Cut You Down To Size.
So look, I’m the first one to admit that presentation IS important. I don’t cook outside of my own kitchen and I have no formal culinary training so the only thing that I can cling to that separates me from any average lean-cuisine zapping single lady home cook is how I prepare and present what I make.
Thus, although what I make is simple, I take the extra minute or two to make sure that my ingredients are the best that I could afford and make sure that I treat them well. I find great pleasure in perfecting my claw grip around an onion. Chiffonading a cigar roll of herbs brings a certain joy to my day. When I get a consistent mirepoix there isn’t anything that I couldn’t conquer.
Now that its been established that I have a highly pretentious picky cooking streak, I’m going to lay this out flat: sometimes you just need to get stuff done. Sure, having a perfect brunoise on your shallot is quite a feat, but if your dish is going through multiple incarnations sometimes you don’t need to worry about a 1/16″ perfect cube. Also, as I’m sure that you probably don’t care to spend all night getting your mise en place ready for a sauce that’s going to go into a blender, I have a handy kitchen hack that will increase your speed while still producing a fairly consistent cut.
Use geometry. Especially on little tiny stuff.
Think about it the last time you tried to mince a shallot or a clove of garlic. Pain in the tuchus, right? First you have to slice it horizontally level to the board (dodging your fingers) and then vertically from root to tip and then vertically against the grain. Inevitably those little pieces on the outer edge of the curve are going to splinter off and you’ll probably just end up trying to grip it all together tighter, which causes your product to fan out, which makes a messy cut… who has time for all that Thomas Keller nonsense on a marinara? Not me, that’s who.
One day as I was struggling with that proverbial clove of garlic one of my kitchen friends stopped and schooled me a minute. She looked at my mess of a clove, noted what I was making and suggested that instead of cutting my garlic in a grid pattern that instead I could cut it in a fan pattern with the addition of a few horizontal cuts. That way the clove of garlic would stay intact, the minced pieces would (more or less) be consistent and I could get on with more important things on my dish.
I would have thought that doing something like that would have been the equivalent of cheating on the kitchen SAT’s, but she was right. If I wasn’t going to be presenting this dish to Pete Wells and everything else was just piling up behind me, I doubt anyone was going to criticize me for having a slightly off bit of chopped garlic. Also, after testing her method, the fan cut was WAY easier for a novice cook to handle.
So take a look at this and discover your culinary destiny (as far as chopping unruly vegetables go). When chopping something like an onion you’re still going to want to adhere to the standard rule of not chopping off the root end and make your horizontal cut first before mincing, but aside from that its easy street. I usually start in the middle right at the top at zero degrees, then fan out with vertical cuts at 15 degree intervals until I reach the cutting board. Then just cut across normally like you would in the standard grid cutting formation. Nothing flakes off of the curved side. You’re coasting along on that espagnole sauce now, buddy!
Seriously, try it. Try it on that omelet that you’re making in the dead of the night. Try it for that stock that’ll warm your bones on a cold winter’s day. Give it a whirl on that barbeque sauce that you’re going to have to strain anyways. Maybe even go as far as to try it on a tomato destined for gaspacho. Just don’t try it when you’re trying to impress company. You’ll thank me for it later!