Saturday, November 20, 2010

Tools of the Trade: Knives

A good knife makes all the difference when cooking, and it is by far the most important tool in the kitchen. You don't realize how much you are missing if you have a set of old, dull, bad knives. Your cooking experience will be all the more joyful with the proper tool. If you haven't already, go out and buy the best knife you can afford and DO NOT SKIMP. Like a good set of cookware, a good set of knives should last you quite a while, provided you take good care of them.

Good knives should NEVER go into the dishwasher. This is Enemy No. 1. Hand-washing will preserve them like nothing else. Ideally, after washing, they should be dried and put away.

Knives should be stored in their own drawer, in little slots meant just for knives, or in a butcher block type of thing that sits on your counter (see photo, right). There are also metallic strips that you can mount on your wall where the knife blade sticks to it like a magnet. This is cool if you have the wall space.

What kind of knives to get? You can get a "set" that contains a variety of knives used for different purposes, or you can get just a few single ones. There are only about 3 or 4 knives that you will really need: a few inexpensive paring knives for peeling, a 6-inch knife that's small enough to use for paring but large enough for some slicing, and a 10-inch chef's knife for chopping and slicing. A heavy cleaver is helpful for cutting into heavy dense winter vegetables, an inexpensive small serrated knife is useful for slicing tomatoes and a larger serrated knife is great for slicing bread. That's it!

Most of the knives commercially available are constructed out of stainless steel, high carbon stainless, carbon steel, or titanium. Some are made out of ceramic or plastic. For a description of each, you can read this article. Naturally your budget and preference will dictate which you choose, but stainless steel is the most common type available and probably the easiest to maintain. Another consideration is the handle and how it feels in your hand. You want a good grip on it. The handle materials also vary: wood, plastic, steel. Lots to choose from, but again, buy the best you can afford and what you like.

Mostly importantly, knives should be sharpened frequently. Dull knives will tear and rip food. You want to easily slice through the food, not rip it apart. I've read that professional chefs sharpen their knives each time they begin work. While that may be a bit too frequent for the "home chef", I would do it at least twice a week, if you're cooking daily. Obviously the more you cook, the more often you'll want to sharpen. If you buy a block, there is usually a sharpening tool included, otherwise you can buy manual or electric sharpeners  that you slide the knife through. They are really easy to use and do a fair job. If it's been some time since you've sharpened your knife, find a professional knife sharpener to do the job for you.

You are only as good as your tools, and to do a good job in the kitchen, you should have the proper tools that not only make life easier for you but do the job well. If you find your kitchen in need of a new knife, Christmas is coming, you know!

1 comment :

  1. It seems that the old adage, "Ask and ye shall receive" is true! Thanks to a fan, I am now the proud owner of a Santoku knife. I can't wait to try it out. Thank you, thank you!


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