Why Use One Blade When You Can Use Two?
How and when to cook with scissors (hint: the "when" is "almost always")
When Mark first suggested, a full year ago, that we do a piece on cooking with scissors, I grabbed my everyday pair, held them in front of me like a divining rod, and set out on our quest. Cooks around the world cut up food with scissors; there's so much to learn. In the year since, I've amassed quite a collection of kitchen shears, researched intermittently, and expanded my usage. In other words, I dawdled.
That is not my usual habit, but in this case I think it has benefitted the story. I've now had plenty of time to work with all the scissors shown above. (Full disclosure: most I purchased; some were sent to us as much appreciated free samples.) From the photo, you can tell how much they vary in size and blade type. And everyone will have a different way of holding and snipping, especially if you're left-handed or have anything other than "average" size hands. This will have a definite effect on which pair you prefer.
Since my palm is broad but my fingers are relatively short, I can cram all four into one finger bow—the name for the round or oval slots that serve as the handles—and my thumb in the other. Some cooks work with one or more fingers on the outside of the bow for comfort and stability. Ideally, you should try scissors with different sized bows before buying, to be sure they are comfortable for the way you use them. The choice of short versus long is a matter of control and individual usage.
Surprisingly, the length doesn't necessarily indicate power or sharpness, so you should feel free to choose whichever length seems right to you without worrying about those factors. Finally, you might appreciate the ability to separate the blades for easy cleaning–we do, providing they don't come apart pre-squeeze–or you might find that too finicky.
So instead of recommending any one pair, I've demonstrated and described seven different techniques and scissors in photos and captions below. You can click on the links for each to check out other details and models in the same brand. As an added bonus at the end of the piece, there are several links to videos of people cooking with scissors. Here's how the tutorial unfolds:
Mark's pot chop.
The taming of the goo.
Drain, trim, and squeeze (or not).
Why trust a spatula?
Lose your cutting board.
The reason to snip herbs.
Nix the painted-red poultry shears. (Raw chicken alert.)
Video links to cooks around the world using scissors.
Mark’s pot chop.
Mark likes to report on the many ways he uses scissors to compensate for all the chopping, slicing, and dicing he didn't do before he started cooking. I am the same way. You can call us lazy, but I prefer to say we're cleverly efficient. For these uses, we both like the sharpness, length, and comfort of Zyliss shears, though Mark's come unhinged (sometimes unexpectedly) and mine don't. The shot above is me, passing through a recent pot of borscht, fishing for bigger-than-bite-size pieces of meat and cabbage.
Here's Mark's more comprehensive list of pot-chopping suggestions:
All tomatoes, while they're cooking, including semi-thawed frozen from the garden.
Greens as they soften.
Chunks of stewed meat (“Again because I was too impatient or lazy to cut at first or sometimes if I decided that it would be better to brown and cook big pieces, then make them small later—much easier than trying to do it with a knife.”)
Potatoes or chunks of potatoes as they simmer.
Kelp after softening. (And nori before using.)
Softened dried mushrooms.
You get the drift…
The taming of the goo.
Quesadillas, pizzas, rarebit—anything molten and crust-adjacent—all benefit from scissor blades simultaneously coming at the mess from top and bottom. Shears are also excellent for cutting non-cheesy pita or other flatbreads into wedges. Wield tongs in your non-dominant hand for maximum control of hot foods. Long shears like these razor-sharp, come-apart Lamsons make snipping a snap.