A couple of points (ha, get it) to remember:
Keep your knife sharp, a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one. Most people in the home environment never sharpen their knives. They either buy a knife, an expensive one of good quality or like most people, just happen to have something in the drawer. Whichever is the case with you, the fact is you probably never sharpen what you do have.
Most people fear a sharp knife because no one wants to get cut. A dull knife they reason won’t cut if I miss what I’m cutting. Well, think about it, if you’re cutting a pepper for instance, you try and try and the blade will simply not even get through the skin, frustrating. You press harder and all you get is a bent pepper and eventually the knife may slip off the pepper and with all the pressure you’ve had to spend on it because it is dull and you are frustrated, whack, here comes the band aids.
It is much less likely to cut yourself with a sharp knife, the pepper will stand tall, your knife will cut right through its skin and you will be amazed at how easy and even fun cutting anything can be. I’d be bold enough to say, cutting may become a down right pleasurable experience. But remember, if you are not experienced with using a sharp knife, go slowly and take your time. Better to go a bit slower in the beginning and not be injured. Believe me, it will make such a difference in the way you enjoy cooking; soon you will be going much faster.
A good Chef Knife is one that has good steel (more on that later), is balanced, has a good bolster (that chunk of metal between the handle and blade) and has a full tang (the steel of the blade continues right through and into the handle). Most importantly, it must fit YOUR hand. We are all built differently and what fits comfortably in a 6’2″ 270 lb man’s hand will probably not feel too comfortable in a woman 5’2″ weighing in at 125 lb, your hand is smaller and you are more petite all over. GET THE KNIFE THAT FEELS LIKE AN EXTENSION OF YOUR OWN HAND. Good knives are expensive so be prepared and spend the money on your knife, YOU DESERVE IT!
I use an 8 Chef knife most of the time. I prefer a thin light blade like the Japanese Global brand, to cut vegetables. I use a 10 German Steel blade, like Henckles when I want more heft behind me as when I’m cutting poultry or through bone. Also works great when I’m chopping lots of herbs or nuts, covers more ground.
If you have to cut through bone, never use the middle of your blade, rather use the bolster, it will give you more leverage and won’t take a chunk of steel out of that expensive, beautiful knife you just bought. Also, NEVER, EVER use your knives to open boxes or saw through cardboard, open cans, etc. No, no, no!..
Also very important in the knife area is a good paring knife. This knife is used for so many things, removing the stem end from Tomatoes is an excellent example. It is very versatile and you will be glad to have it.
The third really important knife to own is a good serrated bread knife. Never want to cut bread with your Chef knife because if will dull the blade very quickly and will crush the bread as opposed to slicing it. A GOOD serrated knife will go right through the bread, not tarring it and give you a clean slice. It is also great for cutting through Tomato skins.
My suggestions for your basic knife arsenal:
Four of the most important knives should be:
3) Utility knife, is about 6, inches long. Straight edged and very versatile
It is that long thing you often see Chefs rubbing together with a knife in the other hand. A Steel is used to remove the microscopic burrs that accumulate on the edge of a knife with extended use, especially with acidity foods such as tomatoes. Running your knife along the steel will remove these burrs and bring your knife back to a sharp finish. A Steel is not the tool to use in order to put an edge on your knife, for that you will need to hone your knife on a wet stone or other sharpening tool.
It’s purpose; contrary to popular opinion is to maintain an already sharp knife. You see, knives get sharp by sharpening them on a sharpening stone, when you slide your knife at a 20-23 angle on a steel, what is being done is removing microscopic burrs along the knifes edge. Try it when you are having trouble slicing a tomato, you will be amazed at the difference. Remember that a steel is no replacement for a sharpening stone, they both have different purposes. When you remove the burs with a steel, you are left with whatever angle on the blade that was there in the first place. If the blade was sharp, you’ll have a sharp knife again, if the blade is dull, well you’re still going to have problems. Be careful, don’t show off, and go slowly especially in the beginning, until you get used to it. A knife is a tool to respect and enjoy.
So, you may ask, if the steel is not for sharpening and only to remove the burrs, and if I remove the burrs and am left with a dull knife, what’s the point? Good question. You can do one of three things: 1) You can learn to sharpen your knife on a wet stone which is not that difficult but does take a bit of skill to master. 2) You can bring your knife into a knife store and have them sharpen it for you, a bit of a hassle. Or 3) you can buy a sharpening machine, plug it in and make life a little easier for yourself. There are several types available; here is a couple to consider:
1) Chef’s Choice brand makes great electric sharpeners. They are a bit of money but in the long run, you will always have a sharp knife with ease and no hassle
2) Chef’s Choice and Henkel’s to name a couple of brands make manual sharpeners that guide your knife through blades set at the proper angle, much more economical.
You can also try your hand at sharpening your knives yourself. To do this you’ll need a sharpening stone. These can be purchased at a good knife shop or at many hardware stores. Here is a great address to buy online for all your sharpening needs: http://www.sharpeningsupplies.com.
