A cut above: Mark Hix demonstrates chopping skills for classic dishes

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Cutting up vegetables properly is a skill which any professional cook knows – but we should do it at home, too. Here, our chef gives a masterclass.

One of the first things you learn at catering college is knife skills: you won't get very far in a professional kitchen unless you can finely chop shallots and onions at a great speed. I have an enduring memory when I first moved to London and started working as a commis chef and I had two sacks of small shallots dumped on the bench in front of me which I had to peel and very finely chop.

Banana or chef shallots weren't around 25 years ago, and if you didn't chop the shallots finely enough, they would end up in the stockpot and you would find two more bags on your bench to deal with.

Once you grasp these skills, you don't really ever forget them; and of course sharp knives are crucial. It's always worth investing in a really good-quality knife, paying anything from 30 quid upwards for a general-purpose chopping knife and up to a couple of hundred quid for a really fantastic Japanese steel blade.

Sadly, learning how to slice and chop vegetables really well doesn't seem to feature high on the list of priorities at colleges these days, which is a real pity. You can't even begin to make a French onion soup or a minestrone without a good knowledge of knife cutting skills and a sharp knife.

This week I thought I would devote my column to some basics on slicing and cutting techniques – with accompanying recipes for you to try.

Julienne of carrots, celeriac and other root vegetables

This technique – in which the vegetables are cut into long, thin strips rather like matchsticks – can be done by hand with a very sharp knife or with the help of a mandolin, the handy rectangular and razor-sharp slicing gadget.

First, peel your vegetables, then slice them as thinly as you can. If you're using larger vegetables such as turnips and celeriac you will need to cut them in halves or quarters to fit them on the mandolin.

Once sliced, they can be cut into 4-6cm lengths, then stacked together in 3 or 4 slices and shredded with a knife. Some mandolins have attachment blades that do this all in one but I find that in general, they are not as effective as a good knife. Leeks obviously won't need the initial slicing – cut them into lengths, halve down the middle and then into shreds.

Celeriac rémoulade

Serves 4-6

You see this dish all over France and you can even buy the specially-cut julienne of celeriac in bags in supermarkets which is ready to mix with dressing.

If you are able to get heads of celeriac with the leaves on, then save and shred them for the rémoulade.

1 small head of celeriac, peeled and shredded (leaves reserved)
5-6tbsp good-quality or homemade mayonnaise
1-2tbsp Dijon mustard to taste
1tbsp crème fraîche (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Shred the celeriac leaves if using, then mix with the celeriac, mustard and enough mayonnaise and crème fraîche, if using to bind.

Season with salt and pepper and serve within an hour.

Macédoine of carrots, root vegetables, celery and leeks

This cut refers to vegetables that are cut or diced into cubes of about half- to three-quarters of an inch. Peel your vegetables then cut them into slices which are a half- to three-quarters of an inch, then cut them into batons of the same measurement and finally into neat dice. This technique is great for soups, stews and even blanched and tossed into a salad.

Slow-cooked mutton neck chops with root vegetables and wild garlic

Serves 4

Ask your butcher to cut your chops through the neck of mutton from the centre so that you end up with a rounded cut with the bone in the centre. Make sure the chops aren't too fatty.

4 x 200g mutton neck chops
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A little vegetable or corn oil for frying
60-70g butter
1 onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
30g flour, plus a little extra for dusting
400-500ml chicken stock
A few sprigs of thyme
1 large carrot peeled and cut into cm dice
3 sticks of celery, peeled if necessary and cut into cm dice
1 medium turnip, peeled and cut into cm dice
A handful or two of wild garlic leaves, washed

Season and lightly flour the chops, heat some of the vegetable oil in a heavy frying pan and lightly brown them on both sides, then put to one side. Melt the butter in a pan large enough to hold the chops. Gently cook the onion for 2-3 minutes until soft, then stir in the flour and cook for a minute on a low heat; gradually whisk in the stock and thyme, season, cover with a lid and cook on a low heat for about one to one-and-a-half hours or until the chops are tender; top up with more stock if it's getting dry. It's difficult to put an exact time on mutton so you will need to check it during cooking.

Add the vegetables and simmer for 6-7 minutes or so, until they are tender. The sauce shouldn't be too thick; if it is, then just add a little water or stock. Meanwhile, melt a knob of butter in a frying pan, add the wild garlic and cook it for a minute on a medium heat until the leaves have just wilted. Spoon some of the wild garlic leaves on to the plates, place the chops on top, spoon the sauce and vegetables over and scatter the rest of the leaves on top.

Sliced onions

First, peel your onions and cut them in half lengthways, ie through the root. Then remove the root by cutting it out with your knife on an angle. This will allow the slices to separate once it has been cut. Slice the onion as thinly as possible, turning it around when you get to the end bit to make slicing easy.

Onion, spinach and goat's cheese tarts

Serves 4

500g butter puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
600g peeled onions, halved, thinly sliced
2tbsp vegetable oil
1tsp chopped thyme leaves
50g butter
Two handfuls of baby spinach leaves
100g goat's cheese

Roll the puff pastry to one-third of a cm thick, leave it to rest for 15 minutes then cut 4 circles about 8cm in diameter. With a slightly smaller cutter (about seven to seven and a half cms) mark it inside the edge without cutting through the pastry. Prick the centre all over with a fork to prevent the pastry rising too much, then put them on a baking tray, brush the edges with beaten egg and leave to rest in the fridge for 1 hour.

While the pastry is resting, gently cook the onions and thyme in the vegetable oil on a low heat with the lid on for 4-5 minutes until they begin to soften, stirring every so often. Season with salt and pepper, add the butter and continue cooking the onions for another 4-5 minutes with the lid on until they begin to get really soft. If they are beginning to burn, just add a little water. Remove the lid, turn the heat up a little, add the spinach and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Bake the tarts for 10 minutes or until lightly coloured then remove from the oven and leave to rest for 10 minutes. With the point of a sharp knife, carefully cut around the inner edge of the pastry and push the centre down. Spoon the onion and spinach mixture into the centres of the pastry. Arrange the goat's cheese on top and cook for another 6-7 minutes until the cheese begins to melt. Serve hot or warm.

Finely chopped shallots and onions

Peel your onions or shallots, ensuring that you don't remove the root, as this keeps the onion together while you are chopping. Halve the onion lengthways, and with the root away from you make slices from the half onion towards the root and as close together as you can, but stopping just short of the root so it stays together. Make a cut vertically through the centre of the onion to about two-thirds of the way back. Now hold the onion together with your four fingers and thumb and cut as closely together as you can back to the root, a technique which will hopefully leave you with finely chopped onions.

Minute steak with shallot and mustard sauce

Serves 4

While the steak is cooking the sauce can be made and finished – simple.

4 sirloin steaks, weighing 200-250g
Salt and coarsely ground black pepper
Vegetable or corn oil for brushing
For the sauce
6 small shallots, peeled, finely chopped
A good knob of butter
1tbsp Dijon mustard
1tbsp cognac
4tbsp crème fraîche

Preheat a ribbed griddle until almost smoking, season your steaks, lightly oil the griddle and cook the steaks for 3-4 minutes on each side for medium rare if they are thick. While they're cooking, melt the butter in a saucepan and cook the shallots on a low heat for 1-2 minutes, stirring often, until soft. Add the mustard and cognac and the stock and simmer until you have a couple of tablespoons left, then add the crème fraîche and simmer gently until the sauce thickens.

Season and serve with the steak.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Sport
Lionel Messi looks on at the end of the final
football
Extras
indybest
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell