Sunday, October 28, 2012

Knives: Selection, Care and the Feeding of...

A good knife is one tool universely acknowledged as a kitchen necessity. Also usually acknowledged as one of the expensive tools. One year the best Yule gift I received was a set of Henckels knives. Finally, my very own set of good, will-never-need-to-buy-replacements knives. Grown Up knives. I hugged the box, kept in my lap for hours, then proceeded to spend the rest of the winter making only recipes requiring lots and lots of chopping.

The surprise? Good knives mean more chopping with far less pain for arthritic hands. In hindsight it seems only logical, self evident, without diminishing the wonder of experiencing it after years of making do with cheaper Ginsu-esque knives It also means once you've spent time with a good set of knives there's no going back to lesser knives. At least not without much muttering, grumbling, and snarling imprecations.

More recently I had the pleasure of helping a young friend who enjoys cooking begin assembling his kitchen. After he'd spent months as my kitchen minion...using my knives, and other tools acquired over a couple decades, which created the challenge of how to get him 'the basics' on a budget. Deconstructing this dilema required assessing what he had, what he was cooking & baking most often, and which items he tended to use.

One part is understanding it doesn't take many knives to fulfill most tasks. That ostenatious set of 12, 14 or 30 knives is plain old conspicuous consumption. A good 8" or 10" chef's knife, a 6" utility knife, and a paring knife will more than suffice. When baking cakes & breads, add a bread knife, and a sturdy set of kitchen shears to the must-have list. If budget allows a Santuko is a useful splurge. The wee sharpener is a necessity, dull knives being more dangerous than boiling sugar and more frustrating than a cheap knife...more on caring & feeding knives below.

The solution to owning those good knives without waiting for years or a generous gift is a restaurant supply store. Most likely they won't carry a known brand, or sets with excess pieces. What they will have, without fail, is solid selection of individual cold-forged, full tang knives for far less than the usual retail big box or boutique chains. Why? Because commercial kitchen staff need quality, durable tools to use in the grueling environment of a restaurant. You can buy your perfect chef's knife this knife or a couple at a time as budget allows.
Plus most restaurant supply stores are locally owned, family businesses. They'll be staffed by knowledgeable, friendly adults, not sullen retail drones. Knives will be easily available to handle, feel the balance, the handle shape, how it weighs in hand. I fondled many a knife before I decided long ago exactly which knives I planned to buy once and then use for a lifetime.

As someone with small hands, slight wrists, and not much heft to bear down behind the blade, Henckels and many of the Victorinox work beautifully for me. An 8" chef knife the one I automatically grab. Burly friends with large hands and no lack of forearm or shoulder to quarter turkeys or tame monsterous squashes enjoy using Wustoff and certain Victorinox blades. A 10" chef knife is their default knife.

The discovery of our common ground, Victorinox, arrived thanks to Cresco restaurant supply here in Denver. Professionals with knowledge providing service with quality retail. I tend to sing their praises often. If you live in the West, there are Cresco's in Reno, Fresno, Denver, Santa Maria, and Sacramento.

Another knife tip they imparted: buy 2-4 inexpensive paring knives instead of one full-tang paring knife. It saves time while wrist deep in a recipe with many small ingredients: like ginger, strawberries, peaches and chilis. Since then while cleaning up I've noticed often I used all my paring knives...again.

Unless you have a burning desire to learn the ever so precise technique, skip the honing steel, and buy one of these: 

Victorinox Sharpener
Never ever get an electrical sharpening machine. Having used both the steel and this wee sharpener, I prefer the sharpener for ease of use and just as consistent results. By the time I'm done playing with my food (cooking) I've very little energy left to clean up. Accomplishing that with minimal energy expended isn't optional...pots may soak until the next day, but knives cannot, should not ever wait. 3-5 swipes of the washed & dry blade, followed with a gentle wipe of lintless towel to remove shavings, solves the energy vs proper care dilema.

My wish for you is a good knife or three in your kitchen.

1 comment:

  1. I really like this knives.Thanks for sharing with us great blog.
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