How to Zest With a Knife and Why You Should Bother | Cupcake Project

How to Zest With a Knife and Why You Should Bother

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Zesting with a KnifeA few weeks ago I never would have dreamed of zesting with a knife.  I’d barely even cut with a knife; the food processor was my best friend and protector from scary knives.


Warning: Do not store your knives like this.

Jonathan and I had a drawer full of knives that neither of us used on a regular basis.  In fact, I was completely unclear about which knife would be best for which task.

Things changed when I took Craftsy’s free online Knife Skills course.  Jonathan and I donated all of the knives you see above and replaced them with three knives that instructor Brendan McDermott suggested that everyone should own:

A chef’s knife is big and sharp, but when used properly, it’s actually less dangerous than a small, dull knife.

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Wusthof Gourmet 10-Inch Serrated Confectioner's Knife

I was chopping tomatoes with a non-serrated knife and never knew that I was using the wrong tool for the task.

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Brendan also suggests a boning knife, but since I don’t work with meat very often, I held off adding that to our collection.

Brendan’s instruction in the knife skills course was nothing short of phenomenal.  It’s not surprising – he’s been teaching knife skills at a culinary school for eight years, he’s worked in restaurants since the age of 16 (including working with a butcher), and he has martial arts training with knives.  After taking his course, I felt truly comfortable using a large chef’s knife to finely and safely cut food.  Because the course is online, I can go back and re-watch sections any time.  I’ve already forgotten what he taught about cutting pineapples, but I’ll be rewatching that section tomorrow before I serve my son his pineapple snack.

This brings me to zesting.  I figured that I would learn a few tips about cutting onions and carrots in the class (which I did), but I never guessed that I’d learn about something near and dear to me as a baker – zesting.  You’ve got to take the course (Did I mention that it’s FREE?) to learn about the best way to cut tomatoes, avocados, garlic, the dreaded butternut squash, fresh herbs, and more.  However, I’m going to give you a peek at Craftsy’s lesson on zesting right here.

Why You Should Zest With a Knife


Do you love the smell when you zest?  I do!  Sadly, Brendan explains in the Craftsy knife skills course that when you smell the lemon, lime, orange, or grapefruit that you are zesting, the oils are being released into the air and that flavor is not going into your dish.  Brendan also talks about how when you use a zester, you are ripping the skin off of the fruit instead of slicing it.  This means the cuts aren’t clean, the zest is more likely to stick together in clumps, and this yields an uneven distribution in your food.  In the image above, I made the top pile of zest with my microplane zester and the bottom pile with paring and chef’s knives.  You can see how the top pile is more wet and sticky, while the bottom one has crisp cuts.  I’m still new to knife skills and I’d like to be able to cut the zest even finer, but even without super fine zest, the zest was superb in my lemon recipes.  It was juicer and produced a stronger lemon flavor than zest from my zester.

How to Zest With a Knife

First, use a paring knife to slice both ends off of your lemon.

Zesting with a Knife

One of the best things that I learned in the Knife Skills course was where and how to hold your hands while cutting so as to avoid slicing your fingers. Brendan often refers to this as the claw grip.

Zesting 04

Next, use the paring knife to slice off the rind right where it meets the white pith.


If you are new to knife skills like I am (or even if you are not), you may end up cutting off some of the pith as well.  Use a horizontal cut to remove as much of the pith as you can.  My favorite tip about horizontal cuts from the Craftsy course is that you should cut at the edge of your cutting board.  Letting your elbow hang off the table makes a tremendous difference in achieving the correct knife angle.


Use your chef’s knife to julienne the pieces of rind.



Then, brunoise the zest sticks.  Don’t worry, I didn’t know what brunoise meant either.  It’s just a fancy word for really finely dicing.  If done right (don’t look at my cuts), the size and shape of the cubes should be consistent.


My pinky went a little rogue here. It should be tucked back. At least it was still far away from the blade.

You can store your zest in the freezer until you are ready to use it.

Check back soon for the recipe that I used this lemon zest in.  If you are an olive fan, you won’t want to miss it. :)

This post was sponsored by Craftsy.  I’ll be working with them throughout the year and sharing reviews, recipes, and tips from the classes that I take.

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