Making The Cut. Repeatedly.
The other day, when I was making all that water ice I julienned up a metric crapton of citrus zest. Mostly because I love the tart little pings that explode in my mouth as I bite down (gingerly, with my very sensitive teeth), but also because I adore juienning things. Really! There is something richly rewarding about tearing down a pile of whatever into slim shards of whatever smaller. I also find its one of the easiest cuts to do with some practice.
I bet you’re thinking right now that I’m a bit nutty. (I am.) However, hear me out on this and I can fairly guarantee you that you too will be shredding up piles of parsley, zentners of zest and anything else your heart desires with reckless abandon! As I said before, it just takes practice. Once you’ve gone through a few items to learn the proper rocking motion when doing the julienne cut, it’s rather meditative. Relaxing. Enjoyable. You will become one with your garnishes.
The exact moment when I knew that I was head over heels for the julienne cut happened last Thanksgiving. I was helping to make a filling for about a million phyllo triangles involving many shallots and shiitakes, my role being to cut up those mushrooms paper thin. I still hate the bruinoise- especially on onions- so I was happy to learn a new skill. I was handed two full size cases of tiny asian mushrooms, given a crash course on how to cut and left alone. Two hours later we had enough mushroom bits to supply the western hemisphere with triangle filling from now to eternity. I had also reached a state of zen. It was a good day.
So, the nitty gritty on my favorite knife technique. When doing a julienne cut most people I see just stack everything up and hack away at their piles like you would cut something with a guillotine. Alternately, they create a pile of stuff, anchor the tip of their knife to the board and operate the blade like a paper cutter. Nothing that they’re cutting comes out easily, fingers get hurt, everything looks like crap when its finished. Fail. Although the first part of the cut is correct (as in the piling), the execution is all wrong.
The key point to properly julienning anything is that, like the paper cutter technique, your knife will never leave your cutting surface. However, unlike the triangular chopping motion of the paper cutter, the knife revolves and rocks like an oval. There is no fixed point on the knife blade when julienning anything. Keep the wrist loose and- literally- slide the knife blade from almost the tip, upwards, smoothly down and across the flat part. Then repeat in a fluid motion. See the oval pattern coming into play here? The knife is anchored to the board but constantly moving.
The second important feature of julienning is how you hold the item being cut as well as how you’re moving it across the surface of your board. If you’re not completely comfortable with the claw grip yet, become so. (To note, it still makes me a bit nervous. But, sink or swim with 10 fingers.) Not only will this create a solid mass for you to work with because your pinky and forefinger herd your stuff in towards the center, but you can also shove everything forward just so to create the proper paper thin cut. This being said, the idea of being able to control your product both with your finger anchors and your knuckle stop is what produces such a fine slice. I can’t actually say whether I shove the food forward more or the knife back a bit, but my fingers and my blade create the perfect (cut free) duet. Islands in the Stream, that is what they are.
This may sound odd without illustrations or demonstrations, but the gist is to keep your knife rocking and your product moving forward essentially. The julienne is a very fine cut, usually no more than about 1/16″ of an inch thick and very adaptable towards nervous nellies that are afraid that they’ll shear their knuckles off. (You might!) Just start slow to perfect the technique, speed will come into play as you get more experienced with your julienning skills. Also, I suggest two cases of mushrooms. If you can do those, you can pretty much julienne anything seven ways to Sunday.
See? Easy! Now you try! Band aids and side towel handy, of course.