How to cut veggies so they're totally cut?
February 9, 2011 10:27 PM   Subscribe

When trying to cut vegetables with my new, sharp Shun santoku knife, I find that a simple chop is not cutting through all the way through the skin. So for example, I'll have slices of diced bell peppers that are diced 97% of the way through, but still hang together. I think it's a problem in my technique. After I push down all the way, am I supposed to slide the knife backward to complete the cut? Or wiggle the knife a little left and right (though this produces an unpleasant screech as the knife grates against the cutting board)? Or just slice harder? Or get a different cutting board? Thanks for helping an amateur.
posted by Malad to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Don't slide it backwards, push it away from you. (It's safer that way.) The knife should be moving in roughly an oval path: chop down, against the board away from you, then back up and around.
posted by asterix at 10:34 PM on February 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

Yes, the knife should hit the entire surface, but that ought to be enough. Why is your cutting board screeching, though? What's it made of?
For slicing with a santoku, you should be using a rocking motion, front to back, to get everything. Make sure that you're engaging the entire blade; some people just use the front of the blade and forget they've got a whole rest of a blade that's even better and even heavier.
No wiggling. Yeah, you can push, but I would push forward, not backward (maybe that's just me).
Most of all, just practice. It will come.
posted by Gilbert at 10:36 PM on February 9, 2011

Actually, the beginning of this video shows the technique you want to use. It's easier to do with a European-style chef's knife than a santoku, but you can do it with your knife too.
posted by asterix at 10:37 PM on February 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

It's a bit morbid, but think of how a guillotine works — the blade edge is at an angle, to get a clean slice across the victim's neck.

Instead of cutting directly down into the bell vegetable, you want to slide your blade away from you as you cut, to get the same kind of guillotine-like action.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:46 PM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I used to have this issue (same knife), but I switched to using the Shun nakiri knife for veggies almost exclusively. No more problems.
posted by halogen at 11:07 PM on February 9, 2011

Or wiggle the knife a little left and right (though this produces an unpleasant screech as the knife grates against the cutting board)?
I can't wrap my mind around this part of the question for two reasons:
1) whence the screech? What material is your cutting board (pointer: use a straight board made of hard, dense wood. You're not cutting on glass, are you?)
2) how would wiggling left and right cut at all? (pointer: if you do this, your knife won't stay sharp long)

The problem you describe happens to me only with a straight-edge Japanese vegetable knife (Nakiri), if I'm using it on an old, hollow cutting board, for the simple reason that the surface doesn't match the edge. With a round edge, this option is out. So I fear that maybe your knife isn't as sharp as they say it is. Whereas the link in asterix's post gives great advice for Western-style chef's knives, in my experience a sharp santoku-style knife does most of its work with more of a deliberate downward and only a slightly forward push. (or: don't "chop")
posted by Namlit at 12:15 AM on February 10, 2011

You want to cut away from you as you cut down. Also, a softer cutting board is probably in order.
posted by Foam Pants at 12:16 AM on February 10, 2011

If your knife is "screeching", that suggests you're using a glass cutting board. I think you'll have better results with a wooden one, as there'll be a tiny bit of give at the bottom of the cut which will let you slice right through the skin.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 12:16 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also if you're using a glass cutting board, it will dull your nice new knife a lot faster
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:55 AM on February 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

A knife cuts just like a saw with very tiny (invisible) teeth. So a forward or backward motion works best when cutting anything tough such as pepper skins or meats. It'll take a little while to get used to sliding the knife forwards as you cut, but when it starts to come naturally you'll notice that you need to apply almost no downward pressure; this is great when you're slicing something like an onion, because you'll be able to slice the whole thing without any of the slices sliding about.

A straight up-down chopping motion works with most vegetables only because most vegetables are either quite soft or easily split. It's still better to slice rather than chop - you bruise the edges of the cut much less, and for raw vegetables (e.g. in a salad) the edges will be less prone to going brown.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:17 AM on February 10, 2011

Bell peppers are sneaky little guys. Don't worry too much about your technique, I mean, do you have this problem with any other vegetable? Flip that sucker over and start your cuttin' on the skin side.
posted by moons in june at 2:34 AM on February 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Putting together what several people here said, and elaborating:
Bell peppers are only sneaky (in terms of being-cuttiness) if your knife is not all that fantastically sharp. IF it is sharp (those very tiny invisible teeth being even tinier than otherwise) it will slice with a minimal forward movement through the skin and make a good, complete cut nevertheless. The real test veggie, however, a ripe normal-sized tomato. And I'm talking razor sharp (which is by no means unachievable if the steel of the knife is any good).
If you chop, however, you'll dull your knife, and your results, as l-m-d-b-a says, won't be as nice as cut; if you use a glass plate, you'll dull your knife too. Any amount of sidewise scratching across the cutting board idem, as well as cutting unwashed leeks or other sandy matter.

Sharpening a knife is no rocket science (though more work-intensive than dulling it) but do not use a sharpening steel on Japanese kitchen knives; use waterstones of various gradations, and don't mess up the basic grinding angle.
posted by Namlit at 2:53 AM on February 10, 2011

People have already mentioned that you don't want to be cutting straight down, but at an angle.

