Monday, March 21, 2005

Kitchen Facts and fiction about knives

Occasionally I will go out on a limb and underscore some of the kitchen facts and fiction floating around out there. At the top of my alltime kitchen facts and fiction is: Knives. Is there a more controversial subject in the kitchen? Well of course there is, but we'll start here anyway.

Retailers have convinced the buying public that you MUST have an expensive set of knives in order to be a successful chef, cook, homemaker, or occasional griller. If you go to the usual suspects, any one of many, Williams Sonoma, Crate and Barrel, Target, Robinsons May, Dillards, etc etc etc., you'll find a gorgeous array of blades. Sometimes cruising through channels on TV will also get you thinking I really need that boning knife! I won't even mention the internet. There are Henkels, Wusthofs, Philipe Richard, Calphalon, Cuisinart, Farberware...on and on. So what do you do? I'd love to say just listen to me, however, there are better people to confirm this myth than me. Ask a chef. They'll tell you what I will say here, but with even more authority.

What most people need are three basic knives. A good chef's knife, a serrated knife (8 inch) and a good paring knife. When I say good I don't necessarily mean expensive. You can spend as little as $15 on a good knife. Then when it gives up the ghost in a couple of years, you won't cry when you replace it.

Chef's knife: 8 - 10 inch blade. Use whichever length works for you, there is nothing worse than a knife too big for the user. So if an eight inch knife does the job well, while wrestling with a larger knife is awkward, go with the smaller one. Chef's knives are for chopping vegetables, cutting up meat, smashing garlic, if that's your method, and dicing vegetables.

Your serrated knife will be your best friend when you need to slice something. It will cut cleanly without crushing the most delicate of fillings. DO NOT use it for chopping anything, it will not cooperate with you, it knows what it does best. It loves tomatoes, citrus, pies, cakes, cooked meats, and the occasional meringue.

Paring knife: a 3.5 to 5 inch knife will be used for intricate work as well as peeling. Use it with all types of food stuffs. Your paring knife will cut through the softest of fruit without bruising it and will slice apples for pie in no time. It's great for mincing herbs, garlic and shallots. It also will double as a corer for strawberries and tomatoes.

The most important thing to look for when purchasing your knives, is that it is "fully forged". This means that the blade, the bolster (the part where it becomes one with the handle), and the tang (the handle) are forged from a single piece of steel. You really want to see that the steel runs through the handle. There is nothing worse than having the bolster and blade loosen from the handle and have a wobbly knife. Knives should also be balanced well. This means that the blade should be no heavier than the handle or vice versa. A good way to check this is to put the knife at the bolster, on a strong finger, it should balance equally there without a wobble in either direction.

I currently own 2 chef's knifes and I am in the market for at least two more. Paring knives - 4 currently. And one serrated edge knife. All the other stuff is just fluff and clogs up usable drawer space.