The speediest way to uplevel your culinary game: mad knife skills that sound complicated but aren’t. Skillful cuts add polish and panache, are manageable for even the most novice of chefs. Try these timeless French techniques, et voila: instantly fancified foods.
1. Chiffonade: sauté and garnish with max panache. A polished presentation for sauteed greens, and a more graceful garnish than coarsely chopped herbs: pronounced “SHEEF-oh-nahd,” this technique turns leaves into elegant, ribbon-like strands—like a classy version of shredding. The chiffonade cut is perfect for chard, collards, kale, lettuce, sorrel and other leafy greens; slender shreds cook rapidly and evenly, preserving brightness and texture. As a garnish, basil is ideally suited for chiffonade; it won’t work on rosemary, thyme, cilantro, parsley or other herbs with irregular shapes.
Step-by-step prep: start by removing thick, fleshy stems, then stack leaves (chard, for example) on a flat surface. Using a sharp knife, slice the stack crosswise into very thin shreds no more than 1/16 inch wide, almost like blades of grass. Some techniques call for tightly rolling the stack then making perpendicular cuts—fine if you’re using chard and sturdier greens, but likely to bruise delicate basil and spinach.
Fancify your food: sauté chard chiffonade with wild mushrooms and leeks; braise collard chiffonade in coconut oil, cumin and smoked paprika; scatter basil chiffonade over roasted vegetables.
2. Brunoise: precision presentation, pops of color. Pronounced “BROON-wahz,” this small, precise cut renders vegetables into appealingly tiny cubes that add pops of color and flawlessly integrated layers of flavor. Brunoised vegetables are traditionally used as an aromatic garnish for consommé, salads, sautés or meat dishes, or to impart color and flavor to stocks, soups, sauces or ground meat. The cut is best for firm vegetables (carrots, turnips, potatoes, parsnips), considerably more challenging on softer selections like tomatoes. Or try it with beets, zucchini, red peppers, leeks, even mushrooms.
Step-by-step prep: peel vegetables—we’ll say turnips, since they’re easy to manage—and slice off the tops and root ends. Cut slivers from each side of the turnip to make a square, then cut that square into 1/8-inch-thick planks. Stack the planks and slice them lengthwise into 1/8-inch strips; cut strips crosswise in 1/8-inch sections to create teeny cubes. And don’t skimp on squaring off initial cuts—you’ll save leftover bits of vegetables for stocks, sauces and pureed soups.
Fancify your food: sauté brunoised beets and turnips and add to quinoa; stir brunoised zucchini into creamy soups; scatter salads with brunoised red and green peppers.
3. Supreming citrus: uplevel those oranges. From the French “suprême” (pronounced “soo-PRIM”), it means ultimate or premium—originally used to describe meat dishes in which the skin, bones, ligaments and other unwanted parts were discarded, leaving only the most desirable portions. Supreming citrus involves getting rid of peels, bitter pith and tough membranes, leaving only juicy, tender segments of fruit—kind of like a citrus fillet. Try it with oranges, grapefruits, lemons or limes, as an artful finish for salads, cocktails, salsas or seafood dishes. For small citrus fruit, like tangerines, you’re better off just peeling and separating segments.
Step-by-step prep: slice off the top and bottom of a citrus fruit (like an orange), cutting all the way through the pith and creating a stable base. Place the orange flat side down on a sturdy board. Using a small knife with a thin, sharp blade, cut down the sides from top to bottom, following the natural curve of the fruit to remove sections of peel and pith. Then carefully slice out each segment between the membranes and transfer to a bowl. After you’ve removed all the segments, hold the membrane over another bowl and squeeze it firmly to extract the juice.
Fancify your food: combine supremed grapefruit and pomegranate seeds, and drizzle with balsamic glaze; top grilled seafood with supremed lemons and basil chiffonade; toss a salad of supremed oranges, avocado cubes, jicama and arugula.
4. Tournée FTW: upgrade potatoes, add sophistication and style. This classic, stylish cut transforms lumpy, awkward vegetables like potatoes or carrots into sleek, tasteful oblong shapes. Pronounced “TOOR-nay,” it means “turned” in French (you’ll see “turned potatoes” as a side on upscale restaurant menus). Besides visual appeal, the uniform size allows vegetables to cook more consistently, and the rounded sides roll around in the pan, so they brown on all sides. It’s typically used on potatoes and other roots but works on any firm vegetable. Try it on zucchini, golden beets, turnips, even chunks of rutabaga or winter squash.
Step-by-step prep: start by peeling the vegetable (let’s say a potato), then slice off the ends and trim it to the desired length—two inches long is the most common. Holding the potato between fingers and thumb, carefully trim sides and edges, cutting from top to bottom and tapering each end. Turn the potato and repeat with the next section; in a perfect world, you’ll have seven evenly spaced cuts when you’re done. A small knife with a curved blade—known as a bird’s beak—simplifies the process, but any sharp paring knife works.
Fancify your food: roast tournéed golden beets with olive oil and rosemary; sauté tournéed zucchini and yellow squash with spinach chiffonade; pan-fry tournéed turnips in butter and shower with thyme.