Carrots are a kitchen workhorse. They're second only to onions as one of the most common ingredients in our savory, and occasionally sweet, recipes. They go in our weekday lunch salads and our slow-cooked weekend stews. We eat them raw with dip, roast them to tender perfection, or quickly sauté them for dinner. Really, is there anything the mighty carrot can't do?
Nearly every recipe with carrots starts the same way: peel the carrot and cut it into pieces. Today, let's take a look at some of the most common ways that recipes ask us to transform this skinny orange vegetable into bite-sized pieces.
Where to Start
Whether your aim is some carrot sticks for an afternoon snack or a perfect 1/8-inch brunoise to impress your future in-laws, cutting carrots is all about starting with the whole vegetable and gradually breaking it down into smaller, uniform pieces. The idea of creating uniform pieces is important if you're going to be cooking the carrots, since this means your carrots will all cook at the same rate and be finished at the same time.
Almost all cuts start by peeling the carrot, trimming off the top, and then cutting it into three or four pieces. You can skip the peeling step if the skin is very thin and looks tasty. From there, it's a matter of cutting each chunk of carrot down into smaller and smaller shapes. If perfect batons and cubes are your aim, then trim off the rounded edges to make a square carrot. For most of our homemade recipes, leaving the rounded edges is just fine!
Keep It Steady
Carrots are roly-poly things, which makes slicing them challenging and potentially dangerous to our poor fingers. Make sure you secure your cutting board so it doesn't slip while you're slicing, and give your knife a good honing before you start.
When you're making fine cuts, like matchsticks or tiny brunoise cubes, you can also keep the carrot from rolling by creating a base for your carrot. Just trim off a slim piece down the length of the carrot, creating a flat surface. Set the carrot on this side and chop away.
Smart Cook's Vocab Words
Most of the time, our home-cooked meals do not depend upon a perfect half-inch dice or wispy julienne cuts. Even so, it's good to know these terms — and what they mean — for reference points, as well as the occasional super-fancy restaurant recreation.
- Julienne (aka Matchsticks): Lengths of carrot roughly the same size and shape as matchsticks. Aim for 1- to 2-inch pieces that are 1/8-inch by 1/8-inch thick.
- Batonnet: Carrot sticks that are about 2 inches long and 1/4-inch by 1/4-inch thick.
- Baton (aka Standard Lunchbox Carrot Sticks): Carrot sticks that are 2 to 3 inches long and 1/2-inch by 1/2-inch thick. This isn't an official restaurant cut, but useful for home cooks like us!
- Brunoise: Tiny cubes cut from julienne sticks that are 1/8 x 1/8 x 1/8 inches.
- Small Dice: Small cubes cut from batonnet sticks that are 1/4 x 1/4 x 1/4 inches.
- Medium Dice: Medium cubes cut from baton sticks that are 1/2 x 1/2 x 1/2 inches.
- Large Dice: Large cubes that are roughly 3/4 x 3/4 x 3/4 inches.
If the skin looks dry or thick, peel it off. If the skin looks thin and pretty, leave it on.
How To Cut Carrots: 4 Basic Cuts
What You Need
Sharp chef's knife
- Peel the carrots: If the skin looks dry or thick, peel it off. If the skin looks thin and pretty, leave it on.
- Cut the carrot into a few big pieces: Trim off the top of the carrot where the green stems attach. Then cut the carrot into 2 to 4 equal-sized pieces that are 2 to 3 inches long, depending on the size of the carrot and the size of the pieces you're comfortable working with.
- Baton Cuts: Cut the carrot into sticks of whatever thickness you want — see the vocab list above for reference. For perfectly square sticks, trim the rounded parts off of each side to square the edges before cutting the sticks.
- Diced Carrots: Once you've cut the carrot into batons, cut them across into equal-sized diced cuts.
- Julienne (Matchstick) Cuts: Cut a thin slice from one side of the carrot and set the carrot on this side — this "bottom" will hold the carrot steady while you slice. Then cut the length of the carrot into thin slices 1/8-inch thick. (If your slices are a bit thicker, I won't tell.) Stack all the slices on top of each other, then cut through the layers to create matchsticks.
- Brunoise Carrots: Once you've cut the carrot into matchsticks, cut them across into equal-sized diced cuts, 1/8 inch on all sides.
- For perfectly straight edges, trim away the rounded parts of the carrot to square the edges before you begin cutting the batons or matchsticks.
This post has been updated — first published September 2013.
(Image credits: Kelli Foster)