Growing, up I remember our kitchen knives; a “Feathertouch”, a serrated knife that we used to cut bread and tomatoes, as well as a vegetable peeler and a paring knife. The one that frightened me was the “killer” knife. It had not been used to commit murder, but it had drawn blood. The “killer” had a long thin blade. I watched my teen aged sister cut a cabbage when the knife went past the vegetable and slice into her thumb. She required several stitches. I developed a healthy fear of that knife. It was only years later that I determined a few important points with respect to that mishap. First, the “killer” knife wasn’t very sharp. If it had been, it wouldn’t have cut the way it did. Second, my sister’s knife handling skills were not equal to the task of cutting that cabbage. She had placed her hand in such a way that a potential for getting sliced was inevitable.
This brings me to the main point of this article. A lot of people will claim that they hate to cook, or that they can’t cook. I have a theory that the reason that they hate to cook is that they are using the wrong tools and techniques which makes the whole process much harder and longer. A sharp knife makes food preparation easier and safer. It allows you to use less pressure and to have better control of the knife. A sharp knife will “bite” into whatever you are cutting rather than sliding along its surface and potentially cutting you…in the way that it slid across the cabbage and sliced into my sister’s thumb.
What you’re cutting determines the type of knife to use. Here’s all you need to know about kitchen knives. Which you should have and why?
Let’s start with the parts of a knife.
The Point – is the part of the blade used for piercing
The Tip – includes the point and is the upper quarter of the blade
The Center – is where most of the knife’s work happens
The Heel – is the lower part of the blade used to cut through tough items that involve using weight or force
The Edge – is the entire sharp part of the blade
The Spine – is the unsharpened top of the blade
The Bolster – is the strip of steel between the blade and the handle.
The Handle – is made of wood, metal or synthetic material
Metal Rivets – is used to secure the tang to the handle.
The Tang – is the part of the blade that extends into the handle. In cheap knives the tang doesn’t extend the full length of the handle. Only buy knives with a tang that goes all the way through a handle.
Knife blades are made of different materials. The main metal types are Carbon Steel, Stainless Steel, and High Carbon Stainless Steel. Less common are knife blades made of titanium or ceramic. Each type is listed below with some of their main characteristics.
Carbon Steel – is tough and takes a good edge with little effort. It can discolour when in contact with high acid food such as tomatoes. Wash and dry thoroughly after use as this type of knife will rust if not cared for properly.
Stainless Steel – does not discolour or rust but it is not hard enough to maintain the best edge. Depending on its use, knives made of stainless steel may need to be sharpened more often than knives made of Carbon Steel.
High Carbon Stainless Steel – are tough, able to hold an edge and don’t discolour. Essentially it combines the good qualities of the two knife metal types listed above.
Titanium – knives are molded from titanium and carbides. Knives made of this material are lighter and more wear resistant and hold their edge longer. The blade is more flexible than steel and works best for tasks such as boning and filleting.
Ceramic – are made of zirconium oxide and aluminium oxide. These types of knives are more delicate than steel knives but tend to hold their edge up to 10 times longer. When the blades have dulled they need to be sharpened by a professional.
Selecting knife shapes is next. Generally, you can do just about anything in the kitchen with only a few specific knives. The following is what I would recommend as the “must have” knife types along with a brief description of each.
1) A Paring Knife is used for peeling, and for fine and decorative cuts.
2) Filleting Knife or Boning Knife is used for filleting fish and boning meat.
3) A Chef’s Knife or French Knife is the workhorse of the kitchen. It is used for most cutting work done on fruit, vegetables and at times meat.
4) Serrated Knife is used for slicing, usually bread, tomatoes, pastries, etc.
5) Sharpening Steel – is not a knife but is used on knives to hone the blades and keep the knife blade edges straight in between sharpening.
6) Scalloped Santoku Knife is optional and is used to prevent food from sticking, and, like the French Knife and Utility knife is an all-purpose knife. A Santoku is useful for slicing items such as potatoes, carrots or other food items that tend to stick to a knife’s blade.
7) Utility Knife is optional, but I use it and the French knife for my main cutting tasks.
Knives don’t have to be expensive. I’m sure you noticed that the knives in the above picture are not from a set, or from the same company and not even the same quality of steel. However, each is sharp.
Finally, we come to knife maintenance. There are a few rules to follow in order to maintain your knives so that they stay sharp and can be used for years.
– Wash and dry your knives by hand and immediately put them away.
– They should be stored in a knife rack, block or case.
– Don’t put them loose in a drawer – it will dull the blades and present a potential safety hazard
– Don’t soak knives in water. Put them in water only for as long as it takes to clean them. Rinse, dry and put them away immediately after washing.
– Depending on how much you use your knives will determine how often to sharpen them.
Final words of advice; buy the best that you can afford; keep your knives sharp and get knives that are comfortable for YOU to work with.