American Slicer Transcript

The Kitchen

    Many cooks have a favorite pan, or spoon, or whisk they really dig. But no kitchen relationship is more mystical than the one between cook and knife [AB uses a remote control, a knife displays rises]. Ironically, no kitchen tool is more misunderstood. With that in mind, I hope you’ll stay tuned to a humble program intended to elevate your cutlery consciousness, and help you and your blades turn out some really ...

[“Good Eats” theme plays]

The Kitchen

GUEST: Chef Klaus Wolfgar

AB: Down knife! [a huge knife lowers]

    Before we get all cut happy, let’s review a little knife anatomy. We’ll begin with the blade. The back is called the “spine”. The point, oddly enough, is the “point”. The first third of the edge back from the point is the “tip”. Then you have the “belly”, and finally, the “heel”. The blade then turns up towards the “handle” at the “return”, into the “bolster”. There may, or may not be a finger guard located here.
    Now in good European knives, the blade metal continues to the end of the knife in what is called a “full tang”. Most Asian-style knives usually have a hidden tang, which can either be long and narrow, or short and stubby. No matter the style, size, or shape of the knife, these parts will be present in one form or another.

The Blade

AB: Up knife! [the knife raises]

CHEF KLAUS: [On the TV, In an affected, disturbingly quasi-gay German accent] Velcome to ze Kutzu kitchen. I am your chef, Chef Klaus. Und now it is time for you to vitness ze power of this fine German cutlery, hmm? [cuts through a metal can] See, it cuts through, glides through ze can. [now through a shoe] Das boot. [through, mercifully, a stuffed rabbit doll] Der hasenpfeffer. [through cinderblock] Der concrete Eastern block. [slicing a tomato] Ze Kutzu slices tomato so thin, you can’t even see it. CAN YOU? No, of course not.


    Now, how much you give Klaus to put all ziss power in your hand, hmm? Vun hundred? Two hundred? Hmpf, I think that you would. But today, Klaus is generous. Alls 14 of these for only $39.99. That’s right! All of these knives for $39.99. And yet, if you wait, ders more. Oh dere is always more, silly. Achh!


    [AB turns TV off] So, why would a person with any brains at all spend a hundred dollars or more on one knife, when you can clearly have an entire set of viciously sharp Kutzus for the price of a pizza dinner? I’ll show you.
    [takes one of the Kutzu knives and places it under a video microscope] Let’s take a look at that Kutzu edge. It is essentially a hacksaw. The seal is so lousy that even if it could take a real edge, which it can’t, it wouldn’t be able to keep it for long. So once these serrations are gone, this tool will become useless. Not that it’s worth that much to begin with. If you’ll notice, Chef Wolfgar didn’t chop up an onion or julienne a carrot. That’s because bad design gives you no heft, no balance, and no angle of attack. Of course, if you ever need to hack a shoe in half, you’ll know what to reach for.
    Now let’s take a look at a real knife. Notice that the blade tapers from the spine to the edge, and that there’s a transition to another angle; a secondary belly, and the narrower that angle, the better the cut. Of course, to get this kind of angle requires the right kind of steel. And to understand steel, you’ve got to understand ...

The Bakery
[Henri's Bakery]

    ... baked goods. A baker can produce a chewy or crunchy crust, a firm or soft crumb, a dense or light texture, simply by varying the amounts of a relatively short list of ingredients: flour, sugar, eggs, butter, milk, baking powder, salt.

    Now the metallurgist has a pantry too. We should review it, so that when the salespeople start throwing around big words, you will be able to parry their every thrust. At its most basic, steel is iron and a little bit of carbon. Without carbon, iron is too soft to be of much good.

Iron + Carbon = Steel

    Chromium hardens steel, but more importantly, it adds some corrosion resistance.

Chromium = Hardness+
Corrosion Resistance

    Molybdenum is a carbide former. Now, when you hear the word “carbide”, think “grain”, okay? The more even and fine that grain is, the better the knife will be.

