The Basics of Knives
A good knife is worth the investment, but it need not be a big investment: There are now so many good knives sold in so many places that there’s really no excuse for buying junk. Go to a kitchen supply store and look at those with high carbon-steel alloy blades, which is what everyone— from chefs to experienced home cooks—uses now. The handle may be wood or plastic, although plastic handles are somewhat more durable and dishwasher-safe.
A chef ’s knife, essentially an all-purpose blade that you will use daily, should set you back no more than $30 and could be less. Make sure the handle feels good when you hold it; the grip is almost as important as the blade, and only you can judge whether it’s a comfortable fit.
The Three Knives You Must Have
1. Chef ’s knife: An 8-inch blade is what most home cooks like; go to 10 inches if you have especially big
hands and like the feel or 6 inches if your hands are smaller. You’ll use this for almost all kitchen tasks.
2. Paring knife: You can buy expensive paring knives or pretty good ones that are so cheap you can almost consider them disposable. It’s nice to have a couple of slightly varying styles. Use for peeling, trimming, and other precise tasks.
3. Long serrated knife or bread knife: A must for bread and other baked foods, for splitting cakes into layers, for ripe tomatoes, and for large fruits or veg- etables like melons and squash.
Dull knives may slip off the food you’re cutting and onto the closest surface—your finger, for instance. Although you must be extremely careful with sharp knives—casual contact will lead to a real cut—at least they go where you want them to. Respect your knives: Start with good ones, keep them sharp—you’ll know when it’s time to sharpen them—and they will become your friends.
An electric sharpener is the best, easiest, and most expensive way to keep knife blades sharp; even moder- ately serious cooks should consider this a worthwhile investment. The alternatives are to learn to use a whet- stone (not that difficult, and very effective, but time- consuming) or to take them to a hardware store to have them sharpened professionally.
A steel is a handy tool for maintaining the edge of knives between sharpenings. (You should use it every few days, at least.) It’s nothing more than a sturdy rod stuck in a handle, but it takes some practice to get the hang of it; follow the illustrations on the next page, repeating the motions a few times on each side of the blade.
Washing and Storing Knives
Though you can put plastic-handled knives in the dish- washer, it’s easy for them to get nicked there, so it’s better to wash by hand. It’s also a good idea to keep knives out of dish racks and other places where they might hurt someone.
Kitchen drawers are fine for knives if you buy inex- pensive plastic guards to prevent the blades from chip- ping and to protect their edges—and your hands. Wood blocks with slots that sit on the countertop and magnetic racks that hang on the wall or cabinet and suspend your knives from the blades are slightly better.
USING A STEEL