Whether a television infomercial, a display at the store, or a pushy salesman confined to a mall kiosk, home cooks are always being sold on the next best thing. When it comes to knives, it means a set of five to ten (each for a very specific task), that will never dull, never rust, never break, or some other impossible guarantee. Any time you hear a pitch along these lines, our advice is to run. The truth is that you only need three knives: a good chef’s knife, an affordable serrated knife and a small paring knife (if you think you’ll use it). A good, gimmick-free knife, if properly cared for, can last a lifetime. Today, we will run you through some helpful tips for selecting the right and teach you how to care for them.
Why have ten knives for ten different tasks when a chef’s knife can do almost every job in the kitchen? A chef’s knife is what you probably imagine when you think of a knife for cooking, fat toward the handle and converging to a point at the tip. The Japanese version is called a santoku knife and has a rounded top and is also a great option. When shopping for a knife, the most important thing is that it feels comfortable in your hand and is not too heavy. It should be long enough to do most tasks but not so long that it is unwieldy. Ensure that it is not longer than your most commonly used cutting board (when measured diagonally). Next, check the material. Is the handle wood? If so, choose another knife as wood has a knack for hanging onto germs. Is the handle secured with metal rivets? Does it look well made? These are all good signs. Next, inquire about the make-up of the blade. You want to look for knives that are mostly carbon steel, a material that will provide toughness and stay sharp longer. Is the blade serrated (has little teeth)? That’s a major red flag for a chef’s knife. You instead are looking for a smooth blade that you can sharpen over and over again.
In terms of price, these can get expensive. But there are some wonderful knives out there within a reasonable cost. We recommend that you stay within the $60-150 range. And look for German or Japanese made knives as those nations play host to some of the top manufacturers in the world.
Now you are ready to use your chef’s knife! Use the larger part of the blade for cutting bigger items, like potatoes and broccoli, and move closer to the tip for smaller ingredients, like shallots and onions. Our Chicken Saltimbocca is the perfect recipe to test out your new knife skills.
As you use your knife, the blade will naturally dull. There is no more dangerous tool than a dull knife. So, as soon as you start to feel resistance, simply sharpen it with a sharpening stone (our preferred method). We recommend a 400/1000 grit size. When it comes to cleaning, hand wash, thendry immediately to avoid rust. Never leave a knife laying around or in the sink and avoid putting a knife in the dishwasher. In terms of storing, stray away from those wooden knife blocks as they are a hot bed for germs. We recommend a magnetic wall strip.
Serrated knives have little teeth on the blade. They act more like a little saw than a knife. A serrated knife cannot be sharpened and will eventually dull after two or three years. That’s ok as a good serrated knife should never cost you more than $25. The best place to get one is at a restaurant supply store. No need for anything fancy. The only big decision is between a straight handle or an offset one that gives the knife more of a z-shape. Use this knife with long gentle strokes to slice bread, torte cakes, or dice thinly skinned fruits such as tomatoes. Try your serrated knife when serving our Chocolate Swirl Challah Bread.
Of all the knives to have, this one is not a necessity but is nice to have. This small knife is perfect for peeling or doing very small tasks. When shopping for one, look for the same things you would in a chef’s knife. An alternative option is a bird’s beak knife which has a curved blade, which makes peeling and fine work a little easier. Try out your paring knife preparing our Linguini and Clam Sauce.