Molybdenum =  Finer Grain

    Nickel adds toughness. Think of toughness as a kind of elasticity, allowing the edge to snap back into place if it gets smacked around. Hard metals, brittle metals, can crack and that’s not a good thing.

Nickle [sic, Nickel] =
Toughness + Elasticity

    Tungsten. This is important. Wear resistance.

Tungsten = Wear Resistance

    Vanadium refines the grain.

Vanadium = Refined Grain

    Silicon adds strength.

Silicon = Strength

    Manganese ... Well, you get the picture. By mixing these ingredients, you can create thousands of different steels, or alloys. Knife makers like to match the alloy they use to the characteristics they want their knives to have.

The Kitchen

GUESTS: Students

    Ladies and gentlemen, a knife is only as good as the surface on which it rides. So, let us turn our attention, momentarily, to the cutting board.
    Now there are two main issues to be considered here. The first one is the material, okay? Although they are pretty, the following materials ARE EVIL, and your blades should never come in contact with them, ever. Let us review.

AB: [as samples of various materials pass by, suspended from a horizontal pulley] Marble?
STUDENTS: [off camera] EVIL!
AB: Granite?
AB: Composite counter tops?
AB: Metal?
AB: Glass?
AB: Actually, Dark-Lord-of-the-Sith evil.

Composite Counter Tops

    So where does this leave us? Well, there are three types of boards that I use. I have one of these newfangled wood composite boards. Nice, because it’s a renewable resource, and they can be molded and shaped into many configurations of thin holes, nice shapes. We’ll get on this later.

Wood  Composite

    I have a high-density polyethylene board for raw meats. This can go in the dishwasher, which I like a lot.


    Most of my vegetable cutting, and cutting in general, is done on rock maple. You can get that either in cross-cut or end-cut, like this. It tends to be heavy and expensive, but it’s a fast, fast surface. That’s nice.

Rock Maple

    I should also mention bamboo. This has become popular in the last few years. It’s renewable. It’s grass. But I don’t like cutting on it. I find it to be a very slow surface. It’s fibrous. Grass, what are you gonna do?


    Now, another issue is size. This is simple. Take your largest knife, and lay it diagonally, corner to corner. There needs to be at least two inches of board sticking out on either end. If there isn’t, your board is too small for the knife.

<----2 inches on either end -->

    End of lecture!

    [one of AB's cameras is mounted to his chest] Now, in order to give you an operator’s point of view of the various knife operations that we’ll be undertaking today, my technical crew constructed this vest rig complete with a high-definition mini-cam, and, I don’t know, whatever that thing is.

    Now, the place where cook and knife become one is called the “grip”, and which one you choose matters. Now a lot of folks prefer what I call the “Excalibur” grip, which is wonderful if you’re trying to hack your way through opposing forces in battle, but not so good when you’re trying to mow through an onion.


    Then we have what I call “The Accuser”, because it’s always pointing a finger at someone. And although it gives you a bit of tip control, stability is a joke. Only use this if you can easily reach your insurance card with the other hand, if you get my drift.


    My grip of choice, I call “The Pinch”. Simply pinch the spine between the thumb and forefinger, in front of the bolster. Not only does this give you accuracy and control, but by moving the pivot point ahead of the bolster, you increase the power transfer from arm to blade.


    Now when handling a paring knife, I like to use what’s called the “Choke” grip, literally positioning the knife so that the blade is partly in my hand. That puts it in a good position to use the thumb to feed the food into the blade. But, more on that later.


Knives made from flint were busy slicing and dicing as early as 3,000 B.C.

The Kitchen

GUEST: George Washington

    No matter what shape you hope to whittle your food down to, you're going to have to use one or all of the primary cuts. That means you are going to slice, you are going to chop, and you're going to have to pare. Let's start at the top.




    [reading a blackboard] "Slice: To cut with a long pulling stroke." That's it. The fact that such a motion may very well produce a piece of food known as a slice, is completely beside the point.


