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Back to Basics : Techniques Put You a Cut Above

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Times Staff Writer

Recipes often instruct you to cut ingredients into a variety of sizes and shapes. Understanding the terminology can affect the way ingredients combine, cooking times and end results.

All the techniques may be accomplished by using a knife, some can be done with other sharp tools such as food processors, blenders and choppers.

Cube: To cut with a knife into uniform pieces one-half inch or larger on each of four sides. This is easy to do when foods are square or rectangular, a little trickier for those that are round or oddly shaped. In the latter case, begin by cutting a thin slice from one side or end. Then using the straight side as a base, make horizontal cuts a half-inch apart. Repeat with the same size vertical cuts.

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Dice: To cut into small cubes, usually one-eighth to one-fourth inch on each side (Photo 1), using the technique described to cube.

Chop: To cut food into small irregularly shaped pieces about the size of a pea (Photo 2). Chopping may be done by holding the handle of a chef’s knife in one hand and using the other to guide the blade end. Bring the blade up and down in a rocking motion over the food to be chopped, keeping the knife point on the chopping surface. Occasionally regather the pieces together so the cut size will be uniform.

A food processor, blender or chopper may also be used for this technique, following directions from the manufacturer.

Finely chop: Implies chopping into smaller pieces by the same techniques used to chop.

Mince: To chop into very tiny pieces (Photo 3), again using chopping techniques.

Julienne: To cut with a knife into fine, match-stick-like strips (Photo 4) about 1/8-inch thick. The length may vary, but two inches is fairly standard.

Diagonally: To cut in a diagonal direction (Photo 5) into slices or chunks.

Requests for cooking techniques you would like explained may be sent to Back to Basics, Food Section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.

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