knife skills: how to chop like a chef
+ Sicilian Nut Pesto

cooks knife & sharpener carrot salad with pesto dressing

I’ve been thinking of writing a blog post on knife skills and techniques for a while now. I had a plan in my mind. There would be a brief explanation in words, but the focus would be on an instructional video, showing how to chop safely and quickly. Too easy.

Then recently I came a cross a video by Jamie Oliver on Twitter where the ex-naked chef was doing a demo, not only exactly as I had planned to do mine, but better and more charismatically. Not to mention with more flattering lighting and better camera work. So I figured it was best not to re-invent the wheel.

But before we get to Jamie, I wanted to share a few of my own knife tips and a brilliant little salad that has been on high rotation in our house: ribbons of carrot dressed in a slightly unusually dairy-free pesto. So fresh. So colourful. So good.

stonesoup knife tips

1. get a good knife sharpening system
I’m planning a separate post on knife maintenance, but I can’t stress how much easier your life will be if you keep your knives sharp. I’m a big fan of the Furi fingers because they’re the most foolproof system I’ve used.

2. go for quality
Like most things in life, you get what you pay for. Think of your chefs knife as the little black dress of your kitchen equipment. It’s the one piece of equipment you’re most likely to be using every time you step into the kitchen, so it makes sense to invest in the best you can afford.

3. forget about quantity
Those fancy knife blocks may seem like a great idea when they’re heavily discounted in your favourite kitchenware store, but they’re just going to take up valuable space. All you need is one decent cooks knife and possibly a bread knife, if you happen to develop an addiction to homemade sourdough. That’s it.

4. get a good storage place
After following tip 1, it can be very dangerous to have your super-sharp knife knocking about in your cutlery drawer. Not to mention, not the greatest for your knives. If possible, it’s worthwhile setting up a knife magnet so your knives are always safe and only a short reach away. Next best thing is to invest in cheap plastic blade covers that will protect both you and your sharp blade.

5. use an appropriate cutting surface
A decent chopping board is just as important as a good quality knife. And even though I’m a minimalist, I’d recommend investing in more than one board. I have a wooden all purpose board I use for most general jobs, and then plastic colour coded ones for raw meat, fish, poultry and veg. There’s a lot of controversy around the food safety and hygiene aspects of using plastic v’s wooden boards. I’m happy with my system of relying on the hottest cycle in my dishwasher to keep any nasties at bay.

6. know when your knife isn’t the best tool for the job.
Even the most dexterous chefs know that their trusty knife isn’t necessarily the best tool for the job. Case in point the carrot salad below with wonderful pappadelle-like ribbons of carrot, achieved effortlessly with a good quality vegetable peeler.

how to chop like jamie

carrot salad with pesto dressing

[5 ingredients | 10 minutes]
carrot ribbon salad with pesto dressing & cashews

serves 2

This is a great prepare ahead salad that will be happy to hang out both in and out of the fridge.

Feel free to use a commercial pesto, if you aren’t in the mood to make your own. But I highly recommend trying the dairy free Sicilian nut pesto below.

6 tablespoons pesto
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 large carrots, scrubbed
large handful roasted cashews

1. Combine pesto, lemon juice and 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a large mixing bowl.

2. Using a vegetable peeler, shave carrots into wide ribbons.

3. Toss carrot ribbons in the dressing. Taste, season & serve with cashews sprinkled over.

sicilian nut pesto video

sicilian nut pesto

[5 ingredients | 10 minutes]
sicilian nut pesto

make about 1 1/4 cups

I prefer to use the food processor for this. But you could also use the more minimalist food processor-free pesto method I posted about last year.

You can use this pretty much anywhere you’d normally use pesto. Stirred through pasta, on top of soup, as a sandwich spread, eating it straight from the jar – so many options.

Feel free to use different nuts, or even a combination. Almonds and hazelnuts are good as are a few pinenuts,

Will keep in the fridge for a week or so.

1 bunch basil, leaves picked
1 – 2 cloves garlic, peeled & chopped
1 cup cashews
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
squeeze lemon

1. Whizz basil, garlic and cashews in a food processor until finely chopped.

2. Add oil and stir until combined.

3. Taste and season with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon for freshness.

Tags: ,


  • I agree with Jamie – you need a cooks knife, a serrated/bread knife and the paring knife. The small paring knife is good to have for fruits and general peeling – when the cook’s knife can be too unwieldy.

    Jamie makes it look easy, but good knife skills comes with practice, practice, practice. For beginners, you want to go slowly. It’s all about sharp, precise technique – not how fast you are.

