What Is Chiffonade and How Can It Be Practiced?

Knife Skills
Thursday, October 8, 2020

By its dictionary definition -- chiffonade is a noun that refers to the preparation of shredded or finely cut vegetables or herbs used especially as a garnish. Chiffon is a French term that means “cloth” or “rag” -- this translates into making rags. An additional translation of the term means “little ribbons,” which is where culinary professionals interpret the technique as cutting leafy garnishes into ribbons. 

Chiffonade is a technique in which leafy greens

Many leafy greens can be cut into ribbons with the chiffonade technique -- the best kinds are lettuce, mint, basil, spinach, and other greens with long, broad leaves. Herbs such as parsley, thyme, coriander, and rosemary cannot be sliced using this technique due to their small and irregularly shaped leaves. 

Leaf shape is an important characteristic for this technique because the leaves have to be stacked and then rolled together to form a cigar shape before they are cut. Once your garnishes are cut into ribbons -- you can add them to soups or sauces, toss them into your favorite salad, create your own bruschetta, or use them as a fresh garnish to decorate your dish. 

The technique has also been applied to foods other than vegetables or leafy greens. Other items like crepes and deli meats such as ham, turkey, and roast beef can be rolled, sliced, and cut using this knife skill. You might choose to add the sliced meats to a pizza or make a crepe soup. 

The chiffonade technique is relatively simple once you understand how to stack, roll, and slice the ingredient you’re working with. We will teach you the technique and provide some ideas on how to incorporate it into your cooking. 


How to Chiffonade 

paring knife with Black Micarta handle
Priced at $19.99, this 3.5 inch composite steel paring knife with Black Micarta handle will be able to easily chiffonade small ingredients without breaking the bank. Image courtesy of Overlord Knives

The first step towards chiffonade mastery is to find the right knife to practice the technique. Since we’re primarily going to be working with fresh leaves and other small ingredients -- a paring knife will work well. A paring knife is a small sized knife with the blade measuring around 3.5 inches. This type of knife is a multipurpose tool that can accomplish a variety of prep tasks such as chiffonade, dicing, slicing, julienning, and other styles of cuts work for small ingredients. 

A smaller blade may feel more comfortable for beginner cooks, especially when working with small ingredients. However, a mid sized utility knife, measuring 5 inches, or an all-purpose chef’s knife, measuring around 8 inches can be used to practice this technique. The chef’s knife is typically the go-to tool for culinary experts and professional chef’s because it can successfully accomplish nearly all cutting techniques. 

The main goal is to select a knife that you feel comfortable using -- but be sure to pick a knife with a smooth blade as a scalloped or rough edge may bruise or damage the delicate leaves. Your knife needs to be sharpened before attempting this technique because a razor sharp knife will effortlessly cut through the leaves in one single motion. This keeps them from bruising and becoming discolored. 

Basil

Basil
Basil chiffonade with fresh, vibrant green leaves will result in these thin ribbon strips after being sliced. Image courtesy of Bowl Full of Delicious

We will be using basil as the first chiffonade example. Depending on how you get fresh basil, you may buy it from the store or have your own plant at home. Make it a priority to select the freshest basil available -- meaning no wilted, dull brown or black leaves, you want them to be a vibrant green color. 

If you buy basil from the grocery store, the leaves may come already detached from the stem, but if not you’ll want to separate the leaves from the stem and sort them into a stack. You can work with as many as eight leaves at a time. Stack them lengthwise, flat on top of each other. 

Using both hands, grasp both ends of the leaves with your fingertips and begin to roll them -- the stem inside the leaves should be horizontal to you. The leaves should end up in a tightly rolled cigar shape. The tight roll is essential to achieving uniform ribbon cuts, if the leaves are loose then the cuts will vary as the bundle will start to unravel during the chiffonade process. 

Now, with your sharp knife, begin to slice through the rolled leaves. With your other hand, use your fingertips to keep the roll tight and firmly in place -- be sure to maintain awareness of your fingers so you do not cut them. 

As you slice through the leaves, you’ll notice they begin to unravel once they have been cut. Within the unraveled leaves, you should identify the thin ribbon-like strands. Continue to slice through your entire bundle until finished. 

You can use this technique with all leaves that are similar to basil in shape and size -- mint and spinach are two examples. 

Lettuce

Lettuce
Romaine heart chiffonade will result in these beautiful and delicate ribbon strips. Image courtesy of OMG Food

Next, we will be learning how to chiffonade lettuce. Begin by taking your head of lettuce and cutting it in half, then take the half and fold it together. Using the fingers on your nondominant hand to apply pressure to the lettuce and hold it in place. 

With your knife in your dominant hand, cut the lettuce into thin ribbon-like strips. Continue until you have cut all the way through the lettuce. 

Now working with romaine hearts, begin by removing individual leaves from the stalk. Stack the romaine leaves on top of each other like we did with the basil leaves. You can work with about five leaves at a time. Roll them together lengthwise into a long, tight cigar shape. Since the leaves are larger, you may need to fold and tuck them together to make the roll as tight as possible. 

Next, cut the roll into thin, ribbon-like strips. Continue until you have cut the whole way to the end. You can cut the whole way through the roll or stop once you’ve reached the middle or end of the stalk where the white stem becomes more prominent -- this will ensure you only cut and use the leafy parts. 

How to Utilize Chiffonade In Cooking 

Bruschetta

Bruschetta
Italian bruschetta appetizer that requires fresh chiffonade basil. Image courtesy of Simply Recipes

As we’ve mentioned, chiffonade is primarily used for garnishes that are best in soups, sauces, small dishes, and as a decorative element. You may choose to chiffonade some fresh basil and add it to a finished dish for some extra flavor or you can incorporate it into a delicious bruschetta to serve as an appetizer at your next potluck. 

Bruschetta is a simple, yet flavor packed topping for crisp French bread -- an Italian appetizer you won’t regret making. To make this you will need:

The recipe calls for blanching the tomatoes -- however, I have always opted to chop fresh tomatoes and use those. Depending on what you prefer -- you can blanch the tomatoes in boiling water for one minute. Once they are cool, peel the skin and cut the tomatoes in half. Next, cut them into halves or quarters and squeeze the juices and seeds from the tomatoes. 

Chop them into finely diced pieces and in a large bowl toss the tomatoes with garlic, olive oil, vinegar, basil, salt, and pepper. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. 

Slice the baguette into thin pieces. Brush one side with olive oil and place the pieces olive oil side down on a baking sheet. Toast for five to six minutes. 

Once the bread is toasted, remove from the oven and arrange the pieces how you like on a serving platter. Top each piece with the bruschetta mixture right before serving or serve the toasted pieces with a bowl of the bruschetta mixture and allow guests to top the pieces to their liking. 

Mint Mojito 

For the 21 and over cooks, try to chiffonade fresh mint and add it to a delicious mint mojito cocktail! This refreshing drink will leave you tempted to empty multiple glasses in one sitting. 

To make this you will need: 

Place the mint leaves and one lime wedge into a glass. Use a muddler to crush the mint and lime, then add two more lime wedges and sugar and muddle again. The muddler allows the oils in the mint and the lime juices to be released. Fill the glass to the top with ice cubes, pour the rum over the ice and fill the rest of the glass with club soda. Stir the drink, taste, add more sugar if it is not sweet enough for you and garnish with a lime wedge and add a few strips of chiffonade mint. 

Once you have learned the chiffonade technique, it will come quickly and easily with practice. You can chiffonade garnishes to elevate your presentation to a professional level and infuse flavors deeply into your dishes to achieve that restaurant quality bite of deliciousness.