True story: I worked in a commercial kitchen where the size of your brunoise could cost you your job. Even now, years away from my days cooking in professional kitchens, if I’m not following the proper techniques for how to cut vegetables, I’m afraid someone is going to jump out and start yelling at me.
That level of precision probably isn't necessary in your kitchen (unless Wolfgang Puck is looking over your shoulder like he once did mine), but it's still important to understand the difference between dice and mince. How you cut your food will really affect the cooking time and outcome of the final dish.
First thing's first: knife safety...
- Whenever you're cutting food, be sure to use a very sharp knife on a sturdy surface.
- If you're cutting on a cutting board, place a damp cloth under it to prevent the board from slipping.
- Tuck your fingertips under your knuckles and rest the blade of the knife against your knuckles.
- Use your fingertips to guide the knife along whatever you're cutting.
The basic cuts
In many recipes, you’ll see how they want the ingredients cut listed right next to that ingredient. Like this: “1 large onion, small dice.” But how big is a small dice?
These basic cuts are based off of classic French cuts, and they have pretty exact definitions.
A small dice — macédoine in French — is a cube cut measuring about ¼".
A medium dice is a cube cut measuring about ½". That's parmentier in French for those interested.
Finally, a large dice — carré — measures about ¾".
Julienne and brunoise
A julienne cut, AKA allumette, is also a matchstick cut. You might see this cut for recipes like a coleslaw, where the carrots are cut up very thinly. It's also used for fresh rolls where the vegetables need to be thinly cut and elongated so that the rice paper wrapper can roll evenly around the filling.
A julienne cut, which is also the starting point for a brunoise, measures about ⅛" x ⅛" x 2".
A fine julienne is 1/16" x 1/16" x 2".
When you line up those little matchsticks and cut them into tiny ⅛" or 1/16" cubes you’ll have a brunoise and a fine brunoise.
You'll want to use this cut when slicing leafy greens and fresh herbs. It’ll give you lovely ribbons of green that can be used as a garnish or stirred into the recipe.
Gather leaves that are roughly the same size, stack neatly, then roll from stem to tip. Cut through the length of the roll to create beautiful ribbons.
There aren't strict rules for this one, so everyone has a different interpretation. Basically a rough chop is about the same size as a large dice, but here precision doesn’t matter.
You'll be doing a lot of this with garlic. A mince is just a very small chop — no need to be terribly precise here either.