Kitchen Knives: Your Most Important Cookware Tool
In the last post I talked about the bare minimum kitchenware you will need to easily prepare and cook your meals.
Having the right tools is essential if you cook often, or if you cook all of your meals in bulk for the week. I strongly recommend bulk cooking once per week to free up more time to do other things.
If you work a traditional 9-5 job (or 8-6 or longer for many people), when you come home after a long day of work would you rather,
- Spend 30-60 minutes preparing and cooking dinner (and maybe even having to shop beforehand), or;
- Prepare you meal on a plate to re-heat in less than 5-minutes from food that’s pre-cooked and ready to eat in your fridge?
Did you pick #2? I think most people would.
So let’s dive into part 2 of my kitchenware series:
Your Most Important Kitchen Tool
A set of quality kitchen knives are the most important tools you will need for effective and easy meal preparation.
You can make do with knives of lesser quality, however, if you are cooking on a regular basis you will come to appreciate a high-quality knife for its sharpness and weight-balance.
The cheaper the knife the sooner it will dull – it’s actually easier to cut yourself from a dull knife, because it can slip off of a surface, like a tomato, and into your hand. Ouch! Even if you have beginner knife skills, you are less likely to cut yourself with a professional grade, sharp knife.
Think of it this way: a carpenter or a mechanic need quality tools to do good work. The same applies to a chef or anyone who wants to enjoy the cooking process. Quality knives help make food preparation easier and they will last for many years.
The king of knives is the chef’s knife. I have a 10″ chef’s blade that I bought when I attended cooking school in 1986. It has served me well for over 25 years.
It’s well-balanced and easy to rock it when chopping (with one hand on the handle and the other palm across the top of the blade, you rock the blade like a seesaw to chop or slice).
When I use my Chef’s knife to slice thinly (e.g. finely diced onion) I have complete control of the blade. Both the weight of the knife (a heavier knife is easier to use for lots of chopping) and the sharpness of the blade means I won’t slip, meaning it slices easily into whatever food I’m preparing.
Recommended Kitchen Knives
If you want a complete set of kitchen knives this what I recommend:
- A chef’s knife (8-10″ blade length). This is my kitchen workhorse – I use this knife for almost everything.
- A paring knife to cut tomatoes, fruit, slicing smaller vegetables like radishes and sometimes for peeling.
- A serrated knife for cutting breads or for making a careful cut into something fragile like a tomato (if you want a very thin slice for presentation) or a cake.
- A sharpening steel (to keep your knife’s edge and sharpness)
- Optional: a boning or filet knife (also works well to peel a pineapple)
- A 6-inch straight meat fork for holding a roast when carving.
Make the investment in quality kitchen knives. Visit a decent department or kitchen store that stocks several varieties and hold them in your hand.
Start with a chef’s knife. This is the largest blade you will have and it’s used for cutting, slicing, and chopping in large quantities (e.g. carrots, salad, onions, and meat), and/or food that is harder to break down, like nuts or cutting a squash in half.
The grip should be comfortable and it should sit nicely in your hand. If not, try another brand or size. Use it on a cutting board and ‘pretend’ to chop and slice. When chopping it should rock nicely, almost like a seesaw – this helps with the rhythm of the cutting movement.
Pay attention to the weight of the blade. A heavier knife is best for larger and harder food items.
Here’s an example using a chef’s knife to break down a whole chicken. This would be really difficult with a small, dull, or light-weight knife.
If quality kitchen knives are not in your budget (you can spend hundreds of dollars for a basic set to well over thousands) go to an outlet mall and look in the kitchen stores – in Canada at Home Sense or Winners, and TJ Maxx in the USA. I have found some great deals in these stores. Note that you can sometimes find a good knife set that will often cost less as a set than buying them individually.
Shopping online at my Kitchen & Cookware Supplies Store is a great way to find everything in one place.
You can make do with a decent chef’s knife that doesn’t cost a lot of money if you are just starting out. If you are cooking often then I’d recommend buying at least a quality chef’s knife in the $100-$200 range. You will not regret this purchase and the better the quality, the longer the life (remember I said I’ve had my chef’s knife for over 25 years!).
Safe & Proper Knife Storage
Always wash your kitchen knives immediately after use, by hand, with soap and water – not in the dishwasher (they could move around and get damaged). Food residue, especially acids from citrus, and even garlic, will wear down the sharpness of your kitchen knives, which is why you need to wash them right after use.
Dry immediately and store in a wooden knife block, blade-side up (blade-side down cuts the block and dulls the knife).
A wooden block is the safest place for sharp knives, whereas the cutlery drawer is a great place to cut your hand when you accidentally grab the blade. Yikes!
Quality Cutting Boards
I suggest owning at least one, but preferably two cutting boards (one large and one small). If you’ve invested in quality knives you will need a durable surface (other than your counter) to cut meat, vegetables and more. One of the most versatile and easy to clean cutting boards I’ve used is the Epicurean Kitchen Cutting board.
Another nice-to-have option is a large and heavy wooden board to use with your chef’s knife. When you’re cutting lots of veggies, cutting a squash in half, cutting off fat from a large piece of meat, or de-boning a chicken, you will soon find out why you need both a large surface area and a heavy board that doesn’t move across the counter.
Safe Cutting Tip
Rest your cutting board on a moist dish cloth spread out on the counter to secure the board from sliding around.
A small cutting board is fantastic for cutting a couple of tomatoes or lemons when you don’t want to use the big cutting board.
Cook less – eat healthy – be well