If you want to find out about chef’s knives, paring knives, or indeed any other kitchen knives read on and join me on my forray into the world of steel, blades and knives in My Shiny Kitchen.
In this article we’ll be having a little look at knives, their care, and how to choose one. I wanted to have a little look at the wonderful world of knives; particularly the all important key knives that no kitchen should ever be without.
Cheap Knife Sets
A quick note before we begin. Knife sets are generally really only for those with huge budgets. A cheap knife set will often be best left on the shelf in favor of buying one decent quality chef’s knife instead. A few great knives will be easier to use and last a lot longer than a pretty set that includes lots of knives. Unless you have a big budget I would ignore the sets that include more than 3 knives completely, in favour of buying a few key kitchen utensils you will use over and over again.
If you have the money for a set of great knives go for it though!
Kitchen Knife Blocks
I am not a fan of knife blocks as frankly I don’t know how you can really keep them clean. An unloved knife block set I was gifted some years back ended up having to be thrown since crumbs seem to congregate on them and you just know they’re getting inside those tiny grooves. Far better to have a dedicated knife drawer (that is kid proof) or a magnetic knife bar (my preferred option).
Kitchen Knives You Need
Okay, so you’re forgoing the pretty but far from brilliant knife set, so what should you be buying instead? Well, eventually you may want to own many kitchen knives. But to begin with there a few that will cope well in most home kitchens:
- The Chef’s Knife. This is the most important. With a straight edge this slices without tearing, and its tapered shape allows for a professionally favored rocking motion when chopping. This should be big; 8 or 10 inches and used for just about everything. Or ditch this traditional Western tool in favor of a similar, but sharper and flatter Santoku knife instead.
- The Paring Knife. This is the little 3 or 4 inch blade that most of us cannot do without. Peeling, dicing and more you will use this every day, that is until you buy a decent Chef’s knife and then you’ll probably end up using that instead!
- The Bread Knife. With a scalloped edge that slices easily through crusty breads without spoiling the airy center within.
If I could only have three knives in my kitchen these are the ones I could not do without. They are the ones I suggest any cook invests in. You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars (though if you do you will probably be amazed at just how good fine cutlery is). But spend a reasonable amount ($20 to $50) a knife and you will get cutting tools to last you a lifetime.
The knives you may well want to buy to add to your cutting collection include:
- Cleavers. The hard core approach to cutting through joints and bones. You may or may not need this chunky beast depending on how happy you are to carry out a little light butchering at home!
- Boning knife. For a more delicate approach to removing meat and fish from the bone. The thin precision 5 or 6 inch blade can get into all those fiddly recesses. For fish and poultry a flexible blade is preferred, but a stiff one is better for meats.
- Fillet knife. These flexible knives should help you get right up against the bones of the fish. You will find them in a variety of sizes from around 6 to 11 inches depending on what type of fish you tend to fillet. If you really do want to fillet fish and meat at home these are a must. Frankly I am happy for my fishmonger to do this for me! I am afraid while I am a marvel at gutting fish, filleting them is a skill I lack.
- The slicer. For dinner party hosting in style.
- The Santoku knife. One of my favorites, combining the cleaver with your traditional Chef’s knife. You get a slightly curved blade for a little rocking and a deep edge which is great for squishing garlic and moving chopped food from your board to pan. The blade is very thin so you can slice extremely finely. With practice the Santoku can quickly become the cook’s best friend.
- Oh and many many more…
On a side note. If you want to inspire your resident male to help out more in the kitchen simply buy a spectacular Asian knife or Cleaver, they won’t be able to resist the opportunity to display they steel skills more. Oh, and yes Asian knives are particularly impressive but consider what you actually need. Some are extremely impractical unless you really do create lots of Asian delicacies on a regular basis!
The list of speciality knives is seemingly endless. I tend to avoid particularly food specific knives. Simple utility or multipurpose knives in addition to the first 3 should be more than enough. You can buy something called a “tomato knife” but who in their right mind would have one knife particularly for tomatoes. A serrated utility knife that is used for lots of odd jobs including tomatoes is more my approach.
For entertaining you might feel a cheese knife, steak knives (frankly in our house steak should be rare and therefore easy to deal with even with a fork, but each to their own),
The blades you will mostly need are straight edge. The blade tapers towards the edge and means you can slice without tearing. At times a serrated edge will work well (I find them invaluable when dealing with things like tomatoes but that is a personal thing, and not at all “chef like”). Scallop edges with waves along the blade are great for cutting through things with tough exteriors and soft interiors such as bread (probably good for tomatoes too but I keep a tiny serrated blade for those). Getting through fatty meat smoothly is easiest with a Granton Edge that has scallops ground into the edge of the blood on alternating sides. Like many similar Asian knife blades the grooves should let fat move freely and help prevent food sticking to the knife.
If you can afford it forged steel blades are great, built to last and heavy. Now in a cleaver this weight might be of benefit, but for many of us something a little lighter is actually more comfortable to use. Pressed steel is what most of us will end up with. These blades are cut from one piece of steel and then tempered into shape and sharpness.
Keeping Your Kitchen Knives Sharp
Straight edged blades should last years and years. The key is regular sharpening with a knife steel. I know you can buy cute little electric knife sharpeners that will do the job for you. But frankly a steel is quite fun to use, and unless you are very lucky an automatic knife sharpener is unlikely to do any favors to a high quality blade.
Generally they will take off a significant amount of steel so shortening the life of your blade. Before you buy any knife sharpener (other than stone or steel) be sure to check it is suited to the blades you have to sharpen. The bevel on Asian knives for example really will need an Asian sharpener, and I would always choose a manual version if you really cannot face using the whetstone or sharpening steel.
Don’t Forget Your Chopping Board
If you have invested in some impressive kitchen knives you need to think about what you are actually using them on. Personally I prefer to use wood or more recently bamboo chopping boards. Plastic seems to scratch far too easily and quickly becomes an ugly bumpy mess with lots of grooves perfect for germs and dirt.
Glass and steel chopping boards look super, but they will damage your quality knives since they are such hard materials, so you really do need to consider wood, plastic or perhaps rubber instead.