I know the term “knife cuts” can…
Knife Cuts 101 by Meseidy
I know the term “knife cuts” can sound intimidating. You may be visualizing chefs dicing an onion with lightning speed and think, “If I did that I’d lose a finger.” But knowing the most common, basic knife cuts is important if you want to level up your cooking game.
Why You Need to Know Knife Cuts
Knowing knife cuts is important for several reasons. If a recipe calls for julienne carrots, chiffonade basil, brunoise red pepper, or potato batonnet, it’s helpful to know what these terms mean. They may not be terms that are regularly used, but if you are a fan of cookbooks, you will run into them at some point. It’s also good to know what small, medium, or large dice really mean. Recipes are often written with the size of cuts in mind, because it takes more time for large diced vegetables to cook than small or medium diced, and vice-versa.
During elements class in culinary school, my instructor watched over my shoulder while I did my cuts. It was stressful for sure, but he constantly emphasized the importance of uniform cuts. Uniform cuts not only look good but they also ensure everything cooks evenly. Think about what would happen if you tossed different-sized cut carrots in a stew. Some pieces would still be hard while others already cooked, and by the time the larger pieces are done, the smaller ones are mush. Now of course, no one will be watching over your shoulder, and there will be no no remote ruler to smack your knuckles. This is your kitchen, not a culinary school. But if you want to up your cooking game and make your work in the kitchen easier, uniform cuts are important.
Finally, you’ll absolutely need a sharp knife. Absolutely. In case that’s not clear enough, make sure you use a sharp knife. Using a sharp knife not only helps with precision—it’s also safer. The force required to make a cut with a dull knife puts those cute digits of yours at risk. If you want to learn more about knives, check out my Knives 101 post.
Let’s start with the first step to making the basic cuts we’ll discuss today.
Squaring Off Vegetables
To accomplish any of the following cuts, you will need to square off your vegetable first. There isn’t a single vegetable that is square-sided, which would have made life so much easier. Squaring off vegetables is needed to make uniform cuts. At first, it will be frustrating because you’ll feel like you’re creating a lot of waste. But don’t toss those scraps! Bag them and freeze for broth or stock. When I worked in restaurants, we would keep all our scraps and toss them in a large stock pot for stock later. I’ve even minced my scraps with a food processor to use in scrambles and breads.
To square off a vegetable, peel it first if needed. Trim the ends. Cut the vegetable into 2-inch segments. Take a segment and slice one side to produce a flat surface. Repeat with the remaining sides. Now you’re ready.
Julienne cut or matchstick cut
Julienne cut or matchstick is a common cut that is stick-shaped and very thin. It’s most commonly associated with stir-fries or garnishes. Vegetables cut in this style cook quickly. It’s also great for vegetables that are going to be served raw.
To make a julienne cut, square off your vegetable. Then cut lengthwise into 1/16-inch slices, leaving thin rectangular slices. Take the slices and cut into sticks.
Dimensions: 1/16 inch x 1/16 inch x 2 inches
Brunoise dice or fine dice
This is the smallest dice and one of my favorites. This is the julienne method cut down into tiny squares. This dice is great for garnishes and salads. I especially love this dice when preparing a rice pilaf.
To make a brunoise dice, follow the same steps for the julienne cut. Then gather the strips and dice into equally-shaped pieces.
Dimensions: 1/16 inch x 1/16 inch x 1/16 inch
I like to call the batonnet cut the french fry cut because, you guessed it, it’s great for french fries. It’s also a great cut for stacking vegetable sides to create height in your dish. Also, if you are into creating veggie trays or cheese boards, it’s a great cut to use.
For this cut, slice your squared-off vegetable into ¼-inch slices. Take the slices and cut into ¼-inch sticks.
Dimensions: ¼ inch X ¼ inch X 2 inch
Small dice is done in the same style as a brunoise, but larger because your start with a batonnet. A small dice is ¼ inch square. I like this cut especially for soups because you can fit several pieces of vegetable on the spoon.
To make a small dice, first cut the vegetable into batonnets. Then gather the sticks and cut down into ¼-inch squares. (You may be seeing a pattern by now.)
Dimensions: 1/4 inch x ¼ inch x 1/4 inch
The baton is the largest stick cut. It’s not a commonly used cut but it’s good to know for creating vegetable sides. It is also the foundation for the more common medium dice.
Dimensions: ½ inch X ½ inch X 2 inch
The medium dice starts with a baton, and the only added step is slicing the baton to produce cubes. This is a great cut for chunky stews or home fries.
Dimensions: ½ inch X ½ inch X ½ inch
Large dice cuts are primarily used in long-cooking dishes. When cutting a large dice, you will produce a higher amount of waste when trying to get nicely cut pieces. It’s most commonly used for large root vegetables like potatoes, rutabaga, and celery root. This is the cut I use the least.
Dimensions: 3/4 inch X 3/4 inch X 3/4 inch
The chiffonade is used to thinly cut leafy herbs and vegetables into ribbons. To chiffonade, start by stacking the vegetable or herb leaves. Then roll them up into a cigar-shaped roll. Once rolled, slice the roll into thin ribbons. Gently toss with your finger to loosen. This cut is used mainly for garnishes. You can do a larger chiffonade cut for hearty leafy greens like kale and chard for sautéing.
When a recipe called for a chopped vegetable, it means to cut the vegetable into small pieces where uniformity and shape are not important. Just cut it down to a small size and toss it into the pot. No need to stress. This is very typical in dishes that will be pureed.
This is basically the chopped version of a brunoise. Go for a very small chop. This method is used mostly for shallots, garlic, and herbs.
Now, that you know all the knife cuts, it’s time to carefully whip out your sharpest knife and cutting board and get to cutting. With a little practice, you will be doing even the “fancier” brunoise and chiffonade in no time!