Kitchen knives guide: Sharpen your culinary skills
Cooking is IN right now. With the sheer quantity of cooking shows being aired on umpteen TV channels from Hell’s Kitchen to Masterchef, it’s hard to avoid the growing trend. Let’s face it – we all want to be Domestic Gods or Goddesses like Nigella Lawson; but how to do this without wasting too much precious time?
We can’t all be Jamie Olivers, but you have to start somewhere. Being an amateur chef should only be more of an incentive to test out those new recipes and sharpen up those culinary skills! Still struggling? First things first: you need the right kitchen utensils. And what better way to start than getting a good quality set of kitchen knives? A fantastic investment for any chef; however professional or amateur you might be. There’s a huge choice and difference in what’s on offer, taking into consideration both quality and price. Take a look at the shopping guide below for information on which kitchen knives you can’t live without and elements you should be looking for when you’re considering a new purchase!
1. Kitchen knives selection criteria
The most important aspect of a knife is the blade and making sure it’s in tip-top condition. Blunt knives are considered more dangerous than sharp ones because they require more pressure to cut, thus more prone to slipping out of your hand. This principle also applies: the longer the blade, the faster and easier it is to guide the knife, which ultimately allows for greater consistency in chopping food. Make sure the knife also fits comfortably in your hand and that it’s not too heavy.
It’s true that when it comes to knives, quality comes with a price tag. It’s better to invest a little more money on a few good quality knives than to stack up on poor quality ones. You should be aiming to spend at least £30 on a knife. Traditional brands like Henckels, Wusthof, Messermeister and Shun are known for their high quality around the world.
Knife blade material
Not all knife blades are made from the same material and therefore differ in quality.
-Stainless steel is the most common material used to make knives, however because it has a low carbon content, these knives require regular sharpening.
-Carbon steel knives have a higher carbon make-up and are therefore easier to keep sharp.
-Ceramic knives are very lightweight yet have very strong blades. They can retain their sharp edge longer than stainless steel or carbon steel knives.
-Damascus knives have a carbon steel core surrounded by layers of hard and soft stainless alloys. With a proper sharpening device, they can be made razor sharp!
-Titanium knives are like the Rolls Royce of the kitchen. They have a high strength-weight ratio and are combined with other materials such as silver, ceramic or even diamond for that sharp edge. The main advantage is that they are very light and durable.
Knife blade formation
Knives are either stamped or forged. The first option consists of a machine using a cookie-cutter style template to stamp the shape out of a large piece of metal. This option is less dense than forged knives, yet they are also much cheaper.
Forger knives have been through a repetitive process of heating, folding and cooling. They are dense, have a good balance and excellent edge retention. Of course, this process comes with a higher price tag
Full tang or half tang knives?
You may see these terms when searching for kitchen knives. Full tang means that the metal in the knife runs from the tip of the blade to the bottom of the handle. A plastic or wooden handle may then be forged around the metal core. Because the metal is made from one solid piece, full tang knives are much stronger and have better balance.
Half tang knives do not have this metal core, so it is almost as if the handle has been glued onto the blade. Because of this, they are more likely to snap over time but they are much cheaper upon purchase.
2. The different types of kitchen knife
When you’re thinking about investing in some new kitchen knives, it’s important to take a closer look at their specific uses.
To start off with, an all-purpose utility knife will do the trick in every kitchen. It can be used for a range of foods and therefore great for a beginner’s knife. For peeling, cutting and trimming, vegetable knives are ideal because they’re compact with a short blade. Their small size and lightness means they’re great for precision and delicacy. Next, a proper chef’s knife will be more suitable for bigger chopping tasks like dicing and mincing large cuts of meat and they are indispensable in every household.
A small cleaver knife is useful for chopping herbs with its rounded blade and can be useful for crushing garlic too. It resembles a rectangular-bladed hatchet and also comes in a larger version which is largely used as a butcher’s knife for hacking through bone.
Also useful for those Sunday Roast dinners is a carving knife. Due to its long, narrow blade, it is ideal for cutting meats in thin slices such as ham and full roasted poultry. Bread knives are another kitchen-must and differ from the others because of the serrated edge which allows clean and fast cutting of bread. Connoisseurs of fine cheese should be interested in purchasing a cheese knife. The common cheese knife specialises in cutting soft cheeses, and tends to be serrated with holes in it to prevent sticking. Hard cheeses like parmesan are best grated or cut using a cheese slicer.
3.Kitchen knife accessories
To get the most out of your knives, you should avoid carelessly stowing them away in a drawer with your other kitchen accessories. Knife blocks are a practical and safe solution to keep your kitchen knives in the same place and to protect the blade. Magnetic wall mounts are also a good alternative to placing them in a drawer, especially if your work space is limited and you like to have all the kitchen knives visible in front of you.
Also important is a proper chopping board. Sturdy wooden chopping boards have proven to be successful for years, given that they are robust enough to withstand working in the kitchen, but soft enough to protect the knife blades. They are also easy to clean, easy to store and are available in various sizes. Also remember to sharpen your knives regularly. A grinding stone or an electronic knife sharpener is certainly a kitchen necessity!
Sharpening kitchen knives
Keeping your knife sharp is important because a sharp knife is a safe knife. There are several tools available, but be aware that some are used to sharpen a knife, while others are used during the upkeep of a knife.
Sharpening stones or whetstones: This is the most traditional way of sharpening a knife. It is a stone that is around 1 inch thick and made out of ceramic, diamond or natural sharpening stone. A main advantage is that they can remove a lot of dull material and can be used on other tools such as scissors.
Sharpening steel: Used only on knife blades, sharpening steels are made out of either steel or ceramic to maintain the upkeep of a knife. If you need to sharpen a dull knife, you will need to use a sharpening stone or an electric knife sharpener.
Knife hones: Similar to a sharpening steel as they are only used to maintain the upkeep of a knife, yet many prefer this method because it feels safer.
Electric knife sharpener: A motorised wheel spins in an electric knife sharpener to remove dull material from a blade. Once again, this method can only be used with kitchen knives.