FOODIE FRIDAY: GET THE RIGHT KNIVES FOR THE JOB
One cannot talk about cooking endlessly, as I do, without bringing up the subject of knives. A decent knife makes cooking more pleasurable. There, I have said it…good knives are a pleasure. They help you cook more efficiently, it’s not a struggle to cut things, you have more precision, it slides through the food better. I could go on and on…I have also found that using a nice, sharp 10 inch blade to emphasize and punctuate your sentences in a discussion also helps to keep people away from you and out of YOUR SIDE OF THE GALLEY (or kitchen, for you land-lubbers). Does this make me sound like a psycho, knife-wielding maniac?? Sometimes I feel like one. But that is beside the point.
The reason why I think I need to write this very obvious blog post is also because in my travels, staying in various “furnished” apartments, houses, or sometimes even with friends, I have noticed more often than not, that their knives absolutely suck, and it surprises me that they are even able to cut butter with them. If you want to cook for yourself, even if it is only a couple times a week rather than being a take-out king/queen, you STILL owe it to yourself to up your culinary game in this regard. Cooking a single meal with shitty knives is an act of frustration and futility.
However, having good knives, in my opinion, absolutely DOES NOT involve going out and buying one of those $50 to $100 knife blocks which comes with say, 7-10 different blades in it. These are always going to be cheap and crappy knives. Even the “good” brands sell these sets in this price range, and frankly, what they give you is rubbish. Good knives do not cost $50 for three, as an example. Sorry, to say, you get what you pay for.
All you really need in your kitchen are THREE (3) good knives. Three. Everything after that is extra and icing on the cake…I am not the only person who will tell you this. If I am flying in to join a yacht for a temp gig and luggage space is an issue, I bring only 3 with me. I can make-do with those. Those three will do everything that I need. Those three are:
I have more than three knives, but I also cook for a living and have been fortunate enough to have a Father who has been slowly gifting me one blade at a time at Christmas and on my Birthday for quite a number of years. I have a good collection!!!
What are we looking at for cost? Well, that depends on the manufacturer. I recommend if you are going to go and treat yourself, that you should find a store and get the salesperson to let you feel and handle the knives so you have an idea what it feels like in your hand, preferably against a cutting board. I didn’t bring my knives on my current boat because the ones here are decent enough for the job at hand. They are Wusthofs. I have also used Henckels and Globals. A lot of chefs love Globals, and they are pretty sexy, but I find that the shank is too narrow and after several hours of use, that it rubs my forefinger and starts to actually hurt, whereas the Wusthofs and Henckels do not. Personal preference.
As an example, a chef’s knife, 8 inch, is roughly $140, a 10 inch is roughly $170. Paring knife is about $50 and the flexible boning knife will start around $55. So not cheap, but considering the Henckels my parents bought in the early 1980’s are still in daily use…not that bad. I expect that I will be using my knives, most of which are already over 10 years old, for the next 30 to 40 years. When you divide that out, it’s not a hell of a lot of money over the course of a lifetime.
Things to look for:
Tang- the tang of the knife is the piece of the blade that extends back into the handle and connects the blade to the handle. A full-tang knife has a tang that is the size of the handle with the pieces of the handle pinned or bolted to both sides. A full tang gives you nice weight and balance, and is sturdy. A push or encapsulated tang has the handle glued around it and it may not extend all the way through. These are not as likely to last a lifetime. Glue dries. Your knife will fall apart.
High Carbon Steel- A blade made of high carbon steel will resist stains and corrosion. ‘Nuff said. Nobody needs a rusty knife. Yuck. Get your iron by eating red meat, not the rust that falls off a cheap blade into your food.
Caring for your Knives:
DO NOT ever, ever, ever cut on glass, stone or metal surfaces. The thought just makes me cringe. Use a cutting board, please.
HAND WASH with soapy water, a soft sponge. No need to take a scouring pad to the blade, folks. When you wash, do yourself a favor and hold the knife and wash AWAY from yourself from the non-business end, to the business end. Nobody needs a lovely accident in the water. Ugh. Along these lines, don’t ever leave your knife in the bottom of the sink, either. This is how people seriously cut themselves, by reaching into that soapy water and grasping the blade! This is where I start to feel a bit light-headed.
Hone your knife regularly. So buy a honing steel when you buy your knives. This is likely an extra $50, but use of this helps you to re-align the invisible metal “spurs” that occur along the edge of the blade through regular use. If you do not know how to use one of these, ask the people in the store to show you. Or go on YouTube and watch a video because you could potentially mess up the blade by doing this wrong. It is not a big deal, but you do need instruction unless you already know how.
Through proper care and honing, you should only need to get your knife sharpened once or twice a year. You could buy a whetstone and do this yourself, but there is a precise manner and angle to use. I just get it done professionally, it doesn’t cost that much, and it keeps you from f-ing up the angle of the blade yourself.
Store the knives correctly. So this is where that knife block does come in handy. You could also use one of those cool drawer blocks made of wood, or one of those ultra-handy magnetic wall strips, which then keep your SHARP knives out of that mess of a utensil drawer…you know the one…we all have that drawer. It’s a bloody mess, and it’s both dangerous to keep very sharp knives there, and the blades clanging around with all the other crap will dull the edges.
Even if you are a university student, the time to get a good knife is now. Ask for one for Christmas, they are an impressive gift. Tell your folks what your specs are, and trust me, you will reap the benefits for years to come (just don’t let your roommates who don’t understand or respect a good blade use it…there will be tears). I walked into the kitchen once to see a friend of a roommate using my knife to try to CUT THE TOP OFF A GLASS BOTTLE. He bent the blade. I wanted to bury it into his side and almost did. I digress…
There are a lot of kitchen gadgets out there and unnecessary tools. There are also other useful knives, such as a bread knife, or a serrated utility knife. However, these are not essential like the chef, paring and boning knife. If all you can afford is one, then get the chef knife. Start there. Add to your collection as you have cash flow, but seriously, all you need are these three. They will get the job done! And you will enjoy the experience of cooking more when it isn’t a struggle, I promise!!
Fair winds and following seas…