As someone who learned how to cook here in Japan, I have an interesting observation: In the west people cut away from themselves, and in Japan they cut towards themselves. This matches swordfighting techniques as well. European straight swords are more for slashing and poking away from the user, whereas katanas (samurai swords) are used to cut more towards the user.
posted by zachawry at 2:53 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree with those concerned about the screeching. If you're using a glass cutting board, your knife is now dull.

I'm not sure the "teeth" analogy is all that useful. Knife edges are not completely smooth because they're scored this way and that by the abrasives used to do the sharpening (even when very fine abrasives are used) , but they don't have anything like saw teeth. Careful sharpeners strive to minimize that roughness, which suggests it's seen as a bad thing. Still, slicing rather than chopping is the way to go for most foods.

Keep in mind that cutting all the way through the food requires that the blade come into contact with the cutting board along the full length of the cut. Since the edge is curved, this requires some combination of rocking and forward/backward movement. Also, there are some knives on the market that are poorly designed. I have a cheap santoku knife whose edge is actually straight -- no belly at all -- for the back 1/3 or so of the blade; it requires a bit more effort in that area, and still fails if the cutting board has even the slightest concave warp.
posted by jon1270 at 4:00 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have the same knife and moons has it. The santoku is a little flatter than a normal chef's knife. I love the shape for lots of reasons, but bell pepers really are a pain. Turn it over and start with the skin side. Slide the knife a little bit away from you while cutting, but you don't need to do it as drastically as you do with a chef's knife. Once you get used to that knife you'll be glad you got it.

Also, be sure to keep it sharp.
posted by monkeymadness at 4:37 AM on February 10, 2011

I'm not sure the "teeth" analogy is all that useful.

It's not a perfect analogy, at least at the visible scale. I agree that a perfectly sharpened knife doesn't feel rough at all. But all blades are 'rough' at some level of magnification, and it's that microscopic roughness that saws through things like a pepper skin when you cut diagonally. The difference between a well-sharpened blade and a poorly-sharpened one is that good sharpening creates far smaller irregularities along the cutting edge (the 'teeth' in my bad analogy). A knife that can chop vertically through anything with minimal pressure is a rare knife indeed.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 4:44 AM on February 10, 2011

Agreed that the microscopic roughness does help cut through challenging foods like pepper and tomato skins. My background in sharpening is mostly with woodworking tools, where slicing motions are rare and saw teeth have very regular and carefully shaped edges designed to cut in very specific ways. I guess I'd prefer to say that the random microscopic roughness of kitchen knives helps "tear" resilient tissues -- much as Ginsu knives do on a coarser scale. But maybe I'm being ligni-centric in my use of the terminology. Sorry for the derail.
posted by jon1270 at 5:37 AM on February 10, 2011

What do you mean by 'chop?' Just bringing the knife straight down through the food? I cut by (and now I have to think about it) pushing the knife through the food, using the curvature of the blade as a guide. That will probably be harder with the santoki knife.

When I cut capsicums (peppers, soz, Australian) into a dice I usually slice the capsicum into vertical strips, then turn the strip horizontally, with one cut side to the board, one up, and cut through the exposed cut side down if that makes any sense at all! But, yes, cutting fruit and vegetable is about the movement, not a vertical 'chop'. Pressing on a knife and wiggling it back and forth on a board sounds like a recipe for bluntness to me.

I would lick Kenji Lopez Alt's face if he gave me the chance. He has a really useful knife skills series at Serious eats that may be of help.
posted by nerdfish at 6:33 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh hey, he even has a video on how to cut a capsicum (bell pepper)!
posted by nerdfish at 6:37 AM on February 10, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far. The board I'm using is hard plastic or something like plastic, not glass...

What do you mean by 'chop?'

Yeah, bringing it down vertically. It sounds like I'm supposed to be moving the blade slightly forward as I bring down the blade instead to cut instead of chop.
posted by Malad at 6:55 AM on February 10, 2011

Try using a bamboo cutting board for veggies. I had the same problem you're having when I was using a plastic board.
posted by DizzyLeaf at 7:06 AM on February 10, 2011

I typically keep the tip of my blade on the cutting board, and rock the handle end down (rather than trying to bring the whole blade down through the veg). But a different cutting board might help too.
posted by misterbrandt at 7:38 AM on February 10, 2011

Specifically with peppers, try cutting them with the skin side up. Then they don't stick together because you haven't cut all the way through the skin.

Just be more careful, since you'll get less traction on the skin, and thus the knife can slip.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:17 AM on February 10, 2011

Malad, the Shun people recommend bamboo or other "soft" wood cutting boards. The first time that I sent my set of knives to be sharpened, they actually replaced them all for free because we had effectively destroyed them by using the wrong cutting boards.
posted by halogen at 11:45 AM on February 10, 2011

« Older How to find housing in Madison from a distance?   |   Who are you and what have you done with my mother? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.