Chef's Tips for Cutting Tricky Produce
Even if you don’t have ninja-like knife skills, you can learn to cut these fruits and veggies like a pro
Chopping up a carrot is one thing. Slivering a slippery garlic clove or finessing an avocado pit is another. No matter how delicious and nutritious certain types of produce are, prepping them can feel like risky business.
Professional chefs feel the same way. That’s why they’ve developed a variety of ploys to slice, dice — even shake, rattle and roll — everything from cherry tomatoes (so small!) to pomegranate seeds.
Set yourself up for safety
The tools you use for prepping produce are just as key for saving your fingers as the technique. You will need:
- A stable cutting board. If your cutting board tends to slide, place a damp cloth beneath it. You can make many roly-poly fruits and veggies more stable by slicing off one side so that they lie flat before you make additional cuts.
- A serrated knife. The tiny points will pierce the skin of tomatoes more cleanly and easily than a regular knife blade.
- Sharp knives and peelers. A dull blade requires more pressure and may slip, putting your fingers in harm’s way. Hone your chef’s knives and paring knives regularly. Same goes for a peeler that’s past its prime: Once it’s lost its edge, replace it.
Related: How to Cook (Safely) With Kids
Master these pro tips
- Avocados Insert the tip of a chef’s knife into the top of the fruit, cut lengthwise in quarters, making your slices shallow. Pry the avocado apart and scoop out the pit with a spoon. Again using a spoon, gently separate the flesh from the skin.
- Strawberries. Get neat — not squishy — slices by using an egg slicer, suggests Leah Brickley, MS, nutritionist/recipe development manager at the Food Network. First remove the strawberry’s stem and hull with a paring knife, then place the fruit lengthwise in the slicer.
- Cherry tomatoes. To slice these easily, you’ll need two plastic lids. Place the first one right side up on the counter and fill with the tomatoes. Cover with the second lid, placed upside down. Holding the top lid steady with your non-dominant hand, slice through at the gap.
- Kiwifruit. The tricky thing with kiwi is peeling it. Slice off each end of the fruit and make a shallow lengthwise slit in the fuzzy skin. Gently insert a spoon into the slit and, turning the fruit in your hand, work off the skin in one ring. “It takes a minute,” says Brickley.
- Garlic. If you’ve ever grappled with trying to work the skin off a teensy garlic clove, you know how tough it can be to wind up with both garlic clove and fingertips unscathed. Here’s a fail-safe, no-knife way to peel garlic: Separate the cloves from the head, place the cloves in a bowl, cover with another bowl (upside down) and shake vigorously. The skins will rub against each other and peel themselves. (You may have to give recalcitrant cloves an additional shake or two.) To safely slice or mince garlic cloves, put salt on the knife. This will prevent the garlic from sticking so you won’t have to run your finger along the edge to remove it.
- Pomegranates What you’re after are the seeds (arils), which are firmly embedded in the flesh. To get them out, use a sharp knife to cut all the way around at the center (equator) of the pomegranate. Then hold the fruit in two hands and twist until it separates into two halves. Gently squeeze one of the halves to loosen the flesh, then place it cut side down in a bowl. Now whack it firmly with a wooden spoon: The arils will pop right out. Keep whacking until you’ve emptied the first half, then repeat with the other.
- Mango. The giant stone in the middle of a mango is the challenge here. To get neat cubes, hold the fruit upright and use a chef’s knife to slice lengthwise from end to end as close to the stone as you can. Do the same on the other side. You’ll have two ovals of mango (the cheeks). Again using your knife, make a series of parallel lengthwise slices about an inch apart in the flesh of the fruit. Cut down deeply enough to almost reach the skin. Do the same thing cross-wise, so that you wind up with a checkerboard of slices. You can use a spoon to scoop out the pieces or turn each cheek inside out by pushing up on the skin. The fruit will pop up so you can easily remove it with a sharp knife.
Related: Food Safety Fails