Saturday, January 26, 2013

Knives 101

From top to bottom: Hiromoto G3 sujihiki, Ichimonji TKC gyuto
Takagi Honyaki gyuto, Misono UX10 petty, Henckels MC66 Utility
I think it’s appropriate to start off with the basics and something I’m deeply interested in – kitchen cutlery. I have been looking into and using mid to high end kitchen cutlery since 2009 and have been a member of a few forums dedicated to cooking and cutlery. From my own experience and reading forums, I can say that I've learned a few things. I’ll start off with writing a few general tips and give some more in-depth information later in the future. So without further ado, here are some things to keep in mind.

A sharp knife is less dangerous than a dull one.
Yep, you read that correctly. A sharp knife is indeed less dangerous than a dull one. How? Imagine you’re using a dull knife to dice an onion. At first, the knife does not cut the onion. To compensate, you push harder down on the knife. This additional force increases the likelihood of slipping or accidentally moving the knife, ergo increasing the chances of actually cutting yourself.

Claw Position
Keep the hand holding the food in a claw when chopping.
Knife face constantly contacts the knuckles
There are many instances in which this which keeping your hand in a claw will not be suitable for a cutting task (slicing sashimi, deboning pretty much anything, hulling strawberries, etc etc), but frankly, for chopping and push cutting, I think it works great. The claw position allows you to control the size of the cut food, and keeps your thumb and the rest of your fingers out of trouble. Keep the face of the knife in contact with your knuckles and as you’re chopping or push cutting, slowly move your fingers left (or right for you lefties) closer to your thumb. As your fingers are moving, keep the blade cutting and in contact with your knuckles.

Use a cutting board (wood, bamboo, plastic or rubber).
I cannot stress this enough. Cutting on a plate, stovetop, glass or any other hard surface damages the knife’s fine edge. Depending on the steel and abuse, you’ll see rolling (shiny areas when you look at the edge dead on) or chips (the knife’s edge will look almost serrated). Rolling and chips are evidence of dulling. Lesson here – if you want to keep your knives sharp, use a cutting board.

Do not twist when cutting and do not cut frozen foods/bones.
When you twist while you’re cutting, you’re bending the portion of edge that is lodged in the food. This, like using a bad cutting surface, will cause chips and rolling of the knife’s edge. For more fragile knives made of brittle steels (zdp-189 comes to mind), torqueing can cause breakage. Frozen foods and bones are very hard cutting so cutting into them will cause dulling so don’t use your main knives on them. When deboning, cut around bones and use a meat cleaver if you really need to split them. Meat cleavers boast very robust edges, soft steel, and thick edges. This allows them to take minimal damage when used on bones.

I think that’s enough knife information for now. Knives are an essential part of any kitchen; they should be an extension of your arm. Take care of them, keep them sharp, and they’ll serve you well. I’ll keep the knife posts coming, but for now, in the words of Jacques Pepin, happy cooking!

- James

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