The first step to great food is great knife skills. Check out more Knife Skills this way!
Along with the past two installments, this week's knife skills column wraps up the traditional mirepoix combination of onions, celery, and carrots. After this, you are fully armed to at least begin cooking any number of traditional French and Italian dishes.
- Rough chunks are exactly what they sound like. All you need to do is peel the carrots and roughly chop them into 1 to 2-inch pieces. This is the cut you'll use for things like stocks and sauces where the carrots are intended for flavoring, not for consumption. You'll also use rough chunks if you plan on pureeing them into soup, or mashing them. It's so straightforward I skipped it entirely in the slideshow.
- Dice of various sizes are the most common way to cut carrots. Large dice can be nice in hearty stews, while medium or small dice are more suited for soups, hearty sauces like Bolognese, or chunky chopped salads.
- Faux tourné is what I do when I'm too lazy to make a true tourné, which means all the time. The fancy seven-sided football that you get with a true tourné wastes carrot, looks pretentious, and is entirely unnecessary. This method is super simple, and produces evenly shaped, attractive pieces perfect for glazing or adding to more refined stews.
- Julienne is what you use when you want to start getting really fancy. They look great when cooked with fish en papillote, for example, and work well in stir-fries and sautees as well.
- Brunoise are only for the most refined of presentations. I usually don't break it out until around Christmas time when I use carrot brunoise to garnish tortellini soup or quickly sauteed and added to a pot of rillettes. Yes, they're fancy-pants, but they're also a heck of a lot of fun to cut.
Shopping and Storage
Look for carrots that are a relatively even thickness throughout, which makes it much easier to cut them into even sized pieces. They should be completely firm to the touch, and should not give when you try to bend them. Bendy carrots are a good indication that they've lost too much of their moisture and their cell structure is beginning to collapse.
Size is generally not an indicator of how flavorful or sweet a carrot will be, though sometimes the behemoths start to get a hollow center, and can even start to rot from the inside out. I'd avoid anything larger than an inch or so in diameter.
You can store carrots at room temperature unwrapped for at least a few days, but they'll keep in the vegetable crisper for up to a few weeks if they are super fresh. Once you're ready to cut, here's how to do it.
Step 1: Peel
Peel the carrots using a Y-peeler and making a single stroke all the way from the head to the tip to remove the peel in as few pieces as possible. This will help keep the shape of the carrot more uniform.
Step 2: Trim
Trim the blunt end of the carrot off, as well as the tip, if it is still dirty.
Step 3: Cut in Half
Cut the carrot in half crosswise in order to make the pieces a little less cumbersome to work with. Especially large carrots (which for some reason seem to localize in Chinese grocers) may need to be split into three or even four pieces.
Step 4: Quarter
Quarter the largest parts of the carrot lengthwise, and halve the smaller parts. The goal is to get an even thickness for all the sticks. Especially large carrots may need to be cut into 6 or 8 pieces radially.
Step 5: Dice
Cut the carrot sticks crosswise into even small, medium, or large dice depending on how you plan to use it.
Step 6: Faux Tourné
A traditional tourné cut creates a little football with seven sides. It's a bitch to pull off, and entirely unnecessary. Here's how to cut carrots into attractive pieces without bothering. Start by cutting the top of the carrot off at a 45 degree angle.
Step 7: Rotate and Cut
Rotate the carrot a quarter turn and cut again at a 45 degree angle. Continue cutting the carrot this way all the way down its length.
Step 8: Finished Faux Tourné
The finished pieces should be relatively even in size, and much more attractive on the plate than disks or chunks.
Step 9: Julienne and Brunoise
To finely julienne a carrot for more elegant preparations, start by trimming off about an 1/8th inch from one side in order to create a stable base for the carrot to sit on. Use the scraps for stocks, compost, or eat immediately.
Step 10: Cut Planks
Rest the carrot on its trimmed side, and carefully slice it into thin planks with a sharp chef's knife.
Step 11: Julienne
Stack two or three of the planks together and slice into even julienne.
Step 12: Brunoise
To cut brunoise, take a bunch of your julienne and cut crosswise into even, tiny cubes. Getting these perfect is one of the most satisfying things you can do with a knife in the kitchen.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.