Kitchen Knives - Knife Skills Videos
Most home cooks claim satisfaction with their trusty collection of old kitchen knives, until one day they happen to pick up a high-quality, newly sharpened chef's knife... The clouds part and they suddenly see the light!
Good kitchen knives are not just for professional chefs; anyone who spends any time in the kitchen should own at least one or two. With a good knife, the chore of cutting and chopping suddenly becomes an artful meditation.
Knife Skills Videos
Knife Safety - Gripping and Slicing
Diagonal Cut and Julienne (matchstick)
Brunoise (confetti cut)
Dicing an Onion or Tomato
Triangle Cut (roll cut)
Chiffonade (rag cut)
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Choosing the Right Knife For You
Knives are made from a few basic substances and are manufactured in a variety of ways. The materials used, as well as how the knife was made, will ultimately determine how sharp the knife is, how long the blade will hold its edge, how sturdy it will be, and how much it will cost you. All should be considered before purchasing your knives.
Most good-quality knives are made from a blend of high carbon steel and carbon stainless steel. High carbon knives are some of the sharpest knives in the world, and are touted by professionals for their strength and cutting power. Adding stainless steel keeps the high carbon from rusting, and also helps retain the sharpness of the blade for a longer duration.
Steel knives are either forged (hammered) or stamped (cut). Forged knives generally offer greater strength and durability as well as better balance, a heavier feel and lasting sharpness. Stamped knives are generally less expensive, but tend to lack the strength and balance of a forged knife. Take this as a general rule, though. There are some reasonably priced, yet high-quality stamped knives on the market today that have excellent cutting ability and a light-weight maneuverability favored by many chefs.
The best way to decide whether a heavier forged knife or a lighter stamped knife is best for you is to try them out at a knife shop or cookware store. Don't always assume you'll want the ones that the celebrity chefs are promoting - the only way to know is to try it out for yourself.
There are also knives that are made out of ceramics. Although they look like little plastic knives for kids, ceramic knives have a razor-sharp edge and demand total respect in the kitchen. Although these knives retain their edge for a very long time and do not need to be sharpened, the downfall is that they are extremely fragile and can shatter if dropped on the floor... not fun after spending a whopping $185 at the retail counter.
Knife Styles for Your Lifestyles
There are many styles of of knives available that perform a variety of specific uses. Although retailers might persuade you, it is probably unnecessary to purchase a whole set of knifes in one round. In most cases, home chefs use only one or two of the knives in the set, leaving the others to hibernate in their wooden sheath for nearly a lifetime.
For basic food preparation, I recommend only two knives - a 6-inch chef's or santoku knife for smaller jobs like mincing garlic and shallots, and an 8- 12-inch chef's or santoku knife for all other jobs. The size of the knife will depend upon how big your hand is and how much control you feel you have when using the knife. The average size is 8 inches in length.
You may also want a small paring knife for precision tasks like peeling apples or cutting citrus segments, and a serrated bread knife so that you refuse the temptation to use your nice chef's knife for cutting into hard crusty breads.
Chef's Knife - You'll use this handy knife for 90 percent of your food preparation. It chops, dices, slices, minces and will even bone a chicken! Chef's knives have a long, gentle slope to the edge that allows a fluid rocking motion to help ease the work for chopping and mincing.
Santoku Knife - This popular Japanese version of a chef's knife can perform the same basic functions as a chef's knife, but has a straighter cutting edge that doesn't allow as much of the rocking motion that a chef's knife offers. Since both chef's knives and santoku knives perform such similar functions, the choice comes down to simple preference.
Honing and Sharpening - What's the Difference?
It's just a fact... even the most expensive steel knives eventually become dull if not regularly honed and sharpenened.
To test if your knives need sharpening, Cook's Illustrated suggests holding a sheet of plain paper in one hand and slicing into the top of the sheet with your knife. If the paper rips or you need to saw at the paper, your knife needs honing and/or sharpening.
Honing - Sometimes knives may act dull, but all they really need is to be honed. Honing realigns the thousands of microscopic teeth along the knife's edge that, when out of whack, decrease the knife's cutting power. Most people unknowingly call a honing steel a "sharpening" steel. A honing steel is the long, rough bar on which to drag the knife that realigns the jagged edge. Most steels, though, actually do not do any sharpening at all. The exception is a diamond steel, which has little bits of crushed diamond on the surface to cut away at the dull steel on the knife's edge.
Unbeknownst to many home cooks, knives really should be honed after each use. My mom (Dorothy McNett, a professional chef and cooking instructor) has an easy motto to help students remember how to care for their knives: "Wash... Dry... Steel... Put away!" As soon as you're done with the knife, wash it by hand, dry it with a soft kitchen towel, run it over your honing steel and gently place it back into the block. If you can remember to do this after every use, your knives will maintain their edges longer and provide you with months and months of use.
Sharpening - Sharpening actually grinds the steel away from the knife to recreate the original sharp edge. After a while (several months or several years, depending upon how often you use them) your knives will eventually become dull and will need to be sharpened. There are a couples of ways you can do this: Home sharpening kits and stones can be purchased anywhere from $12-$200, or the knives can be taken to a professional sharpening company for $2-$5 per inch of the blade being sharpened.
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