When one or more ingredient in a recipe says “chopped”, it is presumed that it means cutting the ingredient or ingredients into small pieces. But how small?
The truth is, there are several stages in chopping. Whether something ought to be chopped, roughly chopped or finely chopped is not something borne out of arbitrariness or whim. Rather, it is determined by how the chopped ingredient is intended to be used.
Most recipes are written with the presumption that the reader knows that already. A recipe, after all, is a list of ingredients and instructions for cooking a specific dish. A recipe is not a tutorial for cooking basics. If it were, can you imagine how thick cookbooks would be if each recipe repeats instructions on how to sauté, how to brown meat, how to blanch vegetables…? On the flipside, a not so thick cookbook would have very little content because most of the text would just be repetitions.
Can you imagine how bored the reader would be by the time he or she cooks the tenth recipe in a cookbook because it means going over things already learned? Personally, if cookbooks (or even food blogs) were written that way, as a reader I’d feel insulted because I’d feel that the writer is treating me like a really stupid person to whom everything has to be repeated, in detail, over and over again.
That’s really one of the reasons why I decided on a “how to cook” section. I can write a tutorial once and simply refer to it in recipes subsequently written. As I’ve often been saying quite a lot lately, I won’t presume anymore that every reader knows the basics. There are people, especially the ones who are just starting to learn how to cook, who really don’t know. But, at the same time, I will not be bothered to repeat tutorials on basic cooking techniques with every recipe.
So, let’s illustrate chopping. For purposes of this tutorial, I used an onion.
Let’s start with “rough chop” shown in the photo above. The pieces are definitely smaller than a whole onion, the pieces are definitely small enough to fit into the mouth but they are large enough to be picked up with a fork.
When sautéing or making a base for a sauce, a regular chop, shown above, is best. The pieces are small enough to soften in oil within a few minutes and still retain their shape, and not small enough to burn or liquefy in a very short time.
When chopping ingredients to mix with other chopped, minced or ground ingredients (for instance, when making spring roll filling or meat loaf), finely chopping is ideal.
To wrap up this post, please don’t expect that there will be a separate tutorial for chopping tomatoes or mushrooms or what have you. Chopping is a process and it’s the same process whether you’re dealing with tomatoes or mushrooms or whatever ingredient needs to be chopped.