How to improve your cooking with better knife skills.

First, you'll need a good, sharp chef's knife. If you don't have a chef's knife, go to a knife store or a kitchen supply store and talk to the staff. Choose a good quality knife with a comfortable handle and a weight that feels good in your hand.

1. Holding the knife:

Approaching the knife from above, pinch the blade between your index finger and thumb while wrapping your remaining three fingers around the handle.

2. The basics of use:

Place the entire length of the knife edge on your cutting board, perfectly perpendicular to the board. If it's slanted to one side or the other, your cuts will not be straight. When we get to the part about keeping the blade against the guide fingers (No. 5 below), you'll understand the temptation to move the blade away from your fingers, creating a slanted cut.

3. Chopping:

Starting with the edge on the board, lift the knife straight up a couple inches. Bring it straight down on the board, forcefully. Practice a billion times, aiming to bring the blade down in exactly the same place every time.

4. Slicing:

Start with the edge flat on the board, as if you've just completed a slice. Draw the handle up and back, so you're dragging the tip of the knife backward along the board. To cut, push the blade forward and down, so that the tip slides forward as the heel comes down. As the heel makes contact with the board, the edge slices through whatever you're cutting. Practice these two motions — up and back, down and forward — until they are smooth, about 2 billion times. Again, you want the blade to slice down in the same place every time. Also, your wrist, if viewed from the side by an impartial judge, will be tracing a circle in the air. And remember, cut while the knife moves forward, not backward.

5. The guide hand:

Proper guide hand technique allows you to work quickly and safely. While it's arguably the most important part, it's also the creepiest.

First, we'll divide the guide hand's fingers into two groups: the gripping fingers (thumb, ring finger and pinkie), and the guide fingers, (index and middle fingers).

Touch the gripping fingers together and place them on the cutting board so they're more or less straight up and down. Keep your arm relaxed and your wrist up, not down on the board.

Now, put your guide fingers together, like they were legs, wearing a skirt and sitting on a bar stool. Touch them to the board like this: Keep their middle sections straight up and down while bending the nail sections back slightly, touching the board just behind the tip of the nail. Those middle sections are where the side of the blade rests while you're cutting. Then, because the nail sections are bent slightly back, they're out of harm's way, and there's no way you can cut yourself.

Once you're comfortable with the feel of the knife against your fingers, practice cutting and slicing with no food about 3 billion times.

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