I’ve touched upon how I handle knives several times now, so I thought it about time I went in to a little more detail on preparing food with a knife without sight. Its definitely one of the areas that seems to fascinate sighted people as to how I do it, and also the area that people who have recently lost their sight find most daunting. It would be wrong of me to imply that I am good at using a knife, or have never done any damage with one, but I’ve certainly come up with a method that works for me, with the least risk of cutting myself.
Don’t get me wrong, there is always a greater risk when handling a very sharp object when you can’t see what you are doing, but so long as you are aware of the risks, don’t rush things, and always try to stay in control, then you minimise the chance of hurting yourself. Here are some considerations and tips on how to do it.
My first piece of advice is to always take your time. I watch so many chefs on TV using a knife and can hear how quick the blade is moving. I will never achieve anything like that, no matter how much control or how comfortable I feel. However, you do need to be confident when slicing. Commit to each knife stroke with the same level of pressure and find a steady rhythm that you are comfortable with. If you are tentative, then the blade is more likely to slip and not slice where or what you intend to slice.
My second bit of advice might seem counterintuitive, but its best to always use a sharp blade. A dull or blunt blade is harder to control as you have to work harder for it to slice. The more relaxed you can be, the easier it will feel so it will come much more naturally. Again, there is far more risk to the blade slipping and not slicing what you intend to slice when it isn’t sharp enough.
Another key consideration when choosing the right knife for you is the weight and feel of it. It needs to feel comfortable in your hand, you need to be able to grip it properly, the blade needs to be strong enough that it doesn’t bend so that it gives you the most amount of control. Personally I prefer a knife that is quite chunky and heavy. It makes me feel like I have more control and can feel what I am doing with it. It needs to feel balanced in your hand so that you can feel where the whole blade is at any one time, not just the bit that is making a connection with whatever you are slicing.
If you are using a knife that you haven’t used before, take your time to get to grips with it first. Gently feel along the blade so you know how long it is and how sharp it is. This gives you a better idea on how much pressure and what angle you need to slice with. Make sure you are comfortable with the knife before you start to chop and slice in earnest. I know we are told to stay away from sharp objects and not to touch them, but people who can see can assess the situation with their eyes, not putting their hands in danger. People who can’t see can not do this and so have to resort to feeling. So long as you are careful, and gentle, which is something you learn to be very quickly, then you won’t hurt yourself. You have to accept that sometimes you have to do things a little differently to what sighted people are taught, but their world is different to ours and you need to learn to adapt.
Once you are comfortable with the knife, its now time to do the actual chopping and slicing. Firstly, make sure you have a clear work surface, I always use a chopping board to slice on. Place whatever needs chopping on the board and feel for where it is. Make sure there is nothing else near by that you might accidentally slice as well or instead. If you are right handed like me then take the knife in your right hand, place your left hand holding whatever you are slicing still but close enough to the blade so that you can feel what and where you are slicing. Then carefully glide the blade through the object to slice. Your hands should work together adjusting what you are slicing to meet the blade. Always move what has already been sliced clear of the blade to make sure you maintain your space and never rush. Also don’t try to slice multiple things at the same time. Keep it simple, the less complicated the better. Yes, it might take longer than a sighted person to do the same task but that is ok, there is nothing wrong with that.
It definitely takes time to get comfortable and confident with using a knife, and all knives are different so you do have to readjust how you do it with different blades. I’m always far more cautious when I am in a new environment and using a knife I’ve never used before. I definitely prefer to cook in my own home environment as this is the area I know the best and am most comfortable with.
Several times I have cut myself, but this is no different to anybody else, sighted or blind. The majority of the accidents I have had have been when I have not been concentrating, or not using the knife correctly. Possibly the worst knife wound I have made was when I stupidly decided to slice open the wrapper on some cheese, rather than using scissors, and and I wasn’t slicing down on to a solid surface, the blade was in midair and it slipped and got my finger. Funnily enough, I know several people who have done similar. My advice from this experience is always to make sure you have whatever you are slicing placed on a solid surface and slice down on to it.
When I first bought the current knife set that I have, I must admit, I did catch myself several times before I got to grips with them. Its all about giving yourself time and the chance to learn. I have to accept that until I learn how to do something properly, I am going to make mistakes. Again this is common in all walks of life. They say it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill, so why shouldn’t this be any different. The knives that I use are a Heston Blumenthal Global set. I really like them now as they feel good in my hand, but it did take a little while to get used to them.
There are definitely limitations to my knife skills and there are certain things I will not attempt. Using a blade to skin fish and filleting meat or fish from the bone are a couple of these. The key is to know your limitations, only do what you are comfortable with. There are so many tools and options available now that you can easily work around your limitations. Instead of buying whole fish, always just buy filleted. If you are like me and adore eating mango, then there is a tool that will slice the flesh from the stone for you without having to use a knife to do it, which can be quite tricky. The same goes for pineapple and avocado, if you struggle with the preparation of either of these. There are even multiple slicer and dicer kitchen gadgets out there that will do all the hard work and lengthy preparation of vegetables for you, if you struggle to do this, including this Lakeland Chip and Dice, which I find easy to use if I have a lot of vegetables to prepare, like for a soup or stew. Never let not being able to use a knife because you can’t see be a barrier to being able to prepare healthy and nutritious meals for yourself.
One knife skill that I do do, but that does generally cause the most nicks or cuts on my fingers, is to peel vegetables with a knife. Whenever possible I use a peeler, but for some fruit, like mango or melon and vegetables like pumpkin and butternut squash, I have to use a knife. When doing this I place the blade at the top of whatever I’m planning to peel, feeling for where the skin and flesh meet. I hold the object in my left hand with my fingers very close to the blade to check and keep feeling what I am doing. I hold the knife in my right hand and carefully and slowly, slide the blade down and towards me, separating the skin from the flesh. It is the area I am least comfortable with and so takes the most time, but I don’t let it stop me from using these vegetables and fruits in my recipes. I just allow extra time for my preparation.
If reading this has given rise to any questions, then please send them my way. Also if you have any tips or tricks that you think might help, then please share. I would also love to hear any of your knife stories gone wrong, we’ve all done it, so don’t be embarrassed and share away.
Thank you for reading and speak soon.