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Monday, July 19, 2010

Kitchen Knives

Kitchen knives are one of those things that we think we can get by on the cheap. We buy cheap knives thinking it doesn't make any difference. I learned a long time ago that there is a difference. It's one of those tools that you need to to invest a little in. Same with pots and pans. Now I've been married over 32 years and haven't had to use $1,000 pots or $500 knives. I think there is probably a limit to how much you invest before it becomes absurd so use commonsense. But I do know the difference from cheap pots and cheap knives and decent pots and decent knives and it's been worth the difference.

But you need to learn a little about knives. What kind do you need? How do you care for them? How do you store them? How do you sharpen them? I did some research on the web and found some information for you.

How to care for your knives
The first tip is to use wood or polyethylene cutting boards. Marble, glass, stone, ceramic and other hard surfaces damage knives. They can dull, blunt or nick a blade. I didn't know that. We are always told to use those hard surfaces to keep down germs, especially from raw meat. So I wondered why they still sold wooden cutting boards. Now I know! So what do you do? Do you use wooden cutting boards and worry about germs or use hard surface cutting boards and worry about damage to your knives? I'll have to let you make that choice!

To clean knives, wipe the knife quickly with a soapy nonabrasive cloth or sponge, dry it and put it away. Make sure they are thoroughly dry before storing them because moisture can damage the blade. Don't put them in the dishwasher. The detergents are too strong for them and being knocked around by the water jets can dull the blades. Don't leave it lying in the sink where it stays wet. I learned something here because I've always put my knives in the dishwasher thinking I was sanitizing them. Don't let your knives be clinking against other cutlery or silverware as the edge can get damaged.

Use knives for their intended purpose. Don't use a butter knife to try and cut through a chicken joint. My husband is bad to use a knife as an impromptu screwdriver. At first I didn't want him to know how much I spent on a knife being afraid he'd have a fit. But then I decided to let him know so he wouldn't be tempted to take my good knives out to his shop and use them to cut insulation, halve a paint roller, etc. Sheesh!


How to you keep your knives sharp
Using a professional knife sharpener is the best advice. But you can do it yourself. I use a whetstone. They are generally made of carborundum or another abrasive and are available in different densities: coarse, medium, and fine. Coarse is the all-purpose stone, good for Chef's Knives, while fine is good for slicing or boning knives.

There are two basic types of whetstones - oil or water. An oil whetstone is prepared by lubricating it with a few drops of oil which is smoothed to a light film across the stone. A water stone needs to be soaked in water for 10 to 15 minutes to absorb moisture. When either stone is prepared, place it on a non-stick surface (a tea towel is good to steady the stone) and begin.

Place the blade at a 20 degree angle and lay the heel of the blade on the stone. Steady the extended tip of the knife with one hand to guide it, and draw the blade toward you, sweeping across the stone in an arc. Turn the blade over and repeat the process on the other side. Always go in one direction - NEVER NEVER NEVER go back and forth. You will repeat this sharpening gesture 10 to 20 times on each side. Test for sharpness, then move on to the honing steel.

The whetstone may have left a few minuscule pieces of jagged metal. Now you use the second implement - the honing steel. This is the familiar steel stick with grooves in the steel. The purpose of the honing steel is to remove any nicks or jags and make the knife smooth. Hold the knife at the same 20 degree angle and draw it across the steel with the same sweeping motion that you used on the whetstone. Repeat on the other side. Do this five or six times. Once again, always work in one direction only.

Sharpen your knife on a honing steel before you use it. Do this EVERY TIME you use a knife. Honing removes small burrs and maintains the edge in between sharpening on a whetstone. A whetstone is generally needed every two to three months.

Here are a couple of quick video on the whetstone and honing method.

(By the way I inherited some of my Great Grandma's knives and her wooden knife holder. Her knives weren't as nice as his since she wasn't a professional butcher.)




What type of materials knives are made of
High-Carbon Steel
- Carbon Steel has been used in the making of blades for many years. Carbon steel blades are tough, can be very sharp, retain their sharp edge fairly well, and sharpen with little effort. They have a tendency to be brittle and can break under stress. Carbon steel blades discolor when they come in contact with foods that are high in acid, such as tomatoes and citrus fruit. The discoloration does not affect the quality of the knife. With proper care, discoloration and rusting of the blade can be avoided and it can be treated if it does occur. Wash and dry thoroughly after use. If the blade rusts, scour to remove rust and continue to use. A light polishing with fine grit steel wool or sandpaper can also be used to remove the stains and rust from the blade.

