The cutting hand, which grips the knife, has the star turn, but the other hand is an important supporting player. That helping hand holds, nudges and stabilizes the ingredient being cut, to maximize safety and efficiency.
For the knife grip used by most chefs, the palm of the hand chokes up on the handle, while the thumb and index finger grip the top of the blade. This is different from how many home cooks hold a knife, by wrapping the entire hand around the handle. The chef’s grip has evolved that way for a reason: it’s the most efficient way to use the weight of the knife, the sharpness of its blade, and the strength of your arms, which makes for the easiest cutting.
The ideal position for the helping hand is called the bear claw, with the fingertips curled under and knuckles pressing down on the ingredient to keep it from rolling or sliding. It may feel odd, but it’s the safest place for your fingertips to be in relation to the cutting blade. Alternatively, bunch your fingertips together and rest the pads on top of the ingredient.
In a perfect world, while the hand that is holding the knife moves forward and back to cut, the helping hand moves across in even increments, creating perfect slices. (Do not despair; this takes practice, and is hardly a requirement for home cooks.)
Overall, the best way to handle a knife is the way that feels safest to you. Here are a few principles to live by:
• The knife handle shouldn’t be held in a death grip: try to relax hands and wrists and let the blade do the cutting.
• Position all 10 fingers so it’s virtually impossible for the blade to cut them.
• The hand holding the knife should be gripping the blade as well as the handle.
• The knife moves in a rocking motion, from front to back, as well as up and down.
• The knife should be at the same height or just below your elbows, so that the whole upper body, not just the hands, can put downward pressure on the knife.
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