Monday, November 28, 2011

Knives - what you need to know

Good quality knives are one of the most important tools in your kitchen. They are an investment since a good knife will last for decades, and like most investments, they aren't inexpensive. You don't need to get the most expensive knife but you definitely don't want to get the cheapest knife! You don't need a whole knife block of them either. Get yourself a chef's knife and a paring knife. You'll want a serrated bread knife too but that isn't nearly as important as the first two.
My well-used knives: 10" Chef's, Santuko, paring

Chef's knives come in various sizes, the most common size is 8" to 10". Most people with small hands prefer the smaller size, but a lot of this depends on what you are used to handling. Another option, if a big knife scares you, is a Santoku. It's a Japanese knife with a blunted tip and a shorter blade. It's also an excellent all-purpose knife and it's a style that is now readily available. In either style, you want a knife that has an entirely steel blade. The more metal, the more durable it will be. Skip those plastic knives with a thin strip of metal embedded in the plastic. The handle should be comfortable in your hand. Different brands have different handles. You need to hold them to figure out what you like. I like my Wusthof. Ronnie likes the F.Dick knives. That doesn't mean you'll like either of these. Hold them and decide for yourself.  To hold a chef's knife correctly, choke up on the handle, putting your thumb on one side and your fingers on the other.  Don't put your index finger on the top along the blade; your hand will tire quickly with that grip.

Paring knives are small knives with a pointy tip. You should be able to pick one up cheaply. Many kitchen stores even give away paring knives when you purchase a decent chef's knife.

People often think that dull knives are safer than sharp knives. This is untrue. A dull knife is still absolutely capable of doing a lot of damage to your fingers. But, because it is dull, you need to push a  lot harder to get it to cut through food. This extra force makes it more dangerous. It can bounce off food when you least expect it, ending up in your hand. Sharp knives require almost no work to cut through food. No pushing, no whacking, no forcing. Keep your knives sharp and respect that they are sharp. You won't have to work as hard in the kitchen.

We recommend that you find someplace that will sharpen your knives. Our local hardware store sharpens knives, as does some of the supermarkets. You won't need to sharpen them often - maybe once or twice a year depending on how much you use your knife - but you'll be happy you did. It's also important to steel your knife, to keep the edge really sharp. Here's a short video from Alton Brown that distills steeling and sharpening down to its bare essentials.

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