Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Word or Two about Knives


I found this very useful information about knives in a 1973 edition of one of my favorite cookbooks, Secrets of Better Cooking, A Treasury of Time Tested Methods of Good Cooking. My copy belonged to my mother and she obviously used it often as the pages are dog-eared and some are even falling out. But I also enjoy using it and have found it very helpful in my quest for the perfect dish.

These are among the most neglected tools in the kitchen, although they are used constantly. They are often poor in quality, not well sharpened or not the proper type for the work they are expected to do. There is a knife for every job. The variety is endless, but you can get a perfect starter set of six knives. If you are not able to pay for a good-quality set, buy one good knife at a time as the need arises. Cheap knives are a waste of money.

A good-quality knife made of hard steel is expensive but, if well cares for, will last a lifetime. Wash and dry your steel knives promptly after use to prevent rust or stain.

Stainless-steel knives have become very popular in recent years. They are far easier to care for than the old-fashioned steel knives but will never keep as sharp an edge.

A new type of knife with a scalloped edge is fast gaining in popularity with practical cooks. Originally designed for slicing crumbly bread and cake, it is now made in many sizes and shapes for use in general work such as paring, cutting and even carving. Do not let anyone tell you, however, that these knives will last a lifetime without being sharpened. Although they stay sharp much longer than knives with straight-edged blades, the teeth that project beyond the cutting edge wear down. This knife requires occasional sharpening with a butcher’s steel on the flat side of the blade, and will eventually need regrinding by an expert.

It is a good idea to have a long butcher’s steel for sharpening knives. These are easy to find; any store that sells quality knives will have them. Keep your knives sharp by frequent honing on the steel. To do this, press the knife edge against the steel at a 20° angle. Starting with the heel of the blade at the top of the steel, draw the blade across and down to the bottom of the steel, in a swinging motion. Do this several times, then repeat on the other side.

The most important advice: store your knives in a knife rack or on a magnetic bar; do not jumble them carelessly with other kitchen tools. This will keep the blades keen longer, and you will never cut yourself when reaching for a kitchen tool.

Later I’ll give you their suggestions on a Starter Set of Knives.

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