Thursday, July 29, 2010


A loooooooooooooooong time ago a reader asked me about knives, and so I thought I'd better get around to that subject already!

All of my knife "skills" have been self-taught from watching the pros on TV. I still cut moderately slowly so that I do not lose any digits along the way, and I think you should too if you have any doubts, and especially if you value your fingers.
Which you really should because they are the most useful tools you have in the kitchen.

(Note: I am quite positive that even if I spent all day every day for the next decade doing nothing but prep dicing and mincing in various kitchens, I still would not be able to churn out 5 cloves of garlic sliced paper-thin WITHOUT LOOKING in 30 seconds. Mario Batali and Jamie Oliver have magic skills. I have shaky hands.)

Are those stunning or what? It's like Knife Porn. GORGEOUS!!!
Ok, so we'll start off with a few Knife Brands.
Wusthof - everyone has seen these around, and they are a highly popular brand, very well made, and available everywhere. Classics stay classic for a reason.

Chicago Cutlery - This is probably the most economical knife set you can buy. I've never held one, but they look snazzy, and for a starting-out cook probably a good bet.

Global - Japanese, with a more angled edge than German or American knives, and probably the lightest weight knives I have held. I own these knives and I LUURRVE them. (That's super love for clarification.) Their 100% steel body also means no microbes or bacteria can soak into a wooden handle and fester there. (Ick.)

Shun - These knives are fantastic for intricate work as well as every day work, but they are Big Buck$, which is why I only own a bread knife from them. But it cuts through the crustiest of breads without crushing it or turning my cutting board into a sawdust field. Covet.

Füri - all I know about these is that they make an orange handle for Rachael Ray. But their self-sharpening holder is pretty darned clever.

The bottom line is, take good care of your knives, and they should take good care of you. But if you're registering for your wedding, I'd definitely ask for a higher-end Santoku or Chef's Knife while you've got other people willing to gift them!
Maybe you won't get them from your Ex, but it's worth trying.
Knife Care
  • Every day when you take out your knife to use it, you should give it a few slides on your sharpening steel. This will make the life of the edge of your knife much longer. Here is a handy article on how to properly use one.
  • NEVER leave a dirty knife in the sink (CERTAINLY NOT in a sink full of water!) or on the counter. When you are done using it, wash it with mild dish soap, dry it thoroughly, and put it away safely.
  • Never put away a wet knife. The moisture can get trapped in your knife block and do bad things.
  • Slide knives gently into their knife blocks. No need for unnecessary nicking.
  • Every few months I break out my electric knife sharpener to clean up the edges on the knives I use most, but I get A LOT of use out of my knives on a daily basis. You may not need to have your knives professionally re-sharpened for years.

Not that kind of Knife Practice!

Knife Practice
As I stated before, I will never be able to dice things at lightening speed, but my knife skills have improved with time and practice. Things to remember:
  • Keep your fingertips curled in and your knuckles against the flat of your blade and you should avoid most injuries.
  • DO NOT LOOK AWAY WHILE CHOPPING! If you must check on your pot of boiling water or whatever, cease to cut for those two seconds, then return. This goes for grating things on Microplanes as well. Resist the urge to multi-task. Your fingers and knuckles will thank me later.
  • When chopping or dicing, etc, I always try to keep the point of my blade on the cutting board (or very close to it) and then cut through the vegetable in one smooth motion. Don't saw back and forth. If you have to do that, you haven't followed the above advice on how to take care of your blades. (Or you are slicing a big loaf of bread, in which case it's acceptable.) The straight up-and-down method of chopping seems to be reserved for knife masters like Batali and Oliver. If you're that good also, kudos to you.
  • Cut things the same size whenever possible. The reason for this is not that all chefs and cooks are anal-retentive and need things geometrically pleasing. It is because when an item of food is diced into equal sizes, then those pieces will cook at the same rate. If you cut up a squash and some pieces are 3" square and some are only half an inch square, don't say "It'll all even out in the FoPro when I purée it" because you will most likely end up with a few undercooked bits instead.

Knife Types
There are so many! Cleavers, boning knives, filet knives, vegetable knives, tomato knives, chef's knives, utility knives, serrated knives, grapefruit knives...
So what do you really need in the kitchen? I think you can get along just fine with the following:
1 seven inch Santoku or Chef's Knife, for all your major dicing, slicing, and chopping needs
1 paring knife, for smaller work
1 serrated bread knife (offset or not)
1 cheese knife for soft cheeses like mozzarella (They really do make your life easier.)

Anything more is just gravy, or to be used by your sous chef.

Knife Storage
If you have especially beautiful knives, you can do that magnetic wall-mount system, but in general I prefer a knife block. It protects the blades, it protects clumsy and curious people and animals, and you know right away if something is missing.
Never, EVER, store your knives together in a drawer. The blades will nick each other causing damage, not to mention reaching into a drawer of loose knives is just foolish. 

I hope that answered a few questions! (I always try to answer any sent my way.) Good luck and happy dicing!


Ariana said...

Thank you! We have just been discussing which knives to purchase...

Erin said...

Yay! That's my question! Thank you for your post. I had no idea about not leaving a knife in the sink or in a sink full of water. Also, no clue about why you need to cut food pieces the same size but totally makes sense. I just now took notes. No, really. Thanks so much!

RocknRollGourmet said...

Ariana - Glad to have been timely in my posting for you! Let me know what you decide on.

Erin - I'm sorry it took SO LONG for me to post this, but I'm glad you're still checking the blog and finally got your answers!

Joe Ambrosino said...

A great post, Toots. I use my electric sharpener for honing rather than the steel but only because it's handy. I also recommend a smaller utility knife for slicing tomatoes or boning meat, but great information.

Jennifer said...

Where on earth did you find those gorgeous knives? I no longer work with anyone who really cooks or I'd make someone come look at that picture with me.

Thank you for this post. I keep forgetting that we now have a proper Santoku; I shall have to make something with a lot of chopping tonight.

Should you ever have the time, would you be up for a post on the correct way to sharpen knives? I've never really learned and ought to know how.

Chuck said...

I love your blog! the recipes are great. I have a nice present waiting for you on mine.