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Knife Skills Needed…

November 20, 2014

Hi Everyone…

Thanks for following my blog…  I hope it’s helpful for you…

I know knife skills don’t seem to have much to do with applying heat…   but it’s important to point out that before you heat it and eat it, you’ve got to prep it…   So knives it is for today…

Knives…   Hmmm…    Which knife should I use for what?…   It’s like “Who knows which fork to use for what?” in that classic movie, “Pretty Woman.”

I understand how daunting this might seem…

Just how many types of knives are there?  What are they used for?  How are they supposed to be used?  Lefty / Righty?   If I use a bread knife to cut tomatoes, am I breaking some rule or something?  What if I use a paring knife on an apple?  Will I go to Kitchen Hell?

The answer is NO !

In my mind, a very sharp edge is all you need…   manufacturers,  artists, designers, and celebrity chefs – whomever – create all sorts of cool-looking and expensive “Lamborghini”  type knives…   but  one could use a pocket knife  (in a pinch), to cut up, chop, divide, slice, julienne, chiffonade, brunoise, (i’m getting fancy with the French culinary talk…  I’ll explain later), or to basically prepare all of your ingredients prior to applying heat. But who wants to do that when an assortment of kitchen knives makes it a lot easier?

So let’s go through some ideas about which knife should be used where, because it’s best to have all of your ingredients  prepared and at arm’s reach before you start to cook.  It makes applying heat a lot easier.

The French term for this is –  Mise en place – pronounced  MEES  AHN  PLAHS…  (howz that for fo-ne-tiks?)   The phrase literally means,  “Putting in Place,” but practically, it means “having everything in place” or in my mind, “being ready.”  Things like pre-rinsing your shellfish, peeling and chopping your veggies, pre-measuring some ingredients to have ready to just add to a pan or pot is called Mise en place…

OK..  so back to knife styles and knife skills so we can all “be ready” to apply heat !!

KNIVES…   I like to go with the good ‘ol reliable “GMC Truck” kinda “get-‘er-done” knives…  I typically use only a few basic types like these…

1)     A good chef’s knife is key

  • Typically, this is the type that is about 7 or 8” long, with a slight curve to it at the point, but is very wide at the handle.  It’s slightly curved so it can be “rocked back & forth” for highly detailed mincing or fine slicing…   I’ll demonstrate a bit later in another blog…
  • I have grown to prefer the Santoku style chef’s knife shaped like this…Sandoku

It’s a bit lighter, better balanced, and the indents along the sharp edge of the blade walls allow for smoother cuts, less drag, and actually make it more difficult for the product being cut to stick to the blade in my opinion.  Another feature I like is that it lends itself better to free chopping as opposed to rocking the knife leaving the tip on the cutting board. Each type works both ways and are equally efficient, it all boils down to personal preference.  Which one do you like better?

  • A good serrated knife… 
    • I like the type that has a slim blade, slightly curved at the sharp edge, with an off-set handle (no knuckle busting)…  like this…Serrated

Used mostly for slicing (or sawing) crusty bread or cutting a sandwich in half.   It takes less downward  pressure to slice through your product. Some even use it for tomatoes (but if your chef’s knife is as sharp as it should be, there’s no need to saw through a tomato).

  • A boning Knife
    • With its thin profile and extra sharp blade, this is good for fileting fish, trimming any meat (trimming fat), or when carving small roasts. Boning
  • A carving knife
    • I like two types for different applications
      • For large roasts (beef, pork, lamb, wild game)  I like the one that almost looks like a small Arabian sword included in the picture below…
      • For carving poultry (turkey or chicken, any other fowl, carving along a breast bone) I like a very slim, almost razor carving knife included in this picture…
      • Fact is that they, too, can be used either way based on personal preference…20141114_212623

The Blade on the “poultry” knife has a very thin profile like a boning knife, as well as a very sharp edge which is actually about 12 inches long, so there’s no need to saw through your meat.  One long draw from the handle end to the tip – toward yourself – allows for a smooth thin slice from a large roast, poultry breast, or even something like taking a thin slice from a whole salame…

  • A cleaver?

I also occasionally use a huge cleaver too, like this…Cleaver

…but that’s a story for another day…

OK…  to start with, we’ll focus on the Chef’s Knife. It is the most widely used knife in most kitchens.  In the right hands, it can be used in place of all other knives in my opinion…  certainly the first one to purchase.  With it, one can dice, slice, chop, carve, cut, fillet, trim, clean, and all of those french things too…

One of the best ways to practice the correct technique for using your chef’s knife, in my opinion, is to slice fresh mushrooms.  Prep cooks in many restaurants slice cases and cases of mushrooms daily…  It’s actually how I learned to use a knife correctly. I’ll get into technique and practice in the next blog post…

So now it’s time for you to get serious about your kitchen tools…   Please go out and pick up a good chef’s knife. If you have a Smart & Final store near you, they have very affordable $15 – $20 very sharp knives with white plastic handles that would be great to get anyone started.  I stock them in the catering kitchen at my clubhouse where I cook.  I would advise to wait a while until you have a better feel for your preferences in knives before you spend hundreds of dollars on a set.

Having your own knife will really change your kitchen experience and help you to start cooking fearlessly…     If you want to get started practicing on your own…  Why not slice up a few pounds of mushrooms and make a creamy mushroom soup you can share with your friends?  Please let me know how it turns out !

Happy Heating !!

  1. jestchat permalink

    Knives are fun! Hubby bought me a few really good ones from Wüsthof a couple years back, and I love them. I favor the ones that are fairly big and heavy, so i can get a really good grasp on them.

    The one thing I cannot find, is a GOOD paring knife. I must have a half-dozen of them, and they all seem to fall out of favor quickly. Not sharp enough, not heavy enough, doesn’t sit right in my hand, etc. Any suggestions for what to look for here would be welcome.


  2. Hi… I guess I need a bit more info as to what it is you’re doing with a pairing knife that isn’t working… vs what you expect… Thanks for checking this out…


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