A penny, usb stick, and an iPhone charger walk into a kitchen…
Other than being typical items found in someone’s pocket, there really isn’t a clear link between these items and cooking. Sure, they may all live in your junk drawer, in your kitchen, but other than that, there’s no real reason to think of these arbitrary items while you’re cooking… until now!
Cutting food is a necessity when preparing a dish. We’ve got to somehow get everything to fit into our mouth, so whether you’re chopping things prior to cooking them, or on your plate, you’ve got to cut your food. Of course, there’s more reasons to cut food. For example, making sure everything is cut to the same dimensions helps to ensure even cooking and everything in the meal your making is done at the same time. Additionally, different chops are equivalent to different flavor distribution, as well as if you want the flavor of a particular ingredient, without that ingredient actually being physically present (think onions here).
This is where our joke at the beginning comes back into play. No, we don’t actually have a joke, but it’s an easy way to remember how big to cut things based on what the recipe you’re using calls for.
Rough Chopped: The Penny
The humble penny is a great way to remember how big to chop something if your recipe requires a rough chop. Typically, a rough chop is about ¾” (the width of your everyday penny). This particular cut is great for releasing some of the goodness within an ingredient, but maintaining that ingredient’s structure in the end product.
Making a soup with potatoes is a great example where a rough chop may be employed. The potatoes are an integral part of the dish; as such, you want to ensure all of them are cooked to the same consistency (neither overcooked or undercooked). Once you cut your potatoes, there’s no way to manage the cooking process, so your solution is to ensure all your potatoes are cut to the same measurements.
Chopped: The USB Stick
A simple USB stick is a great way to remember how large (or small) you should chop something when a recipe requires it to be chopped. We’re moving down the scale of structure vs. flavor, so if something needs to be chopped, it’s about a ½” (the width of the part of your USB stick that actually goes into a computer).
For example, if we’re making a Chili and putting some green peppers in it, the recipe may call for them to be rough chopped because you don’t want them to be complete mush at the end of cooking, but still retain some of their shape.
Diced: The Lightning Charger
You’re probably getting the gist of this by now, so we’ll jump right into dicing. Dicing an ingredient is breaking it down into about a ¼” in size. This is about the length of a lightning phone charger.
You’d use this particular method on an onion where you’re looking to get a little more flavor out of it, but you’re not looking for any of the onions original texture to remain. The onions will still be physically present in the dish, but will definitely be more broken down than the green peppers that were rough chopped.
Minced: The Lightning Charger (again)
Last, but certainly not least, is mincing (breaking the ingredient down to about ⅛”–the width of a lightning phone charger). Again, we’re continuing to get smaller and smaller with our sizes, so this one will be where your ingredients all but disappear into your dish. Typically reserved for garlic or ginger, mincing is a way to unlock all the flavor possible without the ingredient being physically present in the end dish. Ultimately, the ingredient dissolves into the other ingredients of the dish, imparting its wonderful flavor. Now, you’re more than welcome to utilize a knife for this process, or even a grater, but a press is another great way to achieve this chop. The only real difference is the clean up process (it’s definitely a lot easier to clean a knife vs. a garlic press).