Bonus Post – How to Break The Second Rule of Knife Safety… Safely?!

You may have noticed that, at the start of every “How to Chop” tutorial, I keep plugging my post on knife safety. In fact, if you haven’t read it yet, here it is again (link).

The reason basically boils down to, I would hate for anyone to get hurt. And, particularly relevant to this blog, I would hate for anyone to be put off learning to cook because of it. But I have a slight confession to make: I break my own rules of knife safety.

Are you shocked? Anyway, the rule that I break on a regular basis is rule #2 – Always Cut Away from Yourself.

 

Now if you are going to break rule #2 of knife safety, it’s extra important that you have a good, sharp knife (rule #1). (I would also recommend you use a smooth, rather than a serrated, blade.) I know it seems counterintuitive, and I don’t mean razor-sharp, but you need to be able to push your knife through whatever you’re chopping with gentle pressure.

Which brings me to my second point – don’t slice. The type of motion you use with a knife will make a big difference to how safe it is. You are unlikely to cut yourself using just gentle pressure, but if you use a back-and-forth, sawing motion you probably will.

 

The safest way to cut towards yourself is actually to use your knife and thumb like a pair of scissors. This is a great way to peel or cut the blemishes out of vegetables. (My mum taught me this technique after I found out the hard way that I’m no good with a kitchen peeler…)

To make a ‘scissor grip’, hold the handle of the knife in the palm of your hand. Support the back of the blade with your forefinger for control, and use your other three fingers to make sure you have a solid grip. You can then use your knife and thumb like a really flexible pair of scissors! Why not try out the grip and pincer motion a few times to see how it feels, and if you want to try it on a vegetable?

 

If you are just getting to grips with basic knife skills, you may want to save this one for later. (I certainly didn’t start out breaking any rules – I was already quite confident with a kitchen knife before I tried this one!) But if you can master this technique, it can help you cook faster, and quite possibly freak out your friends in the process…

 

How to Make Stir-Fry (or should that be Steam-Fry?)

We love stir-fry in our house, in fact it’s kind of the default meal option! Now a proper stir-fry is cooked hot and fast, and preserves a lot of the vitamins and minerals in your food. This dish that we call stir-fry is really more of a steam-fry – it starts with a little frying to really get the flavours going, then gently steams the vegetables in their own moisture.

You will need:

  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • a wok or deep saucepan with lid

and the ingredients (for four people):

  • a little oil
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2-3 carrots
  • 1 bell pepper
  • beansprouts
  • leafy green vegetable such as baby spinach
  • frozen prawns or unsalted cashew nuts

 

Start by placing your pan on a gentle heat. Add a little oil (less than a teaspoon is fine), and slice your onion. (You can find more detailed instructions here: onions)

Add your onion to the pan, along with any spices you want to use. This recipe gets plenty of flavour from all the lovely veggies, but a little ginger or Chinese five spice is also nice.

Photograph of a wok with a layer of sliced onions, lightly sprinkled with powdered ginger

While your onion is gently frying, cut your carrots into sticks, then add them to the pan. (More detailed cutting instructions here)

Photograph of a wok with a layer of carrot sticks on top of sliced onions

Once you’ve added your carrots, put the lid on so the vegetables can steam. The dish will take about 20 minutes from this point.

Cut your bell pepper into strips (chopping tutorial here), then add them to the pan.

Photograph of a wok with a layer of red pepper strips on top of carrots & onions

While your other vegetables are cooking, check your beansprouts and leafy greens over for any that don’t look tasty.

Five minutes before serving, add your prawns (if you’re using them) and beansprouts to the pan.

Photograph of a wok with a layer of prawns on top of red pepper, carrots & onions

Photograph of a wok with a layer of beansprouts on top of prawns, red pepper, carrots & onions

Finally, add your leafy greens. (You could use frozen peas instead, but they’re harder to pick up with chopsticks!)

Photograph of a wok with a layer of pak choi on top of beansprouts, prawns, red pepper, carrots & onions

The stir-fry is cooked when the greens wilt down ever so slightly, and turn a brighter shade of green – this usually takes less than 5 minutes.

Photograph of a wok with a layer of pak choi on top of beansprouts, prawns, red pepper, carrots & onions

Stir everything together before serving. If you’re using cashew nuts instead of prawns, add them now.

Photograph of white bowl filled with stir-fried vegetables and cashew nuts on egg noodles

This dish looks like a rainbow on a plate! I like it with rice or noodles, but it’s also delicious just as is. Serve with soy sauce; you can add some during cooking but I think it’s nice to let everyone season to their own tastes.

If you want a sweeter dish, try adding a tin of pineapple along with the beansprouts. And if you fancy a little chilli kick, some sweet chilli sauce goes beautifully!

If you make stir-fry with this recipe, I’d love to see a picture of your finished dish!