    [contemplating a roast] Mmm, roast beast. Now since we want to minimize back-and-forth sawing, we need a knife that is good and long. But we'd also like to minimize drag, so a thin blade would be very desirable. In other words, when it comes to a slicer, you can never be too long or too thin. Now the goal is a single pulling cut that puts the tip on the board. Doesn't matter if you're cutting roast beef or rhubarb, the slicing motion is always the same.


    Chop. What a terrible word for a precision cutting operation. You know why? Because it implies ...  [tree cracking sounds are heard from off-camera] Hey, watch out! Get back! [a tree falls in the kitchen] What ... that's my ... that's my cherry tree! Who would do such a thing!?


GEORGE WASHINGTON: I cannot tell a lie. I was passing by. [referring to an axe that s/he is holding] I found this in your yard. I have no idea where it came from. [hands AB the axe, and walks off]

    [still dumbfounded] I, um ...  by my definition, chop is a forward cutting motion in which the entire length of the blade comes in contact with the board. But you know, the real secret here is not to think “chop”, but to think “choo-choo”.
    [in front of a model train set] By “choo-choo train”, of course, I mean locomotive. Next time it comes around, check out the drive arm on that engine. See how it goes up and down and front and back in an orbital pattern? That is exactly what you want to see out of your knife during the chopping process.

    [demonstrates a few times on a piece of celery] Notice that the hand holding the knife drives it rhythmically, but the blade itself is actually being guided by the front of the fingers on the other hand. Now this configuration, with a wide knife like a chef's knife, it's very difficult to actually cut yourself, as long as the food you're cutting isn't too tall and you keep your fingertips [on the hand holding the food] folded back.


    Although this is especially useful for breaking down multiple long items, like, say, green onions or celery, chopping is also handy for herbs. For instance, basil. Pick yourself about a dozen leaves and then just stack them up with the largest leaf on the bottom. And roll it up, place it on the board, seam side down, and then just gently mow through, using that smooth choo-choo train motion. That will prevent bruising of the leaves. The French call this a chiffonade, by the way. Which, I guess, sounds better than really skinny ribbons. You be the judge.



    Paring is defined by trimming down or reducing something in size. Not very helpful. In practical application, it is unique from the other cutting methods, because the cutting happens up off of the board and the knife is always facing the cutter.


    Back in the days before peelers, when someone needed to peel a peach, they didn't reach for a peeler but a paring knife. Got it? Good. Here's an example. Now I realize that putting one of your digits right up against a blade is not a natural instinct. But this seemingly dangerous dance is an integral part of paring. The crucial detail here is that the knife and the thumb are connected to the same hand, so slicing your own thumb becomes a lot less likely. And if you keep your knife sharp, minimum force will be required. Remember, when you start forcing knives around, bad things happen.


    Here's the truth: 90% of your home cutting jobs are going to be hybrid cutting jobs, calling for slicing, chopping and paring. Want examples? You got it.




    All right, step one: pare off the ends, being careful to not cut all the way through the base root where all the leaves of the onion come together. There. Now just make a very thin incision up the side, and peel off that outer skin. I like to do this by pinching the skin between the blade and my thumb. You can't always get it to work. Sometimes you have to just get medieval with it. Now you're going to split the onion longitudinally, making sure that you keep an equal piece of that root on either side of the incision.


    Okay, now here's the cool part. I like to kind of slice this in a fan pattern. Position the knife so that you can cut through everything but the root again. There.


    Once you get all the way around to this point, you can simply slice through or chop through in individual pieces. Chop or slice, your choice here. Whatever you do, don't cut straight down. Knives work best when they're working two directions at once. Always remember that. Use your fingers to guide the knife. There.


    [narrating] Want to practice your moves? Drop by, and download these tasty recipes.

Want more practice?
Drop by

Creamed Corn
Turkey Rehash
Okra & Tomatoes

The Kitchen

    Well, now that we have looked at the new method of onion harvesting, where orbital cuts are made, followed by the standard chopping move, we should also look at the old-school method, where multiple cuts create a grid in the onion itself.

