EDIT: Thank you everyone who left their comments about working with knives. Congratulations to Suzan Warnes in Queensland for her randomly-drawn winning comment. Thank you everyone.
If you are equipping your kitchen, you don’t need a lot of fancy gadgets, which is why you’ll never see me endorsing a hotdog maker or a fairy floss doo-dah. You do need to spend money on some quality items that will last for years but with an endless array of knives, utensils, saucepans and appliances to choose from it can get very confusing and very expensive – fast.
I have written about this before and come up with a couple of suggestions for basic equipment every kitchen needs and I suggest you make a shopping list if you are equipping your new home. But if you could only afford to buy one decent item at a time, where do you start? My number one suggestion would be a chef’s knife.
From pumpkin to parsley, there’s nothing a chef’s knife can’t cut through and you can with practise cut, dice and julienne food into the tiniest and most evenly sized pieces.
And yet, for what seems like obvious reasons, sensible people steer clear of them, thinking them dangerous objects. Timid cooks prefer small knives which are usually hopelessly unable to do the job required of them and it always ends in disaster. Now, I could regale you with that nastiest of clichés that a blunt knife will cause more damage than a sharp one – and it is not too far from gospel as it happens – but the fact is, ANY sharp knife will maim meaning that you, the user of this knife, will have to get to grips with it. All right, I’ll stop punning now.
First of all if you commit to buying a great knife, know that, with care and regular sharpening, your investment will last you a good twenty years or more. In most domestic kitchens, I would go so far to say that you don’t really need another straight-edged knife as I use mine to peel garlic, finely chop herbs and peel spuds or lemons. It will serve you brilliantly. So, once you make the decision to buy a good knife the question becomes which knife – and which sharpener?
- Most knives come in different sizes and weights. Generally, they have a blade that is 20cm to 28cm in length. I have quite large hands but prefer a smaller knife. The one I’ve used for the last 18 years has a 20cm blade and except for the largest christmas ham, it slices through all sized foods easily.
- There are knives that manufacturers tell you will not need sharpening and if you look closely you will see that they have a very fine serrated edge to them. This means two things – they WILL slowly blunt over the years whatever the blurb says and they will also need specialised sharpening which will cost almost as much as the knife. A chef’s knife will give you better value and longer use.
- Knives can be large and downright heavy in your hands and then become unwieldy. Find a knife that fits comfortably in your hand and feels as if it has some weight to it without being too cumbersome. You need to be aware of the knife as an extension of your hand but not so lightweight that you forget it’s there – that’s when accidents happen. As for the handle, it’s completely up to you about the material it’s made of – wood, steel, bone, it’s all good, but again, go for something that is relatively small and lightweight.
- Once you have a knife you can reasonably use without dropping it or being too scared of it, then you have to figure out how to keep it in great shape. Traditionally sharpening steels have been used but the way you sharpen each knife will vary according to the way it has been cut or forged. Some experts will tell you to hold the knife blade at a 22° angle to the steel – others will advocate 16°. I don’t have a protractor in my kitchen drawer and my eyes glaze over at the thought of correct angles and a suitable grain on a sharpening steel. To avoid embarrassing myself I go to my local butcher who is guaranteed to have the sharpest knives in town and who offers a sharpening service every Wednesday afternoon. Pay the money and get him to do it for you. If he doesn’t provide this service, politely suggest that he might want to add it to his weekly specials.
- It was my son who introduced me to a whetstone, which is a piece of smooth stone that you wet down with water before rubbing the blade over it in the manner of a nail file. It’s very useful and I think gives a better result faster than a knife steel, but again it’s all in the action and can be confusing if you don’t know what you’re doing as my son found out when he made his knife more blunt and had to start again.
- The ideal sharpener is the sort that combines the mechanism of a whetstone with the correct angle required to get the blade sharp. You simply slot the blade into an angled opening and guide the knife backwards and forwards over the whetstone. They are an awesome invention. My father used one for years and I coveted it but I had never seen them sold individually – until now.
- It goes without saying that once you have a knife, it will help your safety if you actually hold it correctly. Grip the knife handle and allow your hand to fold over it so it sits comfortably into the palm of your hand, then fold your forefinger and middle finger over the handle to secure the grip.
- Rather than lifting the knife up and back down in a chopping action, rock the knife backwards and forwards over the onion or herbs you are chopping as if you are rocking a cradle. Once you master this action it’s simply a matter of speeding things up a little until you have a smooth and rhythmic action
- Don’t use your knife to saw across bread or any other food that requires a serrated knife to do the job.
- Don’t put your knife in a dishwasher – Ever. Wash it by hand, dry it immediately, put it away immediately. End of story.
- Don’t let a left-handed person use a knife normally used by a right-handed person and vice versa. If this means you have two knives in the kitchen, so be it. It dulls the blade faster than any other mis-use. (And I apologise to left-handed people everywhere, including my mother, sister and best friend. No offence intended.)
- Store your knife in a knife block or on a magnetic wall strip but NOT in a drawer rattling around with other utensils. It damages the blade and it’s dangerous to you when you’re rooting around for something in a crowded space.
- Use wooden or plastic chopping boards but avoid glass cutting surfaces and glass boards at all costs. They may be easier to clean but they damage the blade and blunt it very quickly. Use any glass boards as a heat protector or trivet instead.
As I mentioned earlier, my 18 year old knife is starting to show signs of permanent wear and Brad at Kitchenware Direct has helped out by generously giving me a new knife to play with and road test. And what a beauty it is.
The Global Cook’s Knife is from an award-winning knife manufacturer. It’s sleek, stylish and oh so sexy. I often ignore the lovely looking knives preferring substance over style but this knife is glorious. It’s very lightweight for female hands but big enough that a man would not feel wimpy using it. It’s got a very well crafted handle and as a cut steel blade is the best of its type in the world. It’s adored by celebrity chefs and hard-working hospitality types everywhere. It has cut though everything I’ve attempted this week with alarming ease from pumpkin to onions (without the tears caused by a blunt knife) to pork belly to ice chips. Yes, it also chopped my finger nail away rather too easily, proving a salient lesson in practising what I preach and curling my fingers away from the blade as I hold the food in place.
Best of all it comes with a fantastic sharpening whetstone of the sort that lets you slot in your blade and run it across the sharpener without the drama of correct angles, ensuring perfect results every time. Too easy. It’s not only the best knife I’ve ever used, it’s likely to be the ONLY knife I ever use again and that’s all before you take into consideration the lifetime warranty and the 30 day guarantee if you’re not entirely happy. And that’s some love.
I love it so much I have a fantastic Global knife and whetstone set to give away to a lucky reader, valued at $199. To be in the running, simply add your comment below about your experience using kitchen knives – the good, the bad, the ugly.
So what are you waiting for? Enter our giveaway to be in the running for the best knife you’ll ever use. Guaranteed.
Competition open to Australian Residents only. Winner will be selected by computer-generated random selector thingy.
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Entries close 7pm Sunday 17th June 2012