Chiffonade is a cooking technique for cutting vegetable leaves into long, thin, fine strips, shreds or ribbons, in effect shredding the leaves. Its name comes from the French word “chiffon”, meaning “ribbon.”
In strictly classical French cooking, a Chiffonade had a further precise meaning. It was lettuce and sorel cut in this manner, then braised in butter and then used as a garnish on soups. If an older French classical recipe called for a Chiffonade with no further clarification, that is what was meant.
Now, the term has been broadened to mean just the cutting technique itself, on any leafy vegetable or herb leaf, and the resulting shredded vegetable can be used raw or cooked for any purpose. A coleslaw can be said to be a chiffonade of cabbage. The purpose of a chiffonade is that it reduces the cooking time for a vegetable leaf, creates greater surface area for sauce or dressing to cling to, and gives ease of eating to the diner.
There are no formal definitions of exactly how thin the shreds of leaf need to be, but the strips you could should be about 1 mm (1/25th inch) wide.
To do a chiffonade, gather the leaves into a stack, or roll them, then slice then lengthwise into strips. Whether you roll or stack depends on the leaf. Some leaves may bruise if they are rolled, so you would stack instead. Leaves such as cabbage or iceberg lettuce grow in layers, so it is easiest to simply cut a wedge from the cabbage, and slice from that wedge. Avoid thick, fleshy stem parts as they may not slice evenly.
Herb leaves which are thin, or irregular in shape, such as thyme, rosemary, parsley, etc are unsuited for this technique.
The technique can also be used on thin crêpes or omelettes, or thin flatbreads such as flour tortillas.
“Chiffon” in French means “rag.”