How to Slice & Dice Fresh Herbs
A lot of attention is paid to fresh ingredients in Italian cooking. You will not often hear the sound of a can opening in an Italian kitchen, but you will hear the vigorous roar of an active knife on a chopping board. And more often then not, that knife is slicing its way through the delicious native herbs of Italy.
Fresh herbs are not only thought of to compliment the taste of a dish, but some hold that they have medicinal and spiritual purposes. This reputation is due to their intense aromatic qualities, as well as their undeniable ability to transform a dish from ordinary to extraordinary in a dash.
Introducing fresh herbs into your cuisine will bring out the best flavors of the dish and enhance the color and texture of the meal. Below are some steps on how to best chop, dice, slice, tear, and tease your herbs to create the most flavors for your dish.
1. Always select the best herbs. When first looking at the bunch check for signs of distress or rot. Since you will probably only use the green, leafy party of the plant, do not buy anything that has too much brown coloring, feels slimy, flops over like a mop, or smells rotten.
2. Once you get the herbs home, rinse them and gently dry them with paper towels. If you rub too much of the plant you will rub off the aromatic oils and therefore dampen the taste. Be gentle.
3. Select a part of your kitchen which has a large working area. This might mean buying a large cutting board, or removing some items from your countertop which get in the way.
4. If you are cooking with herbs that have a woody or thick stem (such as rosemary, thyme or basil) gently run your fingers down the length of the stem and strip the leaves off. You can always save the stems for other uses?like stews.
5. If you are using something like cilantro or parsley, remove the lower stems first. You will note that the bulk of the herb is found up top, so focus on working from the top-down.
6. Once this is complete, line up the herbs on your cutting board.
7. Begin chopping. The best way to chop is by using what is called the ?hinge method.? First hold the knife firmly, but not too rough, in your dominant hand. Then place your other hand on the top of the knife down by the tip. Keep the tip of the knife on the cutting board by pressing your hand down, while moving the hand that is holding the knife upward. Raise the knife up and down rapidly, but make sure you always keep the pressure on the tip. The tip of the knife will act as the hinge and help you slice through those herbs safely and effectively.
8. Once you have moved the herbs around and displaced them, use the knife to draw them back into a neat pile and begin to re-chop, so everything is even.
9. Once that it all looks even and clean, drop the herbs in a roaring stew or sprinkle them on a oven cooked pizza. Dig in!
Far too many people have lost fingers as a result of mistaking a pinky finger for a stem of rosemary. Always watch what you?re doing and you will minimize your trips to the emergency room.
Below are a few tips to help you keep all 10 fingers & toes:
- People say you can tell everything about a chef by the knife they use ? because it is entirely true. Nothing says "bad cooking" more than dull, dingy knives which can destroy a food's texture. So make sure, especially when cutting through herbs, that you use a sharp knife with a wide blade, such as a chef's knife or a Chinese cleaver.
- Don't use serrated-edge knives when cutting herbs because they are meant to cut through coarse items like bread, and will not cut your herbs evenly.
- Make sure your cutting board is clean before you even start chopping. Never put raw meats on the cutting board prior to chopping herbs - as you can contaminate the herbs with bacteria.
- Herbs will also absorb "off" flavors left over on the cutting board so make sure that you clean everything thoroughly with soap and hot water.