Three Essential Knives and How to Care for Them: All Purpose Knives That Perform in Food Preparation
Many cooks have a variety of knives, but find themselves reaching for the same two or three favorites over and over. Although there are many knives that serve individual purposes, a well-made paring knife, chef’s knife, and serrated knife will perform most cutting chores, a benefit to those who are limited in finances and/or storage.
The Three Essential Knives
When selecting knives, it is best to look for high-carbon stainless steel. The knife should have a full tang, which means that the blade steel runs into the handle and the knife should feel balanced when held.
A Paring Knife
- A paring knife has a 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 inch blade and is used as an extension of the hand for delicate and precise tasks such as peeling, slicing small foods, and scoring. It’s easy to control and does not necessarily need to be used against a cutting board. Think of using a paring knife for peeling apples, slicing strawberries, or cutting shapes of dough.
A Chef`s Knife
- A chef’s knife is the all-purpose heavy knife in the kitchen. The blade is between six and twelve inches and broader and heavier than the paring knife. It is curved to facilitate a rocking motion against the cutting board for easy cutting. It’s used for slicing, chopping and dicing.
A Serrated Knife
- The serrated knife is sold in a number of lengths. It has a scalloped edge which makes it ideal for cutting into surfaces with hard outsides and soft insides. the longer serrated knife is typically for cutting bread, while a shorter serrated knife might be used for cutting tomatoes.
A good cook will want to know how to sharpen his or her own knives. Sharp knives are easier and safer to use.
To keep knives in good repair they should be sharpened with a whetstone every two to three months. This can be done by a professional knife sharpener, or someone who is adept at using this abrasive tool.
A sharpening or honing steel should ideally be used every time the knife is used. Practice using the steel to remove nicks and keep the blade smooth. Rest the steel on the countertop. Place the widest part of the blade against the steel at a 20 degree angle. Draw the blade across the steel in a sweeping motion five or six times, working in one direction only. Turn the knife over and do the same on the other side.
Caring for Knives
Good quality knives will last for a long time if they are well cared for.
Always use knives on a cutting board of wood or plastic which are made for that purpose. Hard services such as granite, glass or ceramic will quickly damage the knife blade.
After each use, wipe the blade with a soft cloth and cleaning detergent. Rinse the knife in hot water, dry and store. Knives should never be run in the dish washer. When hand washing a variety of kitchen utensils, separate the knives. Don’t immerse the knives in a sink of sudsy water with other things. Being knocked against other utensils will dull the blade, and could potentially cut the dishwasher.
Professional chefs often store their knives in a knife case, but even the amateur cook’s knives should be stored in a wooden block, on a magnetic strip, or in a sleeve made for knife storage. Wooden blocks have slits to fit a variety of knife sizes. Because the slits are difficult to clean, always be sure that the stored knife is clean and dry before inserting it into the wooden block. Magnetic strips can be mounted on a wall or placed in a drawer. The knives adhere to the strip and are prevented from knocking against each other or something else that will dull or damage the blade. Rigid plastic sleeves are sold to protect knives that are stored with a multitude of kitchen utensils. They also help protect the knives and owner when the knives are transported. These can be made with a piece of cardboard if the plastic sleeves are not readily available.