Knowing Your Knives

World reknowned chef Jacques Pépin was recently interviewed on our local NPR station. A caller asked Pépin what his favorite knife was and he said “a sharp one.” When I heard Pepin say that, I nearly dropped my own knife. This is what I tell my students all the time! Your knife does not need to be expensive but it has to be sharp.

This article will give you the knife basics you need to be successful in the kitchen.

Knife Care
A good knife should be sharp, and fit in your hand comfortably. There are high-end knives and cheap knives in abundance. My favorite budget knife is the 8-inch chef’s knife by Victorinox. For professional knives, I love the Santoku Mighty by MAC.

A sharp knife will make your time in the kitchen much more enjoyable. You should have your knives sharpened twice a year by professionals. They will sharpen and redefine the blade – removing any micro tears or nicks so the blade cuts absolutely clean. To find cheap options, try Googling “knife sharpening” and your city name; that should bring you a comprehensive list.

Once a week, you should draw your knife through a sharpener at home to hone it. I use the Fiskars Knife Sharpener, it’s only $10.

Plenty of people haul out wet-stones and heavy equipment and spend over an hour sharpening their own blades. I do not recommend this. It is a pain and takes too much time. Plus, it requires some know-how to get your blade redefined to a proper angle. Instead, have your blade sharpened by professional 2 times per year and once a week hone it by running it through a simple home sharpener.

Food preparation is much easier when you do not have a dull blade. If you are able to chop, dice and mince faster, you will spend less time in the kitchen. Not only will a dull knife make your cutting a hassle, it is also more dangerous. A dull knife will slide off the food and bite into your finger. A sharp knife will ensure that your food has clean lines, and doesn’t look – and taste – as if it was ripped apart by a pack of tigers.

Knife Skills
Once you are set with a sharp knife, you may want to brush up on your knife skills. Practicing good knife skills will ensure that you are being efficient and safe with your sharp knife. Start off slowly with a new technique until you are comfortable enough to begin speeding up.

Here are my favorite videos that teach knife skills:

Video ONE
Video TWO
Video THREE

Many people make food preparation harder on themselves by using a small knife. An 8-inch chef’s knife is what you should be using 80% of the time. A chef’s knife is the most versatile. Paring knives and serrated knives have specific, limited roles. Beyond these three – the chef’s knife, the paring knife and the serrated knife, I don’t use other knives. They are a waste of money and space in my kitchen drawers.

Jacques Pépin says that the tastiest food is simply prepared with high quality ingredients. I completely agree. Simple, raw foods are often the tastiest. A good knife – and great knife skills – will allow your simple ingredients to take center stage.

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