Having the right tool for the task goes a long way toward making your life a lot easier. When it comes to setting your mise en place of ingredients before cooking a meal, using the correct knife will undoubtedly facilitate food preparation and will give you the results you want. Ask any restaurant chef and they will tell you that knives are probably the most important tool for the kitchen. They carry their own wherever they cook.
Owning a good set of kitchen knives should be at the top of your list if you like to cook & eat well. Although there are many choices available to the home cook, not all knives are created equal. In order to chop, dice, slice & mince with ease, a knife must be razor sharp, have good balance, be solidly constructed and above all else, it must fit in your hand like a glove. When you hold a knife over a cutting board it should feel like an extension of your arm, not at all anything cumbersome or clumsy. Sold in sets or as individual blades, it's important to know what to look for. Any knife purchase will be an investment and one should never compromise on quality. The brand is completely your choice. Some of the most popular are made by Wüsthof, J.A. Henckels, Sabatier, Global & Shun.
Storing them is another issue. There are many options for kitchens these days and it really is up to you and what you think is most suitable for your kitchen. Knife blocks are nice because they hold everything in one place and they sit on your countertop, but they do take up quite a bit of room. There are also drawer blocks made to fit inside a drawer with separate slots for various-sized knives; you must dedicate a drawer for such a block and make sure it fits. If, however, space is at a premium in your kitchen, consider buying a magnetic strip which hangs from a wall. A blade will attach itself very securely and will be out of the way of anyone that shouldn't be handling them. Under no circumstance must you allow your beautiful knives to sit haphazardly in a kitchen drawer amongst other implements where they can bang against one another, because over time they will dull & damage.
My daily food preparation requires sharp knives. I happen to own a set that has helped me prepare thousands of meals over the last years and I would be lost without them. I cherish these knives. I take good care of them, because I want to protect my investment. Do you want to see what I use?
These three knives are the ones I use the most in my kitchen. A large 8" Chef's Knife, a 7" Santoku and a 3" Paring Knife. They're made by Henckel's International and were purchased well over a decade ago. The triple riveted knives are hand forged out of carbon, no-stain steel and are well balanced; they're made to last a lifetime.
Chef's Knives: An essential piece for any home cook. This type of knife will chop just about anything with ease. A good, all-purpose size is an 8" chef's knife. If you prefer a 6" knife it will perform just as well.
Look for a Chef's knife that has a full bolster. That is the piece that divides the actual blade from the handle. This area will be the heaviest part of the knife & if constructed well, it will center the knife's weight perfectly. You don't want a knife that has a heavy handle or a heavy blade. The entire implement should be well-balanced.
A top view shows a smooth handle which makes gripping an effortless & comfortable task. Any reputable housewares store will allow you to handle a knife before purchasing. Hold it in your hand and ask yourself if it's comfortable. Hold it over a display cutting board and imagine yourself using it. Will it hurt your hand or your forearm? If so, choose another one until you find one that feels right.
An overview of the knife shows a full tang. What this means is that the entire knife (the steel part), from blade tip to the end of the handle, is one solid piece. This provides the best balance for any knife. Many lower-quality, less-expensive knives will have stamped handles. A stamped handle encases only a small part of the steel. It will not extend to the end of the handle, thus making for a poorly balance knife.
Santoku Knife: This all-purpose knife, which stands for 3 benefits in Japanese, has a hollowed edge and acts very much like a chef's knife. The three benefits/uses are: fish, meat & vegetables. It's curved blade allows for a rocking motion when slicing or chopping and is much lighter in weight than a Chef's knife. I love this knife. It is perhaps the knife I reach for the most. It comes in several sizes. A 7" blade is perfect for any task. Those hollowed indentations reduce drag when cutting.
Slicing Knife: I use this knife, which has a somewhat straight blade, whenever I need to slice or carve any type of meat. A roast chicken, duck or turkey slices beautifully when you use this knife. It will make perfect, paper thin slices or more heartier ones every single time. If you want to slice a steak to place on a platter, reach for this particular slicing knife.
Serrated Bread Knife: Thick, crusty artisan loaves of bread or lighter-than-air brioche that I love, get sliced with this knife. The razor sharp serrations shouldn't compress or crush your bread. This knife also makes good work of chopping up bars of chocolate. It will break up the biggest chocolates into delicate shards without much effort.
Serrated Utility Knife: This knife is multi-purpose. I use it to slice tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and various other vegetables into thin delicate rounds. It's also great for slicing & splitting up smaller loaves of bread (think ficelles, baguettes & rolls) or for cutting a sandwich in two. If your little ones are fussy about crusts on their sandwiches, reach for this knife & remove them. If I have a piece of cheese I want to slice, this serrated knife will do the job (troublesome mozzarella is no match for this knife).
Paring Knife: Every cook needs to have a small paring knife. It quickly slices garlic, pickles, cornichons or anything diminutive in nature. It can peel a tomato that's just been plunged in boiling water or can trim a number of fruit into those elaborate party presentations that people love to make. Hulling strawberries or seeding spicy, hot peppers can be done with this little helper. No cook should be caught without a paring knife. Be prepared to spend around $50 for a well made paring knife.
Kitchen Shears: Although not technically a knife, a good pair of kitchen shears that are used only for food preparation will see many years of use. You will reach for them when trimming excess butcher's twine after you've trussed that chicken or turkey or if you want to spatchcock the bird itself. Keep them clean and never let these wander out of the kitchen.
I hope you find this information useful and informative. Keep in mind that you don't need to have every single one of these knives, so buy what you need. There are many other specialty knives available to the home cook and many do help out in the kitchen. It's up to your cooking style and budget what you ultimately purchase. Sharpening knives is another issue. Certain stores do provide sharpening knives for people, but many require outsourcing this service (not a good thing in my opinion). In a future post, I will show you how I maintain the sharp edges on my knives. In the meantime, enjoy preparing your next meal!