The "New" Way


    Okay, this method is the traditional one. It’s practiced in many of the world's best restaurants. I think it's a little ungainly. First, a series of horizontal cuts, of course, again, not penetrating that root. And then vertical cuts, creating a grid pattern. All we have to do now is chop through at an angle perpendicular to the second cut. Kind of sloppy, but effective.


    Now mincing a clove of garlic is exactly like disassembling an onion, only on a smaller scale. Now if I can just adjust the camera here. There. And away we go. Since it's not composed of concentric layers, we don't have to use the fan pattern. But as with the onion, you want to make sure that you keep some of that root intact. So we'll cut in half, a few verticals, a couple of horizontal slices, and mince. Actually, this is chopping, but we're using a chop to create a mince.


    [narrating] Need a little more knife practice? Drop by, and try out some of these knife-centric applications:

Want more practice?
Drop by
Sweet & Sour Pork
Curried Split Pea Soup
Mojo Moulies

    Let us now consider a very different botanical critter: the bell pepper. We begin by slicing off both ends. You don't want to waste that, of course. Save it for the stockpot or stir-fry. We're going to scoop out the middle leaving the hollow shell, which we slice in half. I don't care for the waxy membrane on the inside of this flesh. So I like to come back and carefully strip it out. I use a back-and-forth sawing motion, one of the few times that you use that in cutting. Now flip that over so that the skin is up. It'll make it easier. And slice into narrow ribbons. And notice that the tip of the knife, always on the board. At this point, you have a julienne, which by itself is a very useful cut. But if you turn the stack 90 degrees, you can chop into the small dice we desire.




    Once you've got the bell pepper licked, it's easy to move on to other chilies like this jalapeño. Just take off one end in this case and split it right down the middle. I like a paring knife for this. There. By the way, capsaicin, the fiery compound in chilies, will stick to your fingers for hours turning your hands into chemical weapons. You can prevent this by wearing vinyl or latex gloves. Or you can occasionally dip your fingers in a 5 to 1 solution of water and bleach while you're working. The bleach will turn the capsaicin into a water-soluble salt that will then rinse away. Pretty cool, huh? So slice through, just as with the bell pepper, to create that thin julienne, then turn the work 90 degrees. And in this case, I'm going to slice into that small brunoise shape, because chopping is kind of tough with a paring knife.




Julienne: a 1/8 inch wide strip

Brunoise: a julienne cut into 1/8 inch cubes

    Ehh, slicin' and dicin' tomatoes, that's kid stuff! If you're going to cook with the big boys, you're going to have to learn how to concassé, that is, to peel, seed and chop your tomatoes. But there is a nice little trick for this, okay. Just get yourself a tomato, like this, and grab your standard paring knife with the choke grip, like this. Now remove the woody stem end, the belly button of the tomato. Notice that both hands are moving, so the tomato rotates into the blade. Now flip it over, choke your thumb up the blade so that you can make a very shallow incision. Make a little “X” across the bottom of the fruit. There.


    Now, two to three of these at a time into boiling water for 15 seconds. Why? Because we want to loosen the pectins that are basically holding that skin onto the fruit. The skin is going to draw up a little bit, and that's why we created the “X”s, to provide a little space for that. Of course, we don't actually want to cook the tomatoes, so after the 15 seconds, we remove and shock with an ice bath, okay?
    Now you will notice almost immediately that the skin around the “X”s are going to ...  it's going to loosen up. And that's going to make the next step a heck of a lot easier. After about a minute, you can easily grab that peel there at the “X” between your paring knife and your thumb and peel it right off. Try that without the boiling part and it'll be a different story.

    Now step two of the concassé is the seeding. Slice the tomato in half along the equator, so you can easily squeeze out the seeds, juice and pulp. We're going to save that juice for later, by the way. Now the slicing is almost like any other piece of vegetation. Actually, I'm going to chop through, turn it 90 degrees and chop into a large dice. You could chop or slice, but since the food's kind of high, I'd rather do a chop here. [rotating the slices] And 90 degrees and mow through. There.

