Tools of the trade: Knives!

Here we go….Day 1 of the 31 Day Challenge!

Here we go….Day 1 of the 31 Day Challenge!

Mercer knife kit

Mercer knife kit

Cooking, whether at home or as a professional, requires a few basic tools.  As with most things, if you don't have the right equipment and you use some sort of substitute, or you have a cheap flimsy version, your task will be harder and probably not turn out as well.  I remember clearly when I decided to hammer a stake into my garden with my gardening sheers as I was too lazy to go get a hammer.  As luck would have it, the sheers slipped out of my hand and I cut a nice big gash into the top of my foot!

Knives are the most essential tool in cooking.  A good knife makes cooking easier and with proper care will last a lifetime.  Many stores carry knives, often in sets that can have as many as 18 knives and vary from $30 a set to $400. Some individual knives are $100.  How are you supposed to know what to get?

I'm here to tell you that you don't need to buy a huge set.  The picture at the start of this post is the set that each student buys for use at the Natural Epicurean.  Yep, that's it, THREE knives.  

The key to knives is to buy a good quality knife that will fit your hand as well as be appropriate for the intended use.  If you are going to butcher meat or filet a fish you need a different knife than cleaning a radish. 

Parts of a knife

Parts of a knife

The blade of a knife can be made of three materials:  carbon-steel, stainless steel, and high-carbon stainless steel.  The most common is high-carbon stainless steel and is the material of choice.  Carbon steel blades will take an edge the best but they lose their sharpness quickly. They will also discolor when they come in contact with acidic foods, and the metal is brittle and may break.  Stainless steel is stronger and will not discolor or rust.  They are harder to sharpen but they stay sharp longer.  High-carbon stainless steel combines the best of both worlds:  they are easy to sharpen and keep their edge well. The best knives have a blade made from a single sheet of metal and tapers smoothly from the spine to the edge.  Our kit is high-carbon stainless steel, although the set I have had at home for 20 years is carbon steel and they have served me well. 

Types of knives

Types of knives

The basic knife that is the workhorse of the kitchen is the chef's knife also called a French knife or a kitchen knife.  The blade can be 8 to 12 inches long.  Our kit has an 8 inch blade.  The second big knife in our kit is a fluted edge santoku, also 8 inches.  I like this one the best.  The fluted edge helps keep food from sticking. Both are all purpose knives, used for a variety of chopping, mincing, and slicing. Our last knife is a 3 inch paring knife which is used for paring and trimming vegetables and fruits.  Although not in our kit we will also use the serrated slicer (bread knife) which is great for bread, fruits, and even smoked salmon.  The rest of the kit is a thermometer, a peeler, and a microplane which is used for zesting fruit or grating ginger, nutmeg, etc. 

You need to keep your knives clean, dry and sharp.  To sharpen, use a stone, a knife sharpener, or take to a professional.  The you tube video below shows you how to do it!  

Lastly, there are a few rules when handling knives:  

  1. Treat them with respect.  They can be damaged and can cut you when mishandled.
  2. Keep them sharp.  They will perform better, but is also safer as less effort is required to cut food. 
  3. Keep them clean.  Clean the handle as well as the blade so as not to cross contaminate food. 
  4. Be careful!  Pass a knife by laying it down on the work surface.  Never leave part of the knife hanging over the edge of the counter.  NEVER try to catch a falling knife! 
  5. Cut on appropriate surfaces.  Glass, marble and metal will dull and damage your knife. 
  6. Store them properly.  Use a knife block, a magnetic strip or keep them in a kit. 

So that's day one!  Happy cutting.  Lastly here is a picture of my kit with my trusty helper!

So I am starting to lose patience, but my comments are STILL broken.  Squarespace tells me their engineers are working on it, whatever that means.  I definitely hope it will be fixed soon. In the meantime I would still love to hear from you.  You can find me on facebook here, talk to me there!