How to Chop a Bell Pepper – into strips

If you haven’t already, please make sure you’re familiar with basic knife safety before starting this tutorial. (link)

Hand drawing of a red bell pepper

 

 

Bell peppers are actually a fruit, but they’re great in savoury dishes. Like carrots, you can eat them both raw and cooked, so you can use them in dishes from salads to stir-fries.

 

You can wash bell peppers if you want, but they have a natural waxy coating that helps to protect them while they’re growing.

 

 

The easiest way to start chopping a bell pepper is by cutting it in half. Bell peppers have smooth, shiny skin, so to prevent your knife from slipping place it in one of the grooves of the pepper. Then cut straight down. (You may also see a small black stick at the base of the pepper – this is just part of the old flower; you can pull it off with your fingers.)

Hand drawing of a red pepper showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Cut each half in half again, so you can get to the pith – the white parts of the flesh. The pith is edible, but it has a bitter taste so most people prefer to remove it. The pith is found mostly at the top and joins of the pepper, and is easiest to cut out where it joins to the brightly coloured flesh.

Hand drawing of a red pepper showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Now you’re ready to cut your pepper into strips. Start by cutting each quarter in half from side to side. (You can skip this step if you want, but I find that it’s easier to get even-sized strips when you deal with the top and bottom halves separately.) Then take each of these chunks and cut off strips about 1cm (½ inch) wide.

Hand drawing of a quartered red pepper showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)Hand drawing of a chunk of red pepper showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can eat bell peppers raw, or lightly fried. (If you cook them for longer than about 15 minutes they tend to get a bit soggy and fall to pieces.) Bell peppers also work well in rich, tomatoey sauces where they add a hint of sweetness!

Bell peppers don’t last long once they’ve been cut, so it’s best to use them within a day or two. If parts of the pepper are squishy, it often means it’s already started to break down. Cut out these squishy bits and discard them – I find it easiest to do this right at the end.

How to Chop a Carrot – into sticks

If you haven’t already, please make sure you’re familiar with basic knife safety before starting this tutorial. (link)

We’ve already done a few How to Chop a Carrot tutorials, but carrots really do feature in almost every meal I cook, so bear with me! They’re also a great vegetable to practice on, because they’re inexpensive and can be eaten both raw and cooked. In today’s tutorial we’ll be making carrot sticks.

The first few steps are the same as we’ve learned so far. Wash your carrot with clean water (and a scrubbing brush if you want), but try and leave the skin on to preserve the mineral content.

Check your carrots over for any discolouration or blemishes that you want to cut out. Just like before, cut them out using a small ‘V’ shape.

Hand drawing of a carrot showing a close up of a small blemish and cutting guidelines

Chop off the top and bottom (or top and tail) of your carrots.

Hand drawing of a carrot showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Next, cut the carrot into chunks the same length as the sticks you want to end up with. I usually aim for about 4-5cm or so (a little under 2 inches).

Hand drawing of chunks of carrot

 

 

 

 

With each chunk, start by chopping it in half. This gives you a flat surface to rest the carrot on, which makes the rest of the chopping safer. There are a couple of different ways to go from here.

 

 

 

 

The way I always used to make carrot sticks is to just keep halving until you end up with sticks that are about half a centimetre (¼ inch) at the fat end.

Hand drawing of three sticks of carrot, each one half the width of the last

Recently I’ve found, however, that it’s more efficient to cut carrot sticks using a kind of grid pattern. Slice each chunk into four lengthwise, then cut each thick slice into sticks. You can even stack your slices to make chopping faster!Hand drawing of thick slices of carrot showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Hand drawing of a carrot showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not only are sticks great finger food, you can also boil them like slices (link). However, my favourite way to cook carrot sticks is in a stir-fry, which is the recipe we’re working towards this month!

How to Chop an Onion – into slices

If you haven’t already, please make sure you’re familiar with basic knife safety before starting this tutorial. (link) Please remember to give onions special consideration because of their shape, texture, and tendency to make your eyes water!

The chunks of onion from our previous tutorial (link) are great for slow-cooking, but if you want fried onions then I like slices best.

Hand drawing of a brown onion showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

 

 

 

 

Just like before, we want to take off the skin, top and bottom from the onion. You can start in the exact same way – chop off the root and the top of the onion, making sure to keep your fingers out of the way.

(For slices, you might actually want to leave the root end on for now – try it both ways and see which you prefer!)

 

 

Once you have a flat surface at one end of the ball, you can rest it there to cut downwards, slicing your onion in half. Then deal with each half in turn, starting with a cut right down the middle.

Hand drawing of a red onion showing a single cutting guideline right down the middle (grey dotted line)

When you’re chopping onions, it’s a lot easier and quicker to work with if all the layers stay stuck together. So, when you’re slicing, work from the thin end(s) into the middle. And if you need to turn the onion around to get to the other end with your dominant hand, try turning the chopping board instead.

Hand drawing of a red onion showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

 

 

 

Although very thin slices of onion are so impressive (I’ve always loved watching chefs cut off super thin slices at top speed!), slices about half a centimeter (1/4 of an inch) thick are great for everyday cooking.

