If you want to do the job right, then you must have the correct utensils. It is the same for food preparation. With the right set of knives, you can chop, cut and dice faster and with greater ease. Purchasing knives is easy because there are so many of them. They are also readily available everywhere. However, choosing the right knife that will work for you is another matter. Read on to find out about how to find the perfect knife for the right job.
How Knives Are Made
Before purchasing any knives, it is important to understand how they are made. All knives are produced using two basic methods. They are either forged or stamped. This is important because it reflects the cost of the knife.
These knives are mass-produced on machines and considered inferior to forged knives. This is not to say that these knives are in any way inferior. There are outstanding, stamped knives available that more that give value for the money. They use quality materials, are well designed. But in a head to head competition, forged knives come out ahead.
Forged knives are crafted out of a single piece of metal. Craftsmen work the metal to create the perfect specimen. Creating these masterpieces requires plenty of skill and expertise. A forged knife is heavier than a stamped knife but performs better and is easier to handle. Such knives are generally heirlooms and with proper care, last generations.
Kinds of Knives
This is the most adaptable type of knife that can be found in any kitchen. Such a knife is broad with a tapered shape. The length ranges from 8 to 12 inches. Its design allows it to be sufficiently strong to handle meat, yet delicate enough to work herbs.
This is an equivalent of the chef’s knife and ideal for dicing, slicing or mincing. It was designed for Japanese cooks wishing to make Western cuisine. Its blade has hollowed indents which make it easier to release food. The design makes it good to cut food by using the straight downward motion, but it can also be used for the forward and back motions. It is easier to use for people who have small hands as it is usually 8 to ten inches long. It is also lighter than a chef’s knife.
This knife is small and more agile, with a blade ranging between 2 to 4 inches. Using this knife is like having your hand extended. It is used for slicing and paring small fruits and vegetables. It is great when working with things like berries, ginger or garlic.
I call this the middle of the road knife. It is intended for tasks where the chef’s knife is just too bulky but the paring knife is too small. Its 4 to the 7-inch blade is perfect for most medium-sized jobs.
This knife is specially designed to remove meat from the bone. It has a flexible, narrow blade with a tapered tip. The shape makes it easier to go around the bone. This is a speciality knife that not everyone needs. Unless off-course, you plan to prep a lot of meat.
The cleaver is a heavy-duty knife. It can hack through bone, piece of meat or vegetables. The thick, broad blade is ideal for pounding and thus tenderizing meat. The extra weight also provides more power for tough jobs, such as cracking the lobster back.
The serrated edge of the bread knife makes it easier to saw through soft crusts. It can include delicate dishes, watery vegetables or soft bread.
Things to Check Out When Knife Shopping
When shopping for a knife, the first test is to simply hold it. Immediately there should be a sense of a good fit. Not dissimilar to that of a comfortable pair of pants. The knife should feel natural in your hand, and provide a sense of comfort. If it feels snug and unpretentious, try going through the motions of mock chopping. Just note how it feels when you are handling it physically. Here are some of the things you should be taking note of as you go through the motions.
The knife should not feel as if it is weighted either towards the handle or the blade. If that is the case, then this is not the ideal fit for you. An out of balance knife will mean more work for you. Sideways balance is equally important. As you move the blade downwards, it should be stable.
There is a degree of personal preference involved when it comes to how heavy the knife is. One school of thought maintains that a bulky knife makes cutting easier. The increased weight allows the knife to come down with greater force. However, others claim that a lighter weight knife gives the chef greater manoeuvrability. Take your pick, I personally find heavier knives to be cumbersome.
The most popular knife among home cooks is the eight-inch chef’s knife. It is very versatile. The ten-inch knife, while it can deal with greater volume, tends to feel intimidating. However, it is more appropriate when dealing with larger sized fruits and vegetables like watermelon or pumpkin. The six-inch chef’s knife provides a degree of agility and doubles as a paring knife. The bottom line is that you will need more than one. This will ensure you have covered all the cutting needs of a typical kitchen.
The Blade Edge
Any good knife will be sharp out of the box. To test its sharpness, try slicing a piece of paper. A really well-sharpened knife will make a clean cut swiftly. Examine the blade carefully. There should be a subtle curve starting at the tip and ending at the heel. This ensures a smooth front to back glide needed for chopping.
Material of Knives
Most of the knives are made using the materials discussed below. Each comes with its own set of pros and cons. Just select one that best suits your needs.
Knives made from this do not corrode or rust. Despite this, this material is not a good choice for quality knives. The reason being, it is difficult to keep the edge of a stainless knife sharp. Stainless steel is a comparatively softer metal, hence the reason it goes blunt so quickly.
Carbon steel was the most common material used in knife making before stainless steel became common. Blades created out of carbon steel tend to be the sharpest and are easy to sharpen. Unfortunately, they are prone to rust and require high maintenance. The carbon steel also becomes discoloured which is why it is not used by professionals. It is popular due to its general durability and sharpness properties.
Knives having carbon steel core and stainless steel coating are known as Damascus steel knives. They are usually handcrafted and tend to be expensive. You can recognize them by the decorative patterns found on the blade’s surface. They have earned a reputation for being sharp and very strong.
This new type of knife gained popularity in the nineties and became very popular. They are available in many different shapes, styles and sizes. However, you will not see it replacing a stainless steel chef’s knife anytime soon.
Most ceramic knives are made from something called zirconium dioxide. This compound is harder than steel, so hard in fact that only diamond can sharpen it. Fortunately, you will not require much sharpening as ceramic knives retain their sharpness longer than any other material.
Its other benefits include being nonporous, so it does not absorb odours. Being ceramic, the blades do not react chemically with anything. This means they will not transfer the taste of one food to another. The larger pieces are rather versatile. They can slice through soft mushy tomatoes or dice vegetables finer than you ever thought possible.
The problem with them is that the ceramic material is rather brittle. Should you drop, bang or rough handle it in any way, it will shatter, chip and break. After which you will have no option but to toss it. This is precisely why you don’t see these knives in the kitchens of professional cooks. Lastly, ceramic knives tend to be more costly compared to their stainless steel counterpart.
With the purchase of good quality, knives comes another essential item. Many people feel this is optional, but trust me, it is not. As the old saying “Sharpening your knife will not delay your job of cutting”. An investment in a good set of knives requires maintaining them. As the knives are used, the constant force on the blade pushes on the blade and disfigures the alignment. This results in the knife not being able to cut or chop properly. The use of steel re-aligns the blade edge and keeps your knives working flawlessly. It is recommended that you get a steel rod that is longer than the longest knife you own. Generally, that means a ten-inch steel rod.