Now that we’ve covered safety in the kitchen, let’s get straight to the next important topic in our cooking school series: Tools, and more specifically, knives.
Simple Bites reader Alissa writes:
One question I have is about choosing the right tools during prep work. I know my default is to select the smallest item (knife, bowl, etc) that will do the job, but it seems the chefs on television are always using huge bowls for tiny tasks, and 8-inch chef knives when I’m pulling out the paring knife.
I’d love to know what they teach about that in cooking school.
Great question, Alissa! Most people don’t realize is that using the correct knife can actually improve your cooking by:
• giving your food the appropriate texture
• accomplishing tasks more efficiently
• respectfully treating the food product
• helping you work in a safer manner
Without question, the knife is the most important tool in the kitchen and choosing the right knife for the job is an important step toward simplifying your cooking.
The wrong knife choice can cause unnecessary bruising, mess and damage to the food product. Just as you wouldn’t use a rake for a delicate garden transplanting task, you shouldn’t use a bread knife to carve a roast.
Also, in choosing a knife that will give you the best control, you will avoid injuries caused by slipping or unnecessary added pressure.
Know Your Knives
A short knife, with a blade between 2-4 inches. Handy for dozens of small, delicate tasks throughout the day such as peeling garlic, trimming mushrooms, and slicing small fruits like strawberries.
A medium-sized all-purpose knife, with a blade generally 6-8 inches long. Ideal for common kitchen functions such as cutting cheese, chopping fruit and vegetables, and slicing fish.
A larger all-purpose knife, with a 8-14 inch blade. Considered the quintessential kitchen knife for general tasks, this knife is useful for making classic cuts such as julienne, dice and fine chop and can be used for fruits, vegetables, meats and fish. Once you are comfortable with a chef knife’s size and weight, it can be used for a wide variety of kitchen tasks from chopping delicate herbs to shredding a head of cabbage.
Most commonly known as a bread knife, the serrated slicer also works best for foods with a tender center, yet a firmer ‘crust’, such as a tomato or a ripe melon. The wavy blade allows controlled cuts that slice through the outer edge with ease and does not crush the interior. Be sure to reach for this knife to cut and serve delicate desserts with flaky pastry or meringue.
This multi-purpose knife of Japanese design is perfect for slicing, dicing and mincing vegetables. Can be used as an alternative to the chef’s knife and is popular for those with small hands or anyone who finds a chef’s knife overly heavy. I love my MAC for thinly slicing fish and for that dreaded task of chopping onions.
A very sharp, thin bladed knife used for trimming fat and carving meat off of bones. Usually 5-7 inches long, the blade may be flexible or rigid.
We’ll look at specific cuts and knife work in a future post, but for now you’re on the right track to choosing the best knife for the job.
Ultimately, you should feel comfortable with the knife you are using, but don’t expect to without sufficient practice. Most of the chefs Alissa refers to in her question above have been using a chef’s knife for a long, long time and are capable of comfortably performing nearly every kitchen task with it in hand.
For the home cook I recommend using each knife for it’s appropriate task and taking the time to practice knife skills.
Now remember, keep those knives sharp!
They are the most important tool in your kitchen, but knives are often misused and mistreated. Do you hold yours in high esteem? What other knife tutorials would be helpful for you?