Know your onions and sharpen up those knife skills for top food prep

There’s an old adage that if you want something doing you ask a busy man.

I’ve called into the popular Elland restaurant La Cachette (pictured) to interview head chef Glenn Futter as an introduction to a new series of columns on kitchen skills he’s writing.

Friday lunch service has just ended and with a big weekend ahead - up to 100 covers a sitting - you might imagine his time would be limited. But nothing could be further from the truth.

This is a man on top of his game and whose skills have been fashioned over many years working in fine establishments across Britain.

One of his first jobs at a hotel near Preston was under the tutelage of the former head chef from Gleneagles.

In Park Lane, London he worked at the three Michelin star Nico’s.

In Liverpool he earned cutting edge eaterie Ziba a Good Food Guide rating that has not been surpassed in the city.

Later still he was head chef and then co-owner of the highly popular Millbank restaurant near Triangle.

And it was there he built his love of West Yorkshire, a region, he believes, is at the top of the food chain.

“When I was younger you would look at a Good Food Guide and there would be a huge cluster of independently owned restaurants around West Yorkshire.

“The Box Tree has been around for 40 years and I’d heard of the Design House 20 years ago, long before I came to Halifax.

“I think the population is pretty foody and yeah, I think we are quite lucky in these parts.”

Of his column Glenn, who has been at La Cachette for two years now, says: “I’ve never been one to hide secrets so it’s good to share some skills with the public.

“Hopefully it will make cooking all the more enjoyable.”

Here’s a little challenge for you...

Try and remember the last time you cooked a meal from scratch without using a knife. Finding it difficult? That’s because almost all recipe-based cooking involves using a knife in some form or another.

Using a knife correctly can save you heaps of time and effort and makes slicing and dicing so much easier, but using one incorrectly can be a recipe for disaster.

This week, in my first My Week column, I’m going to talk you through the correct techniques for using a knife that will save you time – as well as your fingertips!

We’re going to look at how to grip your knife and dice properly when chopping an onion, as I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t cook with them!

Thumbs-up…

Firstly, and probably most importantly of all, a good grip is essential. Your thumb should grip the knife around the top of the blade, with your hand wrapped firmly around the handle of the knife.

This will feel a little strange at first, but give it time – gripping like this will give you much more control over the blade.

A guiding hand…

Now you’re gripping correctly, let’s talk about your guiding hand. This is the empty hand you need for holding the food, and I can’t stress enough the importance of protecting the fingers on this hand, so please take your time in getting this bit right.

The grip you need to apply is called a claw grip. Your hand should be on top of the food you’re chopping with your fingers curled inwards, gripping the food with your fingernails (think about a closed animal claw and you’ll see where the name comes from!)

The knife blade should be just resting on your knuckle, which will help keep the blade vertical.

So now you know how to grip your knife, let’s look at the correct way to dice your onion.

Place your onion on a chopping board and slice off the top leaving the root intact. Now sit your onion on the flat end.

With your thumb over the top of the blade and hand wrapped around the knife handle, line your knife up to slice directly through the centre of the onion, placing your hand over the top like an arch - fingers on one side, thumb on the other. Cut straight down carefully.

Take one half of the onion and remove the outer skin and the first layer of white onion (as this is also in fact skin). Place flat side down on the chopping board. The cut end should now be facing you.

Moving from right to left (or vice versa if you are left-handed), using the claw grip described above, carefully slice vertically through the onion ending the cut just short of the root, making as many cuts as possible.

Then change hand positions and cut three slices into the onion horizontally, again stopping just short of the root.

Finally return the blade of the knife to the top of the onion, slicing down into the onion in the opposite direction to your first cut. You should now be seeing the diced onion in front of you.

Glenn Futter is head chef at La Cachette restaurant, Elland. To find out more about La Cachette go to www.lacachette-elland.com