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I already know basic cutting skills. But I am confused about the order of things and thus while I have an OK technique, my board and the surroundings are in anarchy. Do you chop from left to right or right to left? Should you pick up the diced veggies with the knife or push them from the board into the pan (in which case, the order in which you cut is important)?

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This seems to be more or less subjective and/or dictated by the layout of your work area. Chop stuff however you want/find easiest. Do you prefer sliding stuff straight off the board into the pan? Then do it. Do you prefer picking stuff up on your knife? Do that instead. – ElendilTheTall Jan 18 at 11:43
    
That is immensely broad - and different approaches are valid. – Stephie Jan 18 at 11:45
    
Although there is some opinion here I think there are good answers based on logical flow. – GdD Jan 18 at 11:52
    
Picking up vs pushing (always with the back of the blade!) also implies "clean/pare/peel things on the cutting board, or do so on an extra board/newspaper/kitchen towels?". Can't have too many prep bowls myself, but them i'm a slow prep - fast heat person... – rackandboneman Jan 18 at 12:39
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It's worth mentioning that 'optimal' may be affected by the work space available -- Marc mentions it being better to do all of the peeling first, but if you don't have sufficient space to hold all of the refuse at your work station, that may be less than ideal. (this might be one of the times when a nearby 'garbage bowl' is the right course of action vs. cluttering up your work space or lots of trips to the garbage can. Or move your garbage clan closer.) Also, how much you keep on your board is affected by the size of the board and how much you're cutting. – Joe Jan 18 at 17:19
up vote 12 down vote accepted

Although this is partially personal preference, in general you should have the uncut ingredients on the side of your non-cutting hand. This will set up a logical flow of material which keeps you from having to reach over your cutting hand.

If you chop with your right then you'd have the uncut ingredients on your left, as after knife work your chopped ingredients will be on the right of the knife. Everything else comes from this. If you are chopping a lot of ingredients it makes sense to have a few bowls handy to put the chopped ingredients into so you can keep your board clear.

My workflow is based on the assembly line principle - that is do all of one type of task before moving onto another to limit the amount you have to move: before chopping I get bowls for each of the chopped ingredients (stackable stainless steel bowls from a kitchen supply store are great for this as they clean easy and take up little space), and array the bowls to the right of the board. Then I wash all the ingredients, peel them, and prep them at once rather than doing it individually per ingredient and place them to the left of the board, so I have all my ingredients ready to chop. Then I take each type of ingredient and chop them one at a time, saving any messy (tomatoes, cheeses) or possibly contaminating ones (meat, seafood) for last, as I will have to clean the board, my hands, and the knife after possible contaminators to prevent cross-contamination. As the board fills for each ingredient I will transfer the chopped ingredients to the bowls, but I wait until I need the space to continue cutting - if you move the chopped ingredients each time you finish chopping one of them then you waste time moving your arms and body around.

This is the fastest way I have found to get a lot of ingredients processed. If you wash, prep, peel, chop and move each ingredient individually you spend a lot of extra time moving around the kitchen.

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Yes, very good answer GdD. May I add an elaboration? See it this way: think in subsets of tasks. Say you want to chop lots of onions. Now, you could take an onion, peel it, half it, dice it, put in a bowl. That is the "housecook" method. Not efficien, because you are putting down and picking up knives, throwing away peels etc.

Do each subtask before the next. Peel all the onions. One trip to the garbage. Half them all, open face down storage. NOW dice them all quickly.

This is much, much faster than serial working, onion by onion.

Of course, more veggies? First wash them all, etc. etc, like GdD explains.

So, before chopping, think which subtask you need to do, and what equipment and space you will need for each of them. Collect, assemble and get that chopping speed going! ;-)

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Of course, if you're cutting the onion in half, it's often faster/easier to halve them, then peel them. (well, I top them, halve them then peel them ... often leaving the root end on so I have a bit of a handle as I'm dicing them) – Joe Jan 18 at 17:08
    
yes agreed, depends on the freshness of the onion. But I was making a point about workflows, not about onion peeling! – Marc Luxen Jan 18 at 19:13

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