The first cooking course I ever took was Techniques of Cooking I (since renamed Fine Cooking 1) at the Institute of Culinary Education. Every Monday I would duck out of work a little early and head to 23rd Street to spend the next 5 hours cooking. During the first session, we were instructed that in order to get the most out of the course we would have to purchase and subsequently bring our own knife to class. In future weeks I would sit quietly on the subway looking around at all my fellow passengers wondering what they might have in their bags considering I had an 8-inch knife in mine.
Anyone who has watched any cooking show knows that a chef values his knives among his most prized possessions. And my culinary instructor was not wrong in saying that a good knife is paramount to good cooking. Chosen well, a knife should be the extension of your hand and good knife skills, much like parallel parking, are a life skill worth learning. But it’s the choosing that is confounding. So many brands, so many styles. So here are a few basic guidelines to help you choose your knife and its friends:
- Bring some vegetables. Any cookshop worth its salt will allow you test out the goods before you buy.
- Hold the knife in your hand for a good long while. The knife should be as comfortable as a pencil
- Longer is not necessarily better, although cost can be a good indicator
- Choose a knife that suits how you will use it. Do you rock your knife back and forth or do you chop it up and down? There are knives for both and they are different.
I selected my knife at the Broadway Panhandler after about 30 minutes and 6 carrots. I went in thinking I was going to roll out with a swanky Japanese number and ended up with a classic German workhorse. Since then I have filled out my collection but I spent no less than 10 years with one knife and I managed just fine. Here is what I believe the skeleton crew of your knife collection should include:
- Chef’s knife: This knife should be your first knife around which your collection should grow. If you are a two-adult family then I recommend you have two so that you minimize fights.
- Kitchen Shears: Extremely useful utility player. Should be strong enough to remove the backbone from a chicken but also nimble enough to trim chives.
- Bread knife: Really worth it and does a great job on tomatoes too.
- Paring knife: Good for more intricate work that seems unwieldy with a chef’s knife but also good for helpful guests who are scared of a chef’s knife.
- Honing steel: The key to good knives is keeping them sharp. Try to swipe them back and forth over the steel about every other use.
With the proper care your knives should live long and fruitful lives. Just remember:
- Never put them in the dishwasher
- Hone them regularly: Hold your knife in your cutting hand and the steel in the other. Run the blade of your knife from hilt to tip at roughly a 45° angle down one side and then the other. Do this around 10 times. The more you do it the more comfortable you will become.
- Have them professionally sharpened once a year
Knife block look empty? Want more suggestions to fill out your collection? Just Ask Annie.