Knife Skills: How to Mince Fresh Sage Leaves

[Photograph and video: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Fresh sage is a classic fall and winter herb that pairs well with squash, pumpkins, roast poultry, and stews. It's a hearty herb with thick, almost fuzzy leaves, so, unlike many other herbs, it's usually not sprinkled fresh onto finished foods. Rather, it's generally chopped into a fine mince or ribbons and incorporated into dishes during cooking, or occasionally fried as whole leaves until crisp and used as a garnish.

When buying fresh sage, use the same basic rules you'd use for any herbs: If it looks bright and fresh, with plump leaves and a vibrant color, then it's going to taste bright and fresh. Avoid sage that has yellowed leaves or doesn't stand up straight when you hold it up by the stem.

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To clean sage leaves, pick them off from the main stalk, making sure that you leave behind any tough stem ends. Then give them a rinse under cool running water, followed by a spin in a salad spinner or a few presses between a couple layers of paper towels.

The basic process for mincing or chiffonading sage leaves is really no different from what you'd use for any other flat-leafed herb.

To mince: Stack a dozen or so leaves into a rough pile, then crumple them up into a rough ball under the fingers of your non-knife hand, curling your fingertips underneath your knuckles. Slice through the herb bundle with the flat of the knife pressed firmly against those knuckles, letting your non-knife hand guide the rate at which you slice. Once you've sliced through all the leaves finely, do a rock-chop on the slices by placing the tip of the knife on the cutting board, holding it in place with your non-knife hand, and rocking the knife up and down over the herbs until they're as finely minced as you'd like.

To chiffonade: The only thing to be cautious about when doing a chiffonade is that sometimes larger leaves can have tough central stems, which need to be discarded. Start by stacking up the leaves directly on top of each other, with the largest leaf at the bottom and all of the stems aligned in the center. Roll the leaves up into a bundle like a cigar, and hold the bundle in place, keeping your fingertips curled under your knuckles. With the knife parallel to the leaves' stems, slice the bundle into thin ribbons, stopping on the first side just shy of the central stem, then repeat on the second side. Discard the stem from the center when you're done.

Watch the video above for a demonstration of mincing, and learn more about how to chop herbs here.