Choosing Kitchen Knives

The right knife slices preparation in half.

Knife and GarlicLooking for a good set of kitchen knives? Don’t dial that 1-800 number just yet! I They may slice and dice and come with a set of steak knives and a bonus turnip twaddler, but are those really the right knives for your kitchen? This week, knives get the spotlight.

Good kitchen knives aren’t cheap, but they’re a lifetime investment. Buy wisely and your great-grandchildren will be using them 50 years from now.

A good quality knife will be made of stainless steel or a high-carbon steel and have a sturdy handle, preferably made of poly carbonate or nylon instead of wood. Make sure you get a plain edge — those never-need-sharpening wonders just don’t work.

I also recommend that you pass on the complete sets sold by the major knife makers — they usually contain at least one knife you’ll never use. Instead, buy knives individually and get the best quality you can afford. Wusthof-Trident, Henkles, Sabatier and Friedrick Dick are all top quality. All are available locally except the Friedrick Dick, which are my favorites and also the least expensive. They can be mail-ordered from Professional Cutlery Direct at 1-800-859-6994.

knifechef1_m.gifThe three knives that belong in every kitchen are a 3- to 4-inch paring knife, an 8-inch chef’s knife and a 7- to 10-inch slicer.

The paring knife is one of the most overlooked tools in the kitchen. It not only gets used for peeling, but also can do a lot of the slicing and dicing usually reserved for its more glamorous big brother, the chef’s knife.

A good chef’s knife will take care of most of your chopping and dicing chores. It’s indispensable if you cook with fresh garlic. Just lay the flat of the blade on a clove and hit it with your hand. This smashes the cloves and splits the skin, making removal of the garlic flesh a breeze. An 8-inch blade works best, unless you are a tiny woman or a very big man. Then a 6-inch or a 10-inch knife may be in order.

Look for a chef’s knife which is well-balanced with a blade that is wide and rather heavy at the butt, near the handle. A slight curve on the blade will give you a good rocking action while chopping and make the knife much easier to use.

The slicer is used for carving and slicing meat. Every home should have one, especially at Thanksgiving. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried to carve a 27-pound turkey with a dull knife!

These three knives are good building blocks. Later, you might add a bird’s beak parer for peeling round fruits, a bread knife and a second paring knife or maybe a 6-inch sandwich or utility knife.

To care for your knives, wipe them clean with a damp sponge, dry them off with a dish towel and store them in a knife block or a knife tray that fits in a drawer. Never put them in a dishwasher — they’ll bang against other silverware and get damaged. To sharpen them, Lowe’s sells a great little sharpener in the tool department next to the utility knives. It’s made by Fiskars and costs a whopping $1.88. It’s made of black plastic and has ceramic rods to sharpen the blades and works wonders on any knife
When using your knife, make sure that the blade lands on a relatively soft surface such as wood or plastic rather than on a surface such as metal or ceramic. Constant striking on a hard surface will dull the blade rapidly.

*Knives should be washed by hand and dried immediately. Wood tends to swell, so it is not a good idea to immerse wood handled knives in water for a prolonged period of time. Rub mineral oil on wood handles periodically to maintain their luster.

*Stains on blades can be cleaned with a mild scouring powder, or with a mildly abrasive pad.

*Acidic foods (such as lemon juice, vinegar, mustard, etc.) should not remain on the blade after use as they can cause discoloration. Knives should be cleaned as soon as any job is completed.

*Knives should be stored in a drawer or in a knife block once they are cleaned and dried. They should not be stacked, for both safety and proper edge care.

*To avoid cross contamination of bacteria or flavors, knives should be cleaned before they are used for another product

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