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.
French cooking technique is the foundation for a lot of western cooking in general, and even if you don’t often (or never) cook french food, understanding some of the techniques that French cooks use is something that can make a big difference to the quality of the meals that you cook at home.
One of the most basic sets of French techniques that pretty much all professional chefs know, and that you should also try to learn, is the French knife cuts, and the knife skills that go along with it.
So today, we’re going to go over the basic French knife cut techniques, what they are and why they’re used – and how they can improve the food you cook.
The first thing to know about knife technique is that none of it is worth anything if you don’t start off with a good knife. If you’re not sure how to choose a knife or set of knives, check out this comprehensive guide on the types of knives and their uses on KitchenTipster, which is a great resource for learning about kitchen equipment and appliances.
Once you’ve armed yourself with a good knife, to make any of these knife cuts, the dice cuts included, you’ll first need to square off your vegetables. If what your cutting needs to be peeled, do that first. Then, trim the ends of the vegetable. Cut the vegetable into two to three Inch segments. Then cut one side of your segment so that one side is flat. Put the vegetable flat face down, then cut off the other three sides so that all four sides are flat and you have a set of rectangular segments.
For all the bits that you’ve trimmed off the vegetable, you can save them for stock, or potentially for making blended soups and other things that don’t require the even cuts we’re doing here.
The most basic knife cuts are what we call dices. There are three styles of french dice cuts – the small, medium, and large dice.
The medium dice is twice as large as the small dice – ½ inch squares. This is the size you’d want for sturdy stews. This is also the size you’d imagine when you think of home fried potatoes.
The large dice are vegetables cut into ¾ inch squares. This cut is used primarily with large root vegetables, and is appropriate for recipes that involved slow cooking – slow braises, for example. Sometimes this cut is also used for fruits like melons and such.
Julienne is one of the more difficult knife cuts – it’s basically a matchstick cut. Think long, thin sticks of vegetable, roughly 1/16 inch by 1/16 inch by 2 inch. The julienne is often used for stir fries, salads, coleslaws, and things like that. Appropriate for raw vegetables that will be served raw, or for a situation where you need the vegetables to cook quickly.
A brunoise is the julienne cut, but further cut into squares. 1/16 inch squares. This cut is great for use in soups, garnishes, and when you want to sweat your vegetables quickly as a base for any kind of dish.
The batonnet cut is essentially the french fry cut – batonnet means ‘small baton’ in french. Roughly ¼ inch by ¼ inch by 2 inch. This is the size you want if you’re cutting up vegetables to be eaten raw with hummus or some kind of dip.
The baton cut is the larger version of the batonnet (as you might expect). It’s ½ inch by ½ inch by 2 inch, this is a great cut if you’re looking to make veggies as a side dish. They’re big enough that they’re easy to handle and likely to retain some texture and bite.
The chiffonade is a cut used to turn herbs and leafy vegetables into ribbons. To make this cut, stack your leaves, roll them up into a cigar shape, then cut thinly. This cut is often used for herb garnishes.
Finally, there is the mince. This is a very small, irregular cut used for garlic, shallots, onions, and herbs – basically, any aromatics that you don’t want people to get chunky bites of in the dish you’re making. It’s similar to the brunoise, but it doesn’t need to be as regular or organised as a brunoise.
So – those are all the basic french knife cuts. Remember, the most important thing before you try to learn all of these is that you use good knives, and to find a good knife, you can consult this overview of the different types and styles of knives that are available.