07- Cutting

Serves: 5



This has three variations--straight, diagonal and rolling cut. STRAIGHT or vertical slicing is used with such soft, tender ingredients as mushrooms, scallops and liver. DIAGONAL slicing, or cutting at an angle, is used with coarse-grained meats and tough, fibrous vegetables. ROLLING cut (or rolling-knife cutting), a variation of diagonal slicing, is used with coarse cylindrical vegetables such as carrots and turnips, which call for slow-cooking. In this method a diagonal cut (at about a 30-degree angle) is first made at one end of the vegetable. The vegetable is then rolled a quarter-turn and a second diagonal cut is made. (This produces an irregularly shaped slice with plenty of surface area to speed up the cooking.) The cutting and rolling continues until the vegetable is completely sliced.

This also has three variations: cube (for deep-frying and slow-cooking ingredients), dice (for stir-frying) and mince-dice (for steaming). The cubes range from 1/2 to 2 inches, the dice from 1/8 to 1/2 inch, the mince-dice from 1/16 to 1/2 inch. Dicing is simplest when ingredients are cut first into strips, then crosswise into cubes. When dicing irregularly shaped vegetables, begin at the narrowest section and work toward the thickest.

This has two variations: the matchstick, used in steaming and stir-frying and the threadlike strip, used in stir-frying. Matchsticks, sometimes called julienne strips, measure 2 to 3 inches in length, are about 1/2 inch wide, 1/8 inch thick. (When not so precise, they're known as slivers.) The threadlike strips are the same length but thinner and narrower.

This is used mainly for steamed dishes. It is sometimes called fine chopping and consists of chopping first in one direction, then another, crosshatching continually until the ingredients look almost machine-ground. Machine-grinding, running the food through once on the coarse setting, may be substituted. This saves time but tends to mash the fibers, press out some of the juices and toughen the food. (This is why hand-minced porkballs are invariably lighter.)

Crushing (also called smashing) is used for garlic and ginger, to release their flavors during cooking or for radishes and cucumbers in cold dishes, to allow the dressings to penetrate. The ingredient is either flattened with the broad side of a knife blade or else pounded with the butt of a knife handle or bottom of a glass jar. Although crushed, it remains relatively intact and does not fall apart. When crushing garlic, hold the knife blade parallel to the cutting board to prevent splattering. When crushing ginger, cut it in slices 1/2 inch thick and hit each firmly with the side of the knife. The fibers will hold the slice together so that each slice of ginger can be removed easily.

This is used for whole fish and large cuts of meat. A few light incisions (either parallel or crosshatch) are made in the surface to permit hot oil and seasonings to penetrate. This speeds up cooking and improves flavor.

The best knife is either a large, heavy chef's knife or a Chinese cleaver-knife (see 08- Kitchen Equipment, The Cleaver Knife). Another essential is a thick, solid chopping block that won't slide around.

Chef's Knife:
Hold the handle in your right hand. (Reverse this procedure if you're left-handed.) With your left hand, hold the tip of the blade down on the board and don't let go. As you raise and lower the knife, the tip will act as the fulcrum of a lever, giving you greater control. To slice: move the knife up and down regularly and rapidly. To mince: use the same rocking motion, but also swing the knife back and forth, left and right in an arc, until the food is completely chopped.

Line up the thumb and index finger of your right hand On either side of the blade. Grasp the handle firmly but not tightly with the other three fingers. With your left hand make a loose fist, and rest it on the food. (This gets your fingers out of the way.) Hold the knife blade perpendicular to the chopping board, resting lightly against the middle knuckle of your left hand. Move your fist back to where you want the food cut. Raise the knife's cutting edge no higher than the level of your knuckle then let the knife fall with a light, precise cutting stroke. * With each slice, push the food forward and move the knuckle back so the knife blade always falls in the same place. When mincing, hold the blade end down with your left hand, while lifting the blade (only near the handle) in a rapid up-and-down motion with your right. Although mincing can be done with a single knife, two knives of equal size and weight make the job much easier. These should be worked together in a lively rhythm like a drum tempo. The peppier the rhythm, the less tedious the mincing.

* Your two safeguards are: how high you raise the knife blade and how you grasp the food to be cut. The height depends on the size of your own hand and on the ingredient you're cutting. As a general rule, never raise the blade higher than 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches. When grasping the food, tuck your first two fingers under so the part between the first and middle knuckles is at right angles to the cutting board. Also keep your thumb out of the way.

The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook. ©1994 by Gloria Bley Miller.

This 07- Cutting recipe is from the Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook Cookbook. Download this Cookbook today.

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