Sharpening Stone There are several ways to hone your knife and put an edge back onto it. With use, every knife will dull in time. Steel takes the burrs off the edge of the blade but will not put an edge onto the knife; a steel is just too fine to do that. A Sharpening Stone is the solution; it has two sides to it, a rough, abrasive side and a finer side. We begin with the rough side to remove steel and actually create an edge. The finer side puts the finishing touches on that edge by polishing the edge, while the steel finishes the process. Sharpening takes practice and patience, the knife has to be held at a 20-23-degree angle and you must be consistent with your strokes and angle or you will further dull the blade instead of sharpening it. Fortunately for most mere mortals, there is a solution. There are many sharpening tools, both electric and manual that will guide your knife at the correct angel along the stone and sharpen the edge correctly. SHARP KNIVES ARE IMPERATIVE!!!!
Sharpening Your Knives:
There is lots of debate as to what kind of stone to use, whether to use a wet stone or a dry stone. Really, the most important thing is to hold the knife at the correct angel 20-23 degrees, if that is done, the kind of stone is almost secondary (there will be those who want to hang me for that statement), but it’s the truth. Whatever stone you choose, put a damp cloth under it to stabilize the stone while working with it.
There are a few types of stones to choose from:
1) Oil stone is a good option as it is less expensive and easier to find, usually less money to purchase as well, don’t get one that is too small, 6-8 inches is best.
2) Wet stone (my stone of choice) These stones look similar to an oil stone but use a bit different material in their make up; they use water only to float the microscopic metal fragments away and are so much easier to clean up afterward compared to the oil stone.
3) Diamond stones, which are more expensive, then either an oil or wet stone. They have actual diamond dust or tiny fragments in their make-up and like the wet stone, use only water to float away the swarf or filings. The advantage the diamond stone has over the others is that because they are made of diamonds they last for a very long time and do not acquire the bow that others stones are prone to develop, eventually.
Once you have the stone of your choice, get it home, take an old rag, dampen it with water, wring it out and place it under the stone in order to keep the stone from moving.
If you are using a wet stone, place it in a bowl of water for about half an hour to let it absorb the water. Get a cup of water and drip a small puddle onto the stone; you’ll need to keep the stone wet while you are working.
Place the stone on a forty-five degree angle as you face it, top towards the right for righties to the left for lefties. Hold your knife at a 20-23 degree angle, start at the top of the stone and glide the knife towards the bottom of the stone, beginning with the heel of the knife. Switch directions, turn the knife over and from the bottom of the knife, at a 20-23 degree angle glide the knife towards the top of the stone. Continue doing this for as long as it takes to get the knife sharp, always adding water as you go (the stone will absorb a lot.) When you think the knife is sharp turn the stone over and go it again on the smooth side in order to finely hone the blade.
When you are done finish the job by sliding the knife over the steel at a 20-23 degree angle and voila, a sharp knife.
The challenge here is to be patient and keep the knife angle at a 20-23 degree angle. If you vary from the degree you will just be dulling the knife. This is what takes practice and patience. I’ve done it myself, been at it for 5-10 minutes and the blade is still not sharp, frustrating. The reason is because I was being lazy and not concentrating, trying to go fast to get it over with. Slow is always better, whether it’s sharpening your knife or making love to your lover. And remember, the knives you have at home probably haven’t been sharpened for a long time, if ever. They are dull and will require even more time to sharpen and more patience to get them sharp.
A couple of more points to be aware of once you’ve chosen to take care of your knives.
1) Never, Ever, ever use your knife as a can opener or to cut cardboard with, NEVER ever hack a piece of wood, metal object or metal wire with it. Your knife is not a hatchet; it is a fine tool that will make your life easier if cared for. If you need to chop something purchase a good quality, heavy duty cleaver, that steel is thick enough and strong enough to go through just about anything, it is designed to chop through bone.
2) Use a good Cutting Board.
a) Wood, in my opinion is best. It has the most give yet is strong enough to hold up under lots of use.
b) Maple is a good choice and the wood I’ve used most of my career although I’ve been using Bamboo lately and love it. Second best is plastic. Many restaurants and hotels use these because they last a very long time, are economical and are dishwasher safe. I’ve used them but am not a fan. If you do choose plastic, purchase a thicker board at least a ¼ inch thick, although ½-1 inch is preferred. Avoid those thin flexible cutting boards, they may be ok for quick jobs, convenient to fold and carry ingredients to a pot but are bad for knives. The absolute worse cutting board to use and I strongly recommend NEVER to use them are the marble or slate cutting boards. The small ones for cheese are fine and attractive but for a kitchen they will kill you knife faster than just about anything else. The only good function a marble board has is in tempering chocolate but more on that later.
3) Storage use a butcher block or screw a magnetic knife holder into your wall. NEVER throw your beautiful, new, sharp knives into a drawer with a bunch of other utensils, you will wind up with dull or chipped knives or both, guaranteed. You’ve invested good money to purchase good quality knives and spend your precious time sharpening them, guard them by storing them well. If you do put them in a drawer, line the drawer with a kitchen towel and keep that drawer for only knives, placing them side by side, NEVER just throw them in. Like most good things and people in life, treat them good and they will treat you good.
