I learned an important lesson this week; one I had surprisingly never “taught” myself. Though aware of the potential consequences I never ran into it personally. While slicing bell peppers for the corn chowder I was making I became distracted by someone speaking to me and I nearly added the tip of my thumb to the recipe! Naturally cutting myself with a serrated knife was not pleasant. Three things occurred to me at that moment, well after the cursing was over, I had gotten the bleeding stopped, and a bandaged applied: 1. these great new knives I have are sharper than any knife I have ever used 2. Cutting myself really, really hurts 3. I can do a blog on knife safety skills and review them myself. (Then, of course, I told myself how clever I was for thinking that up.)
Knife skills are not something that only professional chefs should know. I am not suggesting that you go out and learn to chop in that super-fast method you see on cooking shows. I cannot do that and I would not expect most average people to be able to it either. What I am saying is that there are some basic skills to know and remember anytime you pick up a knife.
Remember the mantra “a sharp knife is a safe knife”! Trying to force a dull knife through whatever you are cutting can make the knife slip. If you were to cut yourself; it is better to do it with a sharp knife because the wound will be cleaner and heal faster, with less care needed than if it were jagged from a dull knife.
Make sure your cutting surface is appropriate! Glass, metal, or marble surfaces can damage blades and are not ideal for true cutting boards. Wooden cutting boards are great but difficult to keep clean. Keep an eye out for the reasonably priced space age plastic type boards. I love mine! Make sure that your cutting board either has non slip feet on the bottom or set it on a damp towel to prevent the board from slipping.
It seems obvious but never reach to grab a falling knife. Instinct causes us to reach for things that are falling. Try and make sure that knife handles are always away from the edges of counter space so that it is less likely to be knocked off. If a knife does get knocked off your work surface, for whatever reason, do not grab for it and step back so you do not impale your foot! Let the knife fall and then deal with any damage. This sounds totally obvious when I say it, but as previously mentioned instinct works against you here; this is not something you think about first. Not reaching for falling items in the kitchen is something you have to retrain your brain for.
When chopping anything it is better to go slowly and proceed with caution. It is best to cut away from your body. For me this takes some thought because I tend to pull knives towards me when I am preparing foods. I have to stop and remind myself to turn the food or my body so I can pull the knife away from me. Incidentally I was not turned away from my body when I cut myself. I was chopping though, so I was not pulling the knife but even then this is a no, no!
When cutting something always keep your eyes on the blade. I broke this cardinal rule and nearly gave the tip of my thumb for my efforts! The kitchen always seems to be the Grand Central Station of the home, the hub of activity. Whenever I have people over or go to someone’s home we always seem to end up in the kitchen! Think about it, the food and the liquor are usually in the kitchen so that is where parties end up. (That’s why I always say your kitchen should be immaculate, screw the rest of the house.) Even with all this activity you cannot take your eyes off what you are doing, even for a moment! If someone speaks to you or distracts you in some way pause your cutting! It makes sense if you think about it; you are not likely to cut yourself if you are watching what you are doing.
When you are carrying your knife through your busy kitchen always carry it with the blade pointed down and turned towards you. It seems obvious but it is also a bad idea to go skipping through your kitchen swinging your arms, at any time but especially with a knife in hand. With the knife pointed down and the blade towards your leg you are probably not going to slice someone, including yourself.
NEVER put a knife in a sink full of soapy water! Never submerge your knife in soapy water because it hides it from view. I have reached into sinks before and felt the knife sitting at the bottom of the sink; fortunately for me it was the dull, crappy, knives I grew up with so cutting actual flesh was not an issue. Soaking your knives in water is probably not that great for them anyway so just wash them well with a good scrubby sponge and put them away.
Curl your fingers under as you cut. This will feel weird and a bit awkward at first but with practice should become easier. Curling your fingers under helps to lessen the chance that you will lose the tip of any of your fingers. Obviously I wasn’t following this rule either. I have yet to personally master this one, but I am working on it.
The tip of the knife should never leave the work surface. Unless you are using a serrated knife to cut bread the motion you use to cut should be a rocking motion. The tip of the knife should rest on the cutting surface, only the back end of the knife lifts up to accommodate the movement of your other hand feeding the cutting process. This lends stability to the knife; think of those giant paper cutters that your teachers used in grade school!
Make sure you are using the right knife for the job. Again, I did not heed this rule. I was using a serrated knife to chop up vegetables. I should have been using a chef’s knife but I was lazy and just used the knife that was most available at that moment. Try to keep your knife block within reach of where you do most of your cutting and prep work. Keeping knives close to you helps discourage the inclination to just use what knife you can reach.
I know what mistakes I made and I hope that you can learn from my mistake and not have to “teach” yourself like I did. Prep work, in the kitchen, is often not the most enjoyable part of cooking but avoid the temptation to rush through it. As they say, slow and steady wins the race.