Concassé  = Peel, Seed, Chop


    Now as far as moving this around, some chefs like to actually scoop up with the knife, but I had a nasty cut from that one time, so I use a board scraper.

    [narrating] Want to polish your knife skills a little more? Drop by, download these recipes, and get cuttin'.

Want more practice?
Drop by
Shrimp Gumbo
Seaside Squid Salad

The Kitchen

GUEST: Thing

    You know, the best part about practicing your knife skills is that you get to eat the result. I mean, let's just say for a moment that you combined one and a half pounds of vine-ripe tomatoes, concassé, with one cup of peeled, seeded, and chopped cucumber, one-half cup each chopped red onion and diced red bell pepper, one jalapeño, seeded and minced, one clove of garlic, minced, and one cup of tomato juice, most of which you should have been able to get out of your concassé. Now if you were to stir this up and serve it, people would say, “Gracious, but that's a fine salsa you have there.” 1½ lbs. Vine-Ripened
1 Cup Cucumber, Peeled,
    Seeded & Chopped
½ Cup Each Chopped Red
    Onion & Diced Red Bell
1 Small Jalapeno Pepper,
    Seeded & Chopped
1 Medium Garlic Clove,
1 Cup Tomato Juice

    But what if you went further? What if you added a quarter cup of extra virgin olive oil, the juice of one lime, two teaspoons each of balsamic vinegar and Worcestershire sauce, a teaspoon of kosher salt—very nice—half a teaspoon of cumin roasted and ground fine, and a quarter teaspoon of black pepper? Let's say that you stirred that up nicely. And say you moved about a cup and a half of that over to your friendly neighborhood blender for liquefying.

¼ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Juice Of One Lime
2 tsp. Each Balsamic Vinegar
    & Worcestershire Sauce
1 tsp. Kosher Salt
½ tsp. Cumin, Toasted &
¼ tsp. Freshly Ground Black

AB: [hands it to Thing]
[returns the liquefied mixture]
AB: Why thank you, Thing.

    Let's say you added that back into the bowl, gave it a good stir, maybe refrigerated it for a few hours, topped it with a nice basil chiffonade, which we just happen to have, and served it alongside a nice, crunchy piece of bruschetta. Well, gosh darn it, you know what you would have? The Andalusian classic “gazpacho”, which oddly enough, was originally defined as being simply a soup of bread and oil and some garlic. Because back then, of course, there were no tomatoes in and out of Spain. But there are now, and I'm glad.

2 Tbs. Basil, Chiffonade

    All right, kids, just one more lecture to go here, and it is about edge management. You know, there is nothing more important than the maintenance of this device; the proper washing and storage.

    Step one, never, ever, ever put fine cutlery in the dishwasher. It is too harsh of an environment inside there for either the steel or for the handles. And it's dangerous to have sharp stuff flopping around in there. So you'll always want to hand-wash your knives.

Blade Free Zone!

    Now I always start with a nice sink of warm soapy water. I've got a cutting board set up here to use as a platform, and a nice soft brush. So just lay this up against the cutting board, and wash. This way the blade is not facing anything, not cutting anything up. Same on this side. I don't usually wash the handles unless they're really dirty. Ah, we'll scrub them. There you go.

    Then directly into the rinse phase. Never, ever, ever, ever, let a knife go down into the sink. Somebody could stick their hand in there and cut their fingers off. I don't even like to put a knife onto a draining rack like this. Too dangerous. Go ahead and dry it while it's in your possession.

Blade Free Zone!
[Draining Rack]

    Okay, if a knife isn't in your hand, it should be in its storage unit, be that a block, a drawer slot or my personal favorite, a magnetic strip which allows you to put what you want where you want, and identify it quickly. Just make sure that when you pull away, you twist so that the spine leaves the magnet last.
    Well, we've packed a lot of knifedom into the last half hour, which is why the ending of the show is going to be just a little bit ...  [sic, cut short]

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010