Purchasing your Knives:
What kind of knives should you buy and where do you go to find them?
A good place to start looking for knives is at a high quality cooking or knife store. There are many to choose from and once again, people are different. What I like will not suite everyone. So when you get to the store do not be embarrassed to ask the salesperson to not only look at the knives but to handle them. See how they feel in your hand, it should be an extension of your hand, well balanced and comfortable, you should be one with your knife (Oh, how Zen like, Ha.) If the salesperson is not helpful and does not let you handle the knife thank them very much and get out of there, take your business to someone who is helpful.
A knife is a piece of steel with a handle that has been sharpened to a finely honed edged blade, to put it simply. Therefore the quality of the steel is a determining factor in the quality of the knife. There are other attributes as well, which I will get to, but first things first. Do I get stainless steel knifes, carbon knives, steel alloy, gingsu knives which never need sharpening? To begin with, you want steel which will hold an edge. Translated, that means a knife you don’t have to sharpen very often. You also want steel that when needed will take an edge fairly easily without having to go over that stone over and over and over again.
Carbon steel in my opinion is the best there is for taking an edge, that is, it’s fairly easy to sharpen and the steel stays sharp for quite a while once it is sharpened. The down side with Carbon steel is that it discolors. If you don’t oil it after every time you use it the blade will become black in a matter of hours. Some chefs swear by them and that’s wonderful if you are a professional chef and care for your knives daily, maintenance is something you just do. But for home cooks and most of you just getting your hands wet, I do not recommend them.
Steel Alloy is probably the best way to go. Although your initial cost will be high, the knife will last for many years and be a good investment. Germany and more recently Japan produce the majority of fine alloy knives. The alloy is generally made from different percentages of the following metals: Carbon steel mixed with varying percentages of Chromium (making it more resistant to tarnishing) or Molybdenum (increases the hardness of the steel) or Tungsten (which reduces brittleness) along with lesser alloys such as Nickel, Vanadium or Manganese (also to increase the steel hardness)
The nice thing about most of them is that they hold an edge for a long time, they don’t rust or blacken and are well balanced.
Straight Stainless Steel knives are just not up to par. The metal is too soft and the edge will disappear in a matter of hours.
The TV brand knives like the Gingsu are more gadgets then tools. Sure they will cut a can and go through a screw, wow. Try cutting a tomato with one, they just don’t have the weight or balance of a good French knife.
Japan produces some of the finest steel and best knives in the world. They are a little pricey, they are also a little more delicate then their German counterparts (being a bit harder steel and thus more brittle and prone to chip if dropped or disregarded) but taken care of, they are some of the best in the world. After all, Samurai warriors have been using steel in their blades for centuries and modern day Japan has adopted those age worn techniques to develop great kitchen knives.
What to look for in a good quality steel chef knife:
1) You want the knife to feel balanced in your hand. Lay the knife sideways on your middle and index fingers right above the handle, the knife should balance.
2) The knife should be forged. That means the knife should be one piece of steel, forged from one piece of steel, shaped, sharpened and then covered with a handle with three rivets.
3) The butt of the knife or the heel should be thick, not thin or non-existent like many are.
4) The handle should have no less then three rivets holding it to the steel, or be bonded to a plastic handle.
5) Lastly, make sure the knife has enough room when you are holding it between your knuckles and the table. You do not want to keep hitting your knuckles when you are cutting something.
A few of my favorite brands to consider:
Wustof (my 10 chef knife is so useful with large and heavy jobs)
Forschner / Victorinox (my first choice in paring knife, I love their serrated paring knife and always buy a few to have around whenever I see them sold)
Forschner / Victorinox make a good chef knife that will be less expensive then their German or Japanese counterparts. They are made of good quality steel and are a good overall knife to own. They are made without a bolster, (that thick steel part between the blade and handle), which is part of the reason they are more economical. I’ve used them in the past and although not my favorite knife, they have served me well for years.
Other knives to consider, other than the four basics I’ve suggested (down the road):
First of all, whatever brand you decide to invest in, most brands have sets that are usually cheaper than were you to buy the individual knives. For you meat lovers, some sets come with a good set of steak knives.
If a set is not your thing, here are some suggestions for additional knives to have on hand at some point:
1) A good carving knife (if you carve a lot of roast)
2) A good heavy cleaver (if you are going to making stocks and need to cut through bone, these are invaluable)
3) A good heavy-duty chef fork (a good chef fork that won’t bend is very useful when taking some items out of the oven).
4) A boning knife, good to use if you are going to get into boning chicken for instance.
5) Kitchen Sheers, good for cutting through backs of chicken, twine (if you are trussing foul)
6) Spatula, good for frosting cakes and evening out batters, I like off set spatulas myself
7) Flexible fillet knife, (great for skinning salmon or slicing smoked salmon thin)
On line check out Cutlery and More: http://www.cutleryandmore.com/
They also have a great selection in pots and pans at reasonable prices and a good shipping policy.Share