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Italian Chicken Steak. Credit: Robert Scarpinito / Copy Chief

Cooking in College: The importance of using knives and knife safety

Last week, the recipe I featured involved using a knife and cutting board without going into too much detail about how a knife can be used in all kinds of recipes. Produce like potatoes and carrots can often be subject of all kinds of cutting techniques, but they are about as intuitive as drawing basic shapes on paper.

The thing is, most fancy cutting techniques are buried in jargon. Being an amateur cook in college, I’ve never told myself to julienne or batonnet or brunoise something. I just use simple phrases, like “dicing” or “slice into strips.”

For what it’s worth, batonneting means to slice into thick strips and julienning means to slice into thin strips. A brunoise cut means to dice something into really small cubes.

When I put something on the cutting board, before picking up the knife, I decide how rigidly I want it cut: either into freeform chunks or into rigid slabs or cubes. More often than not, I cut things while imagining a 3-D grid, allowing for the most control over slicing and dicing.

Fully equipped kitchens commonly have all kinds of knives; chef knife, santoku knife, fillet knife, cleaver, paring knife — the list goes on. College students, however, commonly don’t have access to a fully equipped kitchen, limited by both space and cost.

When it comes to buying knives, I suggest having at least two and at most three cooking knives to save money and save space to store other things in the kitchen. A smaller blade, like a paring knife, is a must to deal with precise cutting, such as stripping the fat off meat. At least one larger edge is necessary, and I suggest either a chef or santoku knife, or both. They both can deal with similar tasks, but they both also work differently regarding cutting and chopping motions.

Once you own a kitchen knife, you’ll want to try your best to take care of it. After all, the longer it lasts, the more money you save. After using a knife, hand wash it as soon as possible. You don’t want to leave residue on the edge. However, avoid using the dishwasher to clean the blade because the high temperatures and high pressure jet streams can dull the edge faster.

No matter your habits with knives, though, they will eventually dull a little bit.

Furthermore, when using knives, I can’t stress enough how careful you need to be with the edges. Both sharp and dull edges are equally dangerous, so don’t channel your inner Gordon Ramsay if you aren’t comfortable on the cutting board. Slow and precise cuts mitigate the chances of cutting your own flesh.

Most importantly, if you drop a knife, just back off and let gravity do its job. Don’t try to grab at it with your hands, and back all your toes away.

While blades can be very dangerous, they’re also integral parts to the kitchen. They provide control over the presentation of any food starting at an early stage, so learning how to use them properly and safely opens new avenues of cooking.

As Masaharu Morimoto, a star chef from the reality cooking TV show “Iron Chef,” once said, “A kitchen without a knife is not a kitchen.”



Prep time: 20 minutes + 4 hours

Cook time: 20–30 minutes

Servings: 8–10

3–4 pounds boneless chicken breast

2 teaspoons basil

2 teaspoons oregano

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons black pepper

1 teaspoon olive oil

On a cutting board, slice the chicken breasts into smaller slabs. Consider how you cut into the breast, and work your way to making sure the the slabs aren’t too thick. Place the slabs in a large bowl.

In a smaller bowl, combine the basil, oregano, garlic powder, salt and black pepper. Mix the spices together with a spoon.

Slowly add some of the spices to the chicken slabs, and mix the slabs around by hand. Keep repeating this until you’re out of spices.

Cover the large bowl with plastic wrap, and place the bowl in the refrigerator for at least four hours.

When ready to cook, place a skillet on the stovetop and heat up the olive oil on medium-high heat.

In the skillet, cook the slabs. Avoid stacking the slabs on top of each other so the entire surface area of one side is always in contact with the skillet.

Check the bottom side of each slab occasionally after around four minutes. When that side looks golden brown, flip the slab to let the other side cook through.

Repeat until you’ve cooked all the slabs.

One comment

  1. Great tips! One other one is to learn how to hold the chef’s knife safely. I used to place my index finger along the top edge of the chef’s knife but found it allows the blade to jut out to the side when you have wet hands. Now I rest the fatty part of my thumb and the side of my index directly on each side of the handle or on each side of the blade where the handle meets the blade. It’s safer and improves control.

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