How to Mince Vegetables and Garnishes Like a Professional Chef

Knife Skills
Thursday, October 8, 2020

One of the first and most basic skills any aspiring cook will learn is a rough chop. This style of knife cutting is simple and most of us do it without realizing or even needing to be taught. When chopping, the vegetables or ingredients you’re working with are cut into pieces that are not all the same size -- the size is largely determined by your style and taste. 

Mincing takes the chop a step further by breaking down those roughly cut pieces into a very fine cut. In general terms, mincing means chopping something very finely. Garnishes like garlic, shallots, and herbs or ingredients that pack significant flavor like jalapenos, capers, and olives are typically minced. 

Although, any ingredient or vegetable can be minced -- it depends on preference. For example, if you’re trying to coax or trick a picky eater into getting their veggie intake for the day -- you might want to finely chop what you want them to eat. Mincing also helps to distribute the flavors you want to infuse into your dish more evenly and enhances the overall quality. 

Mincing is an easy skill that we will teach you how to master so you’ll be mincing rapidly like a professional chef in no time. We will cover the basics -- first teaching you how to mince, then breaking the technique down to show you how it can be applied to garnishes and veggies. 

Mincing 101 

Mincing 101 
Damascus steel paring knife that would work perfectly for mincing small vegetables and garnishes. Image courtesy of Overlord Knives

When working with any vegetable make sure to wash and peel the skin -- especially if working with onions, garlic, or shallots. Next, wash your knife in warm, soapy water to kill any germs or bacteria that might contaminate your ingredients. 

Be sure that you have selected the right knife for your comfort and skill level. Most professional chef’s opt for the larger chef’s knife -- this is an all-purpose tool that is used for a variety of knife cutting techniques and a multitude of ingredients from vegetables to meats. However, the largeness of this knife can discourage beginner cooks since the blade is usually 8 inches long and can feel heavier in the palm. 

Sometimes beginners select a smaller knife because they feel like they can control it better than a larger one -- you may choose to start small and work up to being able to use a chef’s knife. The good news about mincing is, it’s typically used on smaller ingredients, which means a smaller knife is perfect for this technique. 

A 3.5 inch paring knife or medium sized 5 inch utility knife will accomplish your mincing goals. Both of these knives are multipurpose and will not only mince, but also chop, dice, slice, julienne, etc. Since they are smaller, they will feel comfortable and easy to manage and control. 

When you want to mince a vegetable, you will typically cut it in half lengthwise so it has a flat surface to rest on throughout cutting. This ensures it will not roll around so you don’t need to worry about it sliding out of your hand and possibly cutting yourself. Smaller ingredients like garlic do not need to be cut in half first. 

Next, cut the vegetables into slices -- thick or thin depending on your preference. You can slice the whole way through the vegetable if you feel that is easier, or slice sections almost to the end but not clean through. If you’ve chosen to use the second method, once you reach the end of your sliced sections, cut the remaining usable parts and discard the rest. Gather your slices or rotate your sectioned vegetable and dice crosswise. Now you should have a cutting board full of diced vegetables. 

Using your knife, push the diced ingredients into a small pile. They can overlap each other because mincing is less precise than dicing -- you’re going for a basic fine cut. Once the pieces are in a pile, starting at one end, hold the knife in your dominant hand and place the other hand on the top part of the blade where it is dull. Following the natural curve of the blade, rock the knife back and forth across the pile of vegetables. Do this multiple times working your way across and then back until the vegetables appear smaller and more finely chopped.

Once you see the vegetables releasing liquid, stop cutting. This is a sign that they are starting to lose their shape and you don’t want them to become a paste. 

How to Mince Garlic

How to Mince Garlic
Garlic is an ingredient that works better minced because its strong flavor needs to be dispersed throughout the dish in fine pieces.

As we’ve said, garlic does not require the need to be cut in half -- instead just peel the skin and start with a whole clove. If you’re starting with a head of garlic -- roll it around on your cutting board to loosen the cloves. Then pull apart as many as you need. An easy way to peel garlic is by trimming both ends and using the flat side of your blade to crush the clove. To do this, turn the blade to its flat side and set it on top of the clove, using the heel of your palm press down on the blade with force to crush the clove. This forces the skin to break away from the raw garlic. 

Depending on how many cloves you’ll be using, once they are all crushed -- push them into a pile. Using the rocking motion we’ve discussed before, start from one end of the pile and cut to the other end. You may need to reform your pile throughout this process. Repeat this process until you’ve got a finely minced pile of garlic. 

Another way to mince garlic is to take a single clove and score it lengthwise in small sections. Do not crush the clove, just peel and score. Be sure not to cut completely through the garlic -- you want your sections to remain attached. Then rotate the garlic and finely cut it crosswise until the whole clove is minced. If you find the pieces are not small enough, scoop the pieces into a pile and use the rocking technique to chop them even finer. 

How to Mince Shallots

How to Mince Shallots
Shallots also bring a lot of flavor to your dish and work better when they are finely minced and allowed to infuse into the dish. 

A shallot can be characterized as a small onion. They are similar in appearance and flavor, but shallots are smaller and less round. They will need to be peeled so remove a couple of the outer layers of the shallot with the peel. Do not cut off the root. 

Just like the second method of mincing garlic, score the shallot lengthwise -- make the cut as close to the root as you can get without cutting into it. Rotate the shallot and cut it crosswise. With each cut you will be rewarded with small dices of shallot. When you reach the end, discard the section with the root attached. Scoop the pieces into a pile and using the rocking motion with one hand on top of the blade, mince through the pile. Repeat this process until the pieces are finely chopped to your liking. 

How to Mince Herbs 

How to Mince Herbs 
Mincing herbs is simple once your master rolling them into a bunch -- this makes the cutting process faster and easier. 

For our purposes, we will be using parsley as an example. Start by removing the leaves from the stem and sort the leaves into a pile. With your hands, group them together by rolling and folding them tightly into a small bunch. 

Once they are formed into a bunch, use your dominant hand to slice through the herb with the other hand holding the bunch together. Be careful not to cut your fingers -- as a tip, use your knuckles as a guide for your blade. Cut through the entirety of the bunch. You’ll be left with a roughly chopped pile. 

Using our rocking technique -- with your knife, make a couple passes through the pile. Continue until the bunch has become finely chopped into a small minced pile. 

Most other herbs can be minced this way. Remove the leaves from the stems and sort them into a pile. Then roll and fold them into a tight bunch. Slice once through the bunch to get your basic chop. Then mince the herbs using the knife rocking motion to create a finer chop. 

How to Mince an Onion

How to Mince an Onion
Different styles to cutting an onion -- minced on the left, diced center, and sliced right. Image courtesy of the Food Network

To mince an onion, first peel the outer skin and cut the onion in half. When cutting it in half, don’t cut the root off, cut through it while it is still attached. 

Next, lay your onion on its flat side. Tilt your knife at the angle of the end of one side and begin to score the entire onion following its natural curve. Again, cut as close to the root as possible without including it in your sections. 

Rotate and dice crosswise. You will be left with a rough chopped pile of onions, discard the root. Using the rocking motion technique, cut from one side of the pile to the other until you have reached the desired consistency. 

This rocking technique can be applied to any garnish or vegetable you want to mince. Simply begin by dicing your ingredient then do a pass with the rocking technique until you’ve achieved your desired size and consistency.