchen, no formal training. When I heard that Kris and Craig planned to take a knife class together, I asked to tag along.

Our class was held at In Good Taste, a kitchen store located in the heart of Portland’s Pearl District. The store, which comes highly recommended by food maven Amy Jo, features a fantastic selection of cookbooks, wine, and knives. It sells lots of other kitchen gadgets, too. Between In Good Taste and the nearby Sur La Table, a home cook can find a lot of fun toys!

In the center of In Good Taste is a vast kitchen island, the store’s cooking school. Available classes range from knife skills (basic and advanced) to hearty winter soups to hands-on sausage making. Our class was taught by Chef Lucy, who was both knowledgable and patient. She introduced various knife cuts, demonstrated them for us, and then allowed us to practice on a bin of vegetables. Each of the fourteen students was rather raw, and Lucy took time during each cut to walk around and examine our progress. (We were all raw except for Craig, that is. “You’ve done this before,” Lucy said, examining his finely julienned carrot. My julienne was less good, though Lucy did admire one of my orange supremes.)

I was pleased with the class. Even if the only long-term skill I take from it is a better way to dice onions, it’s worth the time and money, but I hope to be able to retain the other skills we were taught.

“I really like this knife,” I told Kris as we were mincing garlic. “It’s better than anything we have at home.”

“Our knives are very good,” she said, attempting to dissuade me. She knew where I was headed. “We have a nice Henckels and a Wüsthof.”

“You know,” I said, undissuaded, “my birthday is coming up. And we get ten percent off anything we buy here after this class today.”

“Okay,” Kris said. “You can have a knife for your birthday. But you can’t use it until your birthday!”

While Kris browsed the kitchen gadgets, I picked out a 6.5-inch Shun Santoku knife, the very knife we used in the class. It was a tough choice whether or not to purchase a scalloped blade; I opted for a smooth edge.

When we got home, I took out my knife and my cutting board (I have a special J.D.-only cutting board that I love — this same cutting board was used in the cooking class) and, just for the hell of it, I diced an onion. “I thought I told you that you couldn’t use your knife until your birthday,” Kris mumbled, but she relented when I reminded her that she was allowed to use her Christmas present — a new food processor — to prepare for Friend Thanksgiving.

I enjoy cooking (and, especially, eating) and it pleases me to acquire good kitchen equipment and good kitchen skills.

15 Replies to “Knife Skills”

  1. Tiffany says:

    Are you going to post the better way to dice an onion?

  2. J.D. says:

    Let’s see if I can recall this correctly and explain it clearly without photographs:

    • Cut off the stem-end of the onion.
    • Slice the onion in half from root-to-stem.
    • Peel the skin. (The root hairs will remain — don’t worry about it.)
    • Place one half of the onion flat-side down on the cutting board.
    • Make a series of horizontal slices into the onion, parallel to the cutting board, running from stem end to root end. It’s easiest to do this at a slight angle. The space between the slices depends on how finely you want the onion diced. Do not slice all the way through — leave a little bit of room at the root end where the onion has not been sliced.
    • Make a series of vertical slices into the onion with the tip of the knife, again being careful not to cut all the way through the root end of the onion. (Throughout this process, the root end acts to hold the onion together.) The spacing of your slices again determines how finel the dice will be.
    • Using your thumb and your pinky to pinch the onion together (keeping it from splaying apart), perform the final slices, moving from stem-end to root end.

    Does that make sense? If not, I’ll try to take some photos some time and post an entry about proper onion dicing.

  3. Courtney says:

    Anyone know of a good place to get knives sharpened? We have a Chef’s Choice electric sharpener, but I’ve been told (by my brother who’s an excellent cook) that they really need a professional sharpening.

  4. Blogeois says:

    Oh, please post onion-cutting photos someday. We too enjoy good quality kitchen equipment and love seeing the kitchen skills of others.

    Thanks as well to the cutting board link. Exactly what I was looking for.

  5. Nikchick says:

    The method you describe is the one I learned from America’s Test Kitchen (or perhaps before that, from Cook’s Illustrated, it’s the same outfit). It’s made a world of difference

    Poor Kris, she’s probably right, you know. When is the last time you had your knives sharpened? Even a very good quality knife will perform terribly when it’s not kept sharp. Still, I remember the first time we made eggs in our little non-stick pan. It was like a dream. Now it’s been abused enough that even though it’s a high quality pan, the nonstick is not so nonstick anymore. Very sad.

  6. Mom says:

    I notice you don’t address the problem of how to dice an onion with tears filling your eyes and running down your face, J.D. 😛 I thought I’d add my suggestion to take care of that problem, in case anyone else has had to deal with it. Refrigerating the onion seems to make a big difference in reducing the aspects of the onion that cause tears. Maybe other people have suggestions, too. But I’ve found that cutting an onion while battling the tears can be scary and probably is dangerous, too.

  7. Lee says:

    Heh, my eyes have never watered when chopping onions once I started wearing soft contact lenses. 😀

    Also, if you have a decent vent on your stove, place the cutting board on the stove and chop away under the vent (kind of like a makeshift fume hood).

  8. Joel says:

    Definitely dangerous, Mom. I’ve cut myself many times because of vision-obscuring tears.
    I’ve tried various suggestions like giving the onion a good wash and cutting with a candle burning between the onion and my face (simply adds to the danger), and nothing seems to help.
    Then again, it’s nice to have a good cry now and then.

  9. I just cut myself on my new knife. I’ve had it only for about twenty-four hours, and already I’ve injured myself.

    I used the nice to slice an onion for my supper sandwich. I rinsed it and left it to dry. Just now when I went downstairs, I sleeved the knife, but I wasn’t paying attention while I was doing so, and the thing slipped, slicing my left thumb.

    It’s not a bad wound (though it certainly does hurt); in fact, it’s pretty minor. It’s just the sort of thing I would do, though…

  10. keery says:

    oh! cutting onions. It makes me cry even now. They are so cruel damid. But my bravo u hav done a great job

  11. jenefer says:

    Did they say anything about the porcelain knives in the class? They look very interesting, but have not used one or bought one yet.

    The tears are from the onion juice spraying up and getting in your eyes. The juicier the onion, the worse the tears. Sometimes the droplets seem minute, like an aerosol, and sometimes they are huge and drippy. Wearing glasses is definitely an advantage and the contact lenses would be a similar relief. Wearing airtight goggles would solve the problem totally, but they are not the greatest to see through unless you can afford the sports goggles.

  12. Jeff says:

    This site offers a few tips to try when cutting onions: The Secret to Cutting Onions Without Crying

  13. Mom says:

    Thank you, Jeff and everyone who answered my question. No doubt it’s not the most earth-shaking issue in the world but it would be my luck to cut the end of my finger off as I cried, thinking it was part of the onion! LOL!

  14. Lynn says:

    I haven’t put wine vinegar on the actual board, as the website suggested, but I’ve kept a small condiment bowl full of vinegar close by and it seems to help with the onion fumes.

  15. Joe says:

    Ummm. . . Can someone please layout the method for Julienne cutting onions? Have been looking for that forever. I’m going nuts

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