 

 

 

 

These onion slices take about 15-25 minutes to fry, although it depends how soft you like your onions! Onions can be eaten raw, or very well-done, so it’s really a matter of taste. They’re a great accompaniment to fried meats like sausages or burgers, or (my personal favourite) fish. And they’re a great source of flavour in a stir-fry, which we’re working towards this month!

How to Make Friday Fish Supper

The market near where I live has lovely fresh fish, which makes for a great meal. But the thing I find tricky when cooking fish is timings – getting everything on the table at the same time. This recipe combines the oven-baked fish technique from last week (link) with some good, basic, potatoes and veggies.

You will need:

  • aluminium foil
  • a baking tray
  • an oven
  • oven gloves
  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • a saucepan

and the ingredients (for four people):

  • 4 fillet(s) of fish
  • a little lemon juice
  • a pinch of salt
  • 4 potatoes
  • 4 carrots
  • half a head of broccoli

Start by turning on your oven to Gas Mark 4, 180° (160° fan).

Wrap each fillet of fish in foil, with a little lemon juice and salt. Start with oily fish – they take longer to cook. (More detailed instructions here: oven-baked fish) Place the finished fish parcels on a baking tray.

Photograph of three foil parcels on a baking tray

Cut your potatoes into chunks, and your carrots into slices. (You can find more detailed instructions here: potatoes, carrots) Place them in a saucepan, and mostly cover with cold water. Put the lid on, then heat gently on the hob.

Photograph of a saucepan half-filled with carrots and potatoes; water covers most of the vegetables but some are still poking up above the water line

If you’re use oily fish, put them in the oven now. (They take about 20-25 minutes to cook.)

While your other vegetables are cooking, cut your broccoli into florets. (More detailed instructions here: broccoli)

If you’re using white fish, put them in the oven now. (They take about 10-15 minutes to cook.)

 

Five minutes before serving, put your broccoli in with the carrots and potatoes. You can either put it directly in the saucepan (it doesn’t need to be covered by the water), or use a metal sieve inside your saucepan as a steamer.

Photograph of a saucepan (containing carrots and potatoes) with a metal sieve full of broccoli inside
If you line up the handle of your sieve with the handle of the saucepan, you’re less likely to knock it over

Make sure to check your fish and vegetables are cooked through before serving!

Photograph of a piece of smoked haddock; boiled potatoes, carrots, and broccoli; and fried leek and pepper on a white plate
My family loves veggies, so I added some fried peppers and leeks to this dish!

This meal is a bit harder than the one-pot recipes I’ve written so far, but it’s a great staple meal in our house! You can use a wide variety of fish, and for a bit of vegetable variety try replacing the broccoli with frozen peas or tinned sweetcorn.

If you make fish supper with this recipe, I’d love to see a picture of your finished dish!

How to Oven-Bake Fish

Fish is a great source of protein and essential oils. It’s also fairly easy to tell when it’s cooked – the flesh goes from being translucent (mostly see-through) to opaque.

Fish is one of my favourite foods, but it can be dry and tough when over-cooked. That’s why I like this technique; it gently steams the fish and gives you a bit of leeway in cooking times. The fancy name for this technique is cooking en papillote, which is just French for in parchment. I usually use foil though.

You will need:

  • aluminium foil
  • a baking tray
  • an oven
  • oven gloves

and the ingredients:

  • 1 fillet of fish per person
  • a little lemon juice
  • a pinch of salt

Start by turning on your oven to Gas Mark 4, 180° (160° fan).

Cut pieces of aluminium foil to size. It needs to be big enough to go around your fillet; I find that a square about half the width of the roll fits most pieces of fish.

hand drawing of a square of aluminium foil

Put your fish in the middle of the foil, and add a little sprinkle of lemon juice and salt.

hand drawing of a piece of salmon sitting in the middle of a square of aluminium foil

Fold the foil up around the edges of the fish, leaving space around the edges and sides, and roughly pinch it together at the top. The aim here is to make a little fish parcel that can fill up with steam, but it needs to let some of the steam escape so that it doesn’t burst.

hand drawing of a piece of salmon sitting inside an aluminium foil parcel

 

 

Place your foil parcel(s) on a baking tray and bake in the oven. Oily fish like salmon will take 20-25 minutes, while white fish like cod take only 10-15 minutes to cook.

 

After the cooking time has passed, open the fish parcel and check that the fish is cooked through. (Be careful – it’s hot!)

 

photograph of a cooked salmon fillet, served with sweet potato wedges and stir-fried vegetables
Sweet potato wedges and a rainbow of vegetables are delicious with fish!

You can try out a lot of different flavours in these little fish parcels, which makes them really versatile! Why not try adding some herbs like parsley or lemongrass, or spice it up with a pinch of chilli. You could also replace the lemon juice with vinegar for a different twist.

Remember to wash up and then reuse or recycle your aluminium foil!