Although I have been cooking since I was a little girl, have watched countless hours of Food TV, and attended numerous cooking classes, I had no idea that there were specific dimensions for food cut into a dice, mince or julienne. I thought it was really just a general shape - squares for dice, small pieces for mince, and little sticks for julienne. Turns out that large dice is a 3/4 inch cube, medium dice is a 1/2 cube, small dice is a 1/4 inch cube. And by cube, I mean that all the dimensions are exactly the same, and the corners are 90 degrees. Really? Brunoise is an 1/8 inch cube. Batonnette is a 1/4" x 1/4" x 2 inch cut and a julienne is 1/8" x 1/8" x 2 inch. Who knew that it was all this precise?
The first week of school included a whole session of practice on cutting these exact sizes. This is not easy, let me tell you! To cut perfect cubes you have to make sure your cuts are exactly parallel and that you get good at eyeballing the right dimensions. It takes practice. With a ruler!
The tray above is my first try. They look pretty good at a distance, but they don't quite measure up when you examine them closely. In our practicum exam in a few weeks we will be asked to cut these and a few others. The instructor will actually measure our samples. And we can't use a whole potato to get 4 cubes! I definitely need practice… One night's dinner was home fries. Delicious but not the healthiest choice. I just can't waste my practice cubes!
So what is the point of these exact shapes? First and foremost, it helps everything cook at the same speed and thus be done at the same time. If you have potatoes in a pan and some are 1/2 inch size and some are 3/4 you will either get overdone small pieces, or underdone big pieces. In dishes where the vegetables will not be visible in the end product (like mashed potatoes) the perfect shape is not important, only the size. In that case you would use a chop, which is keeping the pieces as uniform as possible, but not necessarily perfect cubes or exact dimensions. In dishes where the pieces are visible it is much more appealing and pretty when they are all uniform with exact corners. Have you ever seen a garnish with vegetables cut in brunoise? It is beautiful. In a restaurant, plating and appearance are critical as well as the ability to make a dish turn out the same every time it is made. Precise cuts do that.
For the home cook, like most all of us, this precision is not important. Get your vegetables mostly all the same size and you will be fine. If you want to impress someone practice the perfect cube!
We had advanced cuts later in the week and surprisingly they were easier. Well, all but one. Cutting carrots into rounds (rondelles) isn't very hard, except getting them all the same thickness. Paysanne which is a 1/2 " x 1/2" x 1/4" square was okay. Mince is easy (not very precise, just really small), chop (also just a rough cut), and chiffonade (finely sliced leafy vegetables - stack leaves, roll into a cigar, and slice thinly) are all easy. I think mince, chop (small or large), and chiffonade are the most useful for the home cook. (The hardest one is the tourne, which is the 7 sided cut, shown with the potatoes in the middle top of the photo. These are like a little football and you see them in fancy French restaurants. Most of mine have 6 sides….Mine are not even close to correct!)
To supreme is a cut for citrus so you get those really nice orange slices with no pith or seed. The video below is a nice example. (it also includes a short chicken recipe, so if you like chicken it's a bonus!) It is really easy! This is a great one to know. It makes excellent grapefruit for breakfast or oranges for a fruit salad.
So that's it for knife cuts! I'm told practice makes perfect!
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