Sunday, October 19, 2008

THE BASIC KNIFE SET



I had a reader ask me about knives the other day and I decided that it might be a good idea to go over what knives belong in the kitchen of a serious cook. When I say "serious" I'm not referring to the chef, the amateur chef, the gourmet or anyone as serious as that. I am referring to anyone who is passionate about cooking and who wants to learn how to cook serious food. And when you have that mindset, you need the tools to do the job. Knives are the most basic of kitchen tools.

Below is a paring knife. The term "paring" refers to cleaning and preparing, or reducing in size. When it comes to cooking, this usually refers to fruits and vegetables, right? Yes it does. We clean, peel and cut fruits and vegetables into various shapes and sizes in order to either cook them or to eat them raw. This is when a small knife comes in handy, so a paring knife is definitely an essential knife in the kitchen.




Below is a turning knife. It is also known as a bird's beak paring knife. This is the type of paring knife I prefer personally because I like the action of the curved blade over the action of the straight one on a regular paring knife. And considering that most fruits and vegetables are either round or tubular in shape, the hooked blade works better. Just imagine peeling a small round beet with a straight blade and then imagine doing the same with a curved blade. I think it's obvious which task would be easier.


If you ever plan on cooking fish in your kitchen then a fillet knife will be on the essential list. It is irreplaceable when it comes time to remove the skin from a fish fillet or when you fillet a fish. Its value is in the thin, flexible blade which makes it easier to perform these tasks.


This is a boning knife. A boning knife is used for removing bones from various cuts of meat. A boning knife is larger than a paring knife, shorter than a fillet knife and much smaller than a French knife. The boning knife has a stiff blade with a curved tip which makes it easier to make the tiny cuts necessary to remove the flesh from bone. Imagine removing the rib and wing joints of a bone-in breast of chicken if you wanted to prepare a stuffed, boneless breast of chicken. What kind of knife would you use to get into those tiny nooks and crannys? Well...this is the one.

Here is a bread knife. If you ever buy or make fresh bread you need a bread knife. But a bread knife (otherwise known as a saw knife) has uses other than cutting bread. This knife is valuable for sawing thin slices of bread, cake, pastry and large fruits like melon. Personally I prefer a very long blade and I prefer the cheaper ones to the shorter, more expensive one in this picture.



Now we have the workhorse of the kitchen. This is the French knife. The French knife is a stiff, 10" knife that is used for pretty much all cutting after the paring process in completed. It is used for cutting meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables into all sizes and shapes. Large dice, medium dice, small dice, paysenne, brunoise, julienne; whatever the cut, the French knife is the right tool for the job!

The blade of all French knives are slightly curved as you can see. This allows for the rocking action when a proper slicing motion is employed. The proper motion for cutting with a French knife is that of the drive shafts on an old steam engine. It is a rocking forward and back while lifting and dropping the back of the knife to make your cut. Actually, the tip of the knife doesn't ever have to leave the cutting board to cut properly.

Is a French knife used to chop? You bet it is! Chopping rough cut vegetables as for a stock or chopping down herbs before finely cutting them are jobs for the French knife.

Every kitchen must have a French knife!



The knife above is a good knife because it is made of good steel. That is what you look for in a knife. The steel must be hard and it must hold an edge. The Victoria Knox above is fairly inexpensive and will last the average cook a lifetime. It is comfortable in the hand and the plastic handle is sanitary and dishwasher safe.

You will notice the heel of the blade ends cleanly at the handle. I like this feature in a knife and I will explain this further below.



This knife I prefer to the Victoria Knox above. The brand I am unfamiliar with but the shape of the blade is excellent. It is nicely rounded for proper cutting action and the blade ends cleanly at the handle. Notice where the blade eases into the handle. It is nicely curved at the heel and that gives more comfort to the hand when cutting. The handle is molded nylon and is riveted to the steel tang inside. The "tang" is the part of the blade that forms the handle. A full tang runs the full length of the handle rather than ending part way through. This feature provides strength and balance. Your grandchildren will be using this knife long after you are gone.


This is a Henckle French Knife. We have all seen these. I have one and I hate it. It's a great knife, but I find it heavy and clunky. It has all of the features of the knife above except the shape of the blade isn't as rounded and the blade ends in a big lump at the heel. I personally dislike this feature in the design of the knife. Over time a hollow is formed in the blade from sharpening and the heel must be ground down to take it out. A blade with a hollow will not cut properly as part of the blade does not make contact with the cutting board. That is a tool that cannot do its job.


23 comments:

Anonymous said...

this is the best post on knives, thanks for sharing, I've printed this off too it's a keeper.

Kendra

Mark said...

Glad to have been of service!!

Anonymous said...

Ya, I concur.
Felix

Mark said...

Perhaps I should do more posts on equipment?

Anonymous said...

how bout what are the necessities in the kitchen for a novice and then escalate it by levels i'm somewhere in the middle.
Gabe

Livingston Cooks said...

Okay Gabe...I'll do a post on kitchen equipment and break it down by necessities and wish list items.

Anonymous said...

wow...coool

Anonymous said...

OMG....wicked post

Livingston Cooks said...

Glad to help!

Anonymous said...

way cool

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much just wrote down all the knifes you recommended and bought them.

Livingston Cooks said...

Okay...I have way been on hiatus here. Next post will be on equipment.

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