Ok, I’m gonna stop fangirling over One Direction long enough to write a post.
Or not. Seriously, though…why did we have to suffer through N’Sync and Backstreet Boys and *shudder* 98 Degrees when I was a teenager (and the appropriate age to be enjoying this type of music)? These guys dress like Newsies crossed with A Clockwork Orange and have accents. I feel creepy, they’re like 18. ENOUGH.
Back to food. Today, I shall discuss knives. Ahead of pots and pans, gadgets, dishes, even the food, a good knife is THE number one essential cooking item you need to have. Regardless of how many you have, they all need to be sharp, sharp, sharp. Contrary to what it seems like, a dull knife is miles and miles more dangerous than a sharp knife. A very telling scar on my wrist from an ill-advised chicken chopping incident during my NYC years is proof. If you need your knives sharpened, find a reputable place in your town to do them or invest in an electric sharpener. If you live in Houston, bring them to me at work and I will sharpen them for you 😀
NOT A SHARPENING DEVICE. This is a honing steel. What it does is even out any slight imperfections in the straightness of your knife’s blade. As you chop or cut, the knife blade moves slightly and gets off center. Swiping your knife on both sides at a 45 degree angle AWAY from your body will indeed help preserve the longevity of your knife and give the illusion that it is sharper, but once it gets really dull, you need something like this:
The left is awhetstone. I will post a video on how to use one soon. It’s old school, and very effective. The right is an electric knife sharpener, which I guess I will ALSO post a video on. Both good choices for home sharpening.
For my next trick, I will detail what all the different knives are for. It’s important to use the right knife for the right task. First let’s go over the multi-purpose knives. I’m not gonna go over all the wacky new knives that they are coming out with – it would take me 3 months to write this post. Just the basics.
CHEF’S OR COOK’S KNIFE
Chef’s knives are multi-functional knives that are marked by (usually) an 8-10 inch blade that is straight across the top and curves along the bottom of the blade to meet at a point on the tip. This is the first type of knive you need to have, unless you prefer a Santoku, which I will talk about. You can do anything from chopping to mincing to dicing to fabricating a chicken with one of these bad boys. When you’re shopping for a knife, go somewhere that lets you take them for a test drive first. Trust me. You want to feel it in your hand before you make a decision. Before I knew anything about anything, I used to lust after the really high end Shun knives, which I still think are gorgeous. Unfortunately, I have baby hands AND am a lefty, so for me, the less bling on the handle the better. Those Shun knives are better for large-handed individuals. Knives also have different weights, depending on a number of factors: is the blade polypropylene or resin injected wood? How many layers of metal is the blade? Is it a full tang or partial? Is it stamped or forged? Ask before you buy. For the record: full tang means the metal of the blade runs all the way to the end of the handle. Stamped means that the blade has been literally stamped from a big piece of metal, while forged knives are many different layers pressed together and formed by hand. I usually prefer full tang forged knives.
This is the one I have (Wusthof Classic 7″ Santoku Hollow Ground.) Santoku knives are originally of Asian descent, but a lot of the Western knife companies have made them now as well, like Wusthof. As a result, the blade has gotten slightly wider and there are a wider variety of blade lengths as well. Usually you see Santokus in the 5 to 7 inch range. This knife is typically used to do the same things as a chef knife, but in a different fashion. With a traditional chef knife, your motion tends to be more of a rocking movement because of the curved blade. With a Santoku, however, you tend to lift from the heel of the blade and do more of a chop chop movement. Traditional Santokus can be a bit thinner than a chef knife, especially on the edge, so they aren’t as well suited for tasks like cutting up a chicken. They do hold their blades exceptionally well. The grooves cut into a hollow ground blade like the one pictured are intended to aid in vegetable chopping; the idea is that since there is less suction holding large veggies like potatoes to the blade, they will fall off more easily as you are cutting them up. It works about 20% of the time.
Pretty colors! This is a group of Kuhn Rikon paring knives, which come in lots of different shapes and colors. They are sort of disposable, since it’s really hard to sharpen colored blades, but at around $10-$12 a pop, why not. You can also get paring knives to match your fancier knives. Anyway, these are mostly used for smaller, detailed work but are also great for peeling oranges and other citrus, tourneeing potatoes (who’s really gonna do that, though), cutting the cheese (hee!) and deveining shrimp (ugh.) One specialty knife I do believe is knice (typo but I’m leaving it) to have is one with a serrated blade. These are great for cutting tomatoes or other soft skinned fruits and veggies, and allow you the reigned-in comfort of doing so with a smaller blade than your chef knife.
Listen. There is a girl on youtube doing videos about cooking, and she is seriously using a bread knife for all of her chopping, etc. Don’t do that. If you find the chick I’m talking about, ignore her. That’s not smart. A, bread knives tend to be bendier and much longer than chef’s knives, and B, they aren’t necessarily as sharp all the time (they cut better when a bit dull than regular blades.) They are serrated to ease in cutting through a breads crust and almost act as a saw to get through the many textures that bread can have. The teeth of the serrated blade cut through bread and cake without squishing it down at the cut as well.
Boning knifes have a thinner blade than any of the other ones, making it flexible. It’s great for boning a fish, chicken, or turkey. Heavier-boned meats like pork or beef (which, lbr, when are you gonna be boning a full on pig? MOST OF YOU won’t) require a heavier blade. They are usually about 5-6 inches in length. That arch near the bolster, as seen in the knife pictured, is specifically for cutting fish: it helps get the skin off in one fell swoop. This is one of those knives that’s not super essential unless you are really into prepping your own meats and fish. I find that a lot of beginner cooks and home cooks of even the highest caliber tend to get sort of squeamish about doing things like fabricating a chicken. It took me a long time to get used to it because of my left-handedness. Everything is backwards! Curses.
Last but not least, the humble carving knife (and fork!) These tend to be 8-10 inches in length, and boast a slimmer blade than a chef knife but essentially the same sort of shape. They are thinner because it helps give a more precise, even cut when slicing meats. Good tip to keep in mind, and you probably already know this: always let your meat rest for about 5 minutes before slicing it. It will continue to cook for about that long after you remove it from the oven (a phenomenon known as carryover cooking) and if you tent it with foil it will stay warm without sweating. The idea behind letting meat rest is that it will maintain more of its juiciness if it sits for a bit. Also, you want to slice ACROSS the grain. This way you get one big piece of meat rather than meat that sort of falls apart as you cut it. This is more important in some cuts of meat than others (a flank steak is…grainier?…than a filet.)
So there you have it! My primer on the most important knives to have in your collection. Hope it helps! Don’t cut yourself.
Oh yeah, this one is my favorite:
He’s cooking! WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME???????