  • giang
    good point. practice is the key and thanks for pointing out that the aim is to be precise and safe not super fast.

    but i disagree on the pairing knife thing. I’ve managed without one for more years than I’d care to admit. But I do have a good vegetable peeler for fine peeling work. But as always it’s what works for you that’s the most important.

  • Chef’s knives come in several sizes, so be sure to get one that fits your hand. We have 2 at our house – the Man has much larger paws than I do!

    I had been wondering about that “finger” sharpener – they do work as advertized, then? Do they do serrated blades as well?

    The only thing I miss about my old job is the knife service – professionals come in every week to take away the dull knives and bring you a set of sharp ones…

  • A friend of mine has told me that cashews can’t be processed without an acid that scalds the skin of the cashew workers. She and her husband have tried to find sustainable alternatives to that process without success. I’m looking for info about this, as I’ve stopped eating cashews after this conversation!

  • I think you should go ahead and post up your own video (making it more comprehensive). Every serious cook has their own style / technique, and likes, and dislikes. I have 4 main gripes with this video. 1 – This video does not address proper knife grip. I prefer to use the pinch grip, but grip, regardless of style needs to be addressed first. 2 – A honing steel/rod is not a sharpener. It is not used to sharpen the knife, but to hone it. How could a professional cook miss this point? 3 – I have expensive Shun knives. If anyone ever dragged my knives across the cutting surface blade down to gather, collect, or move food, I think I would pass out. Never use the blade side to scrape food. If you have cheap knives, sure. Good knives, no way. I learned this fun fact by being screamed at by a very good chef in my first ever kitchen prep. job. Don’t needlessly dull your knives. Remember, most accidents occur with dull knives, not sharp ones. 4 – I do not like the way this chef lifts the point of his knife off the cutting surface to slice vegetables. I know, I know – every chef has their own style, etc. If you don’t have years of experience though, I would teach people to keep the tip in contact with the board, using a locomotive motion, drawing action. Just my personal take. I think you should really post your own video.

  • dan
    thanks for your input – you’re absolutely right about different style & techniques.
    I’m afraid Im guilty of point number 3.. but I don’t have shun knives ;) and will have a think about my own video

    I haven’t heard that about cashews – do share when you have more information.

    glad you could watch the videos!

    thanks for pointing out that different people need different sized knives.
    and the ‘finger’ sharpener is really great – they don’t do serrated edges though but well worth it for regular blades

  • Did anyone here try a chinese cleaver?
    I’m not talking about a bone whacking cleaver, but the chinese all purpose cooks knife :-)

    I’ve switched from my “normal” french chef knife to a santoku and for a few weeks now I’m working with a chinese cleaver and I’m loving it :-)

  • I thought the Jaime video was very interesting. Thanks for sharing. I am a huge lover of large knives and have always loved my cleaver.

  • Hi Jules,
    I’m just setting up my Plantoeat ( account – loading up favourite recipes or ones I’d like to try – but the site is unable to import from your blog. Any chance your techs could talk to their techs to make this possible, so I can include your recipes in my weekly meal planning? Could also be a good way to let more people know about your great blog, as we can share recipes with our friends on the site, and the source is shown for each recipe.
    Kind regards,


  • I loved the pesto sauce and love the recipe too, yummy. I like Jamie Oliver and his show. I agree and learned over the years that I want to invest in a few good knives and I cut with 3-4 I have in my kitchen. I no longer use my knife board collection anymore.

  • Pam
    Yes you have to admire Jamie he does a good job.

    Thanks for the suggestion – I’ve been in touch with them so hopefully you’ll be able to upload stonesoup recipes soon!

    Delishh & Balu
    You know I’ve always been a little scared of cleavers – maybe it’s time to overcome that fear ;)

  • I have to say that I’m not impressed with Jamie’s technique. Instead of using a slicing movement, he uses a drop-chop that over time, will blunt the blade in just one spot. I almost ruined my Wusthof knives with this technique, until the knife guy at the shop where I get them sharpened straightened me out. The slicing technique uses the whole of the blade, requires less pressure and allows you to retain more control. It’s far less dangerous and more accurate than a drop chop.

  • I would love to hear more about your knife sharpening system. I’m always terrified of ruining my knives by sharpening them “freehand.” Result: sad, dull knives.

  • I actually use a knife that is in between so it can chop veges (maybe not as well as a larger one, granted) but I can also use it to peel fruit and vege if needed. Plus I have a cerrated knife for bread. That’s all – BUT, my downfall would have to be that my most used knife is so blunt. I just looked up furi fingers and I see it’s in your image – I wondered what that was.

