Basics of cooking: chopping

Cooking at home means doing a lot of cutting. You can buy pre-cut items, but you’ll be paying for the convenience and sacrificing freshness. Alex and I do our cooking together and swap out who does the chopping on a given night.

Onions

Knife and cutting board
The right tools turn a chore into a joy. First, get a good knife, the best you can buy. You’re going to sticker-shock at the price, but remember, it’s going to be in your hand every single time you make dinner. My personal favorite is a vegetable knife – it has divots along the blade that release the vegetables as you chop them.

Keep the knife sharp with a sharpening stone. I have an inexpensive stone with a handle that I can quickly run the knife through before doing the night’s chopping.

After cycling through all the types of cutting boards there are – marble, wood, bamboo, large plastic – the ones I reach for every night are flimsy plastic sheets that come two or three to a package. I just throw them down on the counter, chop, and rinse!

Vegetables and fruits
It’s important to think about all the items you’ll be chopping. Spring leeks come in at the same time that strawberries do. I’ve learned from experience to chop the strawberries first, then the leeks!

We chop vegetables during dinner prep and chop just enough for the night. The exception is onions; once we get going we sometimes chop enough for a couple of nights and put the rest in a (tight!) container in the refrigerator.

Meat
The vegetable knife doesn’t work as well on meats. If you can get two knives you’ll want a chef knife, and again, the best you can afford.

Meat gets chopped on its own cutting board. To minimize the risk of cross-contamination we never chop meat and vegetables on the same board. We also don’t chop raw meat and cooked meat on the same board for the same reason.

For raw meats we use more of those flimsy plastic sheets. For cooked meats we use a plastic board with a gutter around the edge to catch juices. Again, cheap!

By the way, it’s okay not to chop as fast as the chefs you see on cooking shows. You’re not on a production line, and safety matters in the kitchen. It’s more important to chop vegetables and meats in same-sized chunks so they finish cooking at the same time.


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