What’s the single most important tool in the kitchen?
A good-quality SHARP knife.
You don’t need a lot of knives. These three will take care of just about every thing you’ll need to chop, slice or dice in the kitchen: A chef’s knife, a serrated knife and a paring knife.
- Chef’s knife: Probably the most important. Use it for chopping, slicing and dicing just about everything. German-made knives are great for tackling the meanest jobs in the kitchen like splitting squash or breaking down a chicken. The handles of these knives have more heft to them. Japanese-made knives are more delicate (think Santoku), so they’re great for ultra-thin slicing… or if you have a small hand.
- Serrated knife: Great for slicing bread, tomatoes and other soft fruit. These knives should be long so you can “saw” without crushing whatever you’re cutting.
- Paring knife: Use it for peeling, paring, deveining and coring. Like a chef’s knife, it’s a great all-purpose knife… only smaller.
Knives should be made of high-carbon stainless steel and be “full tang.” This means that they’re made with one piece of metal that runs the entire length of the knife… from the end of the handle to the tip of the blade, with rivets holding the handle in place.
There are a lot of tutorials on the web on how to sharpen your knives. I use a steel to realign and maintain the edge of the knife in between sharpening by a professional. (A steel is that long, thick steel skewer that has a somewhat abrasive surface… most knife block sets usually include a steel.)
Many chefs sharpen their knives on a clean damp whetstone… or at least they say they do. I know how to do this, but I prefer having them sharpened by a professional because it’s easier and saves time. Judging by the number of chefs I see when I get my knives sharpened, they must think so, too.
Here’s how to keep your knives sharp:
- NEVER put them in the dishwasher. Tell anyone who helps in the kitchen to keep your knives OUT of the dishwasher. Even if the manufacturer says it’s okay, IT’S NOT! You’ll dull the blade and age the handle. Wash them (carefully!) by hand.
- Use a plastic or wooden cutting board. Cutting on stone, glass or metal surfaces will quickly dull your knife.
- After cutting something, use the spine, not the blade, to scrape food off the board.
- NEVER store your knives in a drawer unprotected. Store them in a knife block on top of the counter, in a drawer block or on wall-mounted magnetic strip. A hard-plastic sleeve is okay if storage space is an issue and they have to rest in a drawer.
- If you are using a knife block, store them blade side up so they rest on their spines instead of on the edge (okay… I know this is borderline obsessive, but now you know why I’m high-strung).
Dull knives are dangerous because they catch and drag and slip while you’re cutting. To check and see if your knife is dull, slash through the edge of a sheet of paper. A sharp knife will cut it cleanly… a dull knife will tear it.
One of my pet peeves (and my sister Frances and pal Becki will back me up, having been the victims of my dull-knife lecture) is encountering dull knives in the kitchens of my friends. I’m like the county child-welfare advocates who swoop in and remove at-risk children. Except I remove risky knives and take them in to my guy for sharpening.
That’s Mama for you… saving cut fingers, one knife at a time.