  • nice post for beginners. :)
    i actually have a few knives – a boning knife, breaking knife, skinning knife, vegetable cleaver, chopper, bread knife, chef’s knife, turning knife and paring knife. home cooks should avoid buying knife blocks altogether. the knives are usually stamped in the old-school european style with the heavy blades and wide bolsters that make them a bitch to sharpen. if you have knives you should learn how to take care of them, that includes washing (never in the dishwasher!), sharpening and maintaining. a quick polish with a fine 3000 grade stone makes a world of difference when it comes to slicing fish or segmenting oranges. most “professional” knife sharpeners will take your knife out to the back and grind it down on a motorised stone. it will feel sharp when you get it back. heck it’ll cut through tomatoes so aggressively that you’ll wonder how you ever got by but the edge will be riddled with micro serrations. the more serrated your knife is and the more aggressive it feels when you cut with it, the faster your edge will wear down. after a proper sharpen the edge of your knife should be as smooth and as reflective as a mirror, and even from tip to heel. 800 is a useful stone to put an edge on a blunt knife, 1000 for general sharpening and 3000 for polishing.

  • hey… I’m a botanist and more importantly, I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in a country that actually grew cashews. Catherine is slightly in error on the cashew topic. Cashews are very acidic – but that is a natural thing inherent to the cashew and not a result of processing. The acidity is removed by roasting (why you can’t find raw cashews – they have to be cooked before they can be eaten) in the shell first – then the “nut” can be removed. Technically, it’s not a nut either, but considered botanically as an “accessory fruit”… Has pictures of the cashew and cashew apple – it’s probably much different than the image you had in your head. The cashew apples are yummy! But, they have a terrible shelf life, so pretty much have to be eaten as they are picked.

    Oh, and just as an interesting aside, the plant family that cashews are found in, Anacardiaceae, is also the same family that mangoes, pistachios (which also have to be roasted prior to eating) and POISON IVY are found. Which is why many folks with sensitivities to poison ivy will also have “mango mouth” – similar skin irritating oils….

    • Hi Jules,

      About the pesto, how long it last in the fridge? how do you defrost it? Also, would you replace 1:1 cashews-pinenuts? One of my kids is allergic to them (and to pistachio as well, they told me they often go together, not to mangoes though).


      • Hey Paula.. Yes 1:1 on the nuts. It keeps for a few weeks in the fridge.. And I just leave it out on the kitchen bench to defrost. Jx

  • Hi Jules

    I love your blog and appreciate all the recipes and useful tips for making quick and easy, yet delicious and wholesome meals.

    Today’s blog included a suggestion about Pesto, which is a staple in my refrigerator (thanks Jamie!) and it reminded me of a very useful trick I learned at a local cooking class a few months ago. Add parsely to the recipe – about 1/4 parsley to 3/4 basil – to prevent the pesto from going brown. It really works and still tastes delicious!

    Keep up the great work!

    Thanks and Regards

  • Would the Sicilian nut pesto can or freeze well?? Any other nuts that would go well besides cashews? (not my favorite)

  • I think it would freeze OK Yvette.. although it would lose some of the lovely fresh flavours. And pretty much any nut you like would work well.. especially almonds

  • Hi Jules!
    I love love love your site! Keep up your great work! :)

    I’ve been doing a little research on the furi fingers, but I’m slightly stumped. Can you tell us the model of the furi fingers you use? As far as I can tell, the one in your picture is not available anymore. So the follow up question is: Do you use the ‘one stage’ or the ‘three stage’ sharpening system?

    And, just to cover my bases, if you’re not using the furi fingers any more, what knife sharpening system are you using now?

    I am super excited about creating a minimalist kitchen!
    Thanks! :)

    • Hi Erin
      Yes still loving the furi fingers!
      I have a ‘three stage’ which just means there are coarser and finer fingers to use.
      Still highly recommend them
      Good luck!

  • I am a Culinary Arts student, we’re working on the classic cuts and knife skills. Our instructor Chef Lance, stresses the importance of having a good quality and sharp knife. I started with a basic knife set, “chef knife, boning knife, fillet knife, bread knife, tourne knife, utility knife and paring knife. Recently adding a Japanese santoku. Still trying to figure out the best way to sharpen them. Any recommendations would be welcome as the options are just to many to weed out what in absolutely need.

    • Davey
      Lucky you studying Culinary Arts!
      I really love my Furi fingers for sharpening… because it really takes the guesswork out of it.
      I agree with Chef Lance, that sharp and good quality is key in knives so it’s probably best just to pick one sharpening method and keep practicing

Comments are closed.