High-Carbon Stainless Steel - A combination of the best attributes of carbon steel and stainless steel blades. They contain enough carbon to give them the toughness and ability to hold an edge, although not quite as well as high-carbons steel, and they contain enough chromium to make them stain and rust resistant, although they can discolor or rust under extreme conditions. High-carbon stainless steel blades are slightly harder to sharpen than high-carbon steel but they have become the most popular blade material used for high quality kitchen knives.

Stainless Steel - Unlike high-carbon steel, stainless steel blades are highly resistant to discoloring or rusting, but if not cared for properly, they can stain. If over exposed to salt water, hard water, or acidic material such as, lemon juice or vinegar, it may discolor or rust. Dry thoroughly after washing to prevent discoloring and if the knife does discolor or rust, clean with a stainless steel cleaner or a light abrasive powder. Although the stainless steel blades have the ability to hold a sharp edge slightly longer, the stainless steel is so hard that it cannot be produced with as sharp an edge as high-carbon steel. When they dull, they are much harder to sharpen than the high-carbon steel.

Titanium - Titanium blades are made from a mold of titanium and carbides. The carbides allow the blade to be heat treated, which produces a very strong and durable blade. When compared to steel, titanium is lighter, more wear resistant, corrosion resistant, holds its edge longer, and is fairly easy to sharpen. The titanium blade is more flexible than steel, making them a good choice for tasks such as boning and filleting. Beware that titanium coated or edged knife blades will not have the same qualities as knives that have blades made totally of titanium. The titanium coating on the cutting edge of the blade will be lost after sharpening several times.

Ceramic - Ceramic blades are made of zirconium oxide and aluminum oxide. Zirconium oxide is the second hardest material available next to diamonds. It is very hard but is also brittle and can chip or break and I have broken one. The edge of a ceramic blade is much thinner than steel, which makes cutting through items much easier. Because the ceramic blades are brittle they must be used with caution. They should be used for slicing rather than chopping. Although they are much more brittle than steel knives, they tend to hold their edge up to 10 times longer. Once the blades have dulled, they must be sharpened by a professional with a diamond sharpener.

Plastic - Plastic blades are used with the primary goal of preventing vegetables and such from becoming discolored from the blade of a knife. Plastic blades generally serrated and are not very sharp, requiring some force when cutting.

Hardness is measured on the Rockwell Hardness Scale (HRC). Measurements are typically in the 55-60 range. Some of the sharpest Japanese knives are hardened to an HRC of more than 60, while Wusthof and Henckels knives are typically closer to 55. It might not sound like much, but a few points on the Rockwell scale can make a big difference.

Blade hardness is probably the biggest difference between Japanese and German knives. Japanese knives are hard, sharp surgical instruments. They are razor-sharp but require careful handling. German knives are duller but require less maintenance. In general forged knives are considered to be higher quality than stamped ones. Steel always contains iron and carbon. Carbon facilitates the transformation of iron into hardened steel. Some of this carbon is absorbed by the iron, but the rest adds hardness to the blade. The more Carbon, the harder the blade. You'll hear knives described as "High-Carbon". This is a good sign -- it means that the manufacturer is at least trying to make a hardened blade.




There are different uses for different knives.

A Bread Knife

A serrated knife with a long blade is used to slice through food that is hard on the outside and soft on the inside, such as slicing through the hard crusts of bread. A serrated knife with a short, thin blade is intended for slicing fruits and vegetables.


Bird's Beak Knife (Tourne Knife)

Considered to be a type of utility knife that is used for many of the same tasks as the traditional paring knife. The bird's beak knife, which is also known as a "tournée" knife, has a shorter blade than a paring knife with a blade that is typically 2 to 3 inch long. It is designed to curve upward on both the cutting edge and the top edge. The bird's beak knife is commonly used to make a type of cut referred to as the tournée cut in vegetables such as carrots, potatoes or squash. This cut is performed for purposes of food presentation. This cut is also known as a tourne or tourné cut. Bird's beak knives may also be used to slice soft fruits such as nectarines, plums or peaches and for peeling skins or blemishes from a variety of fruits and vegetables. It is a knife that is also used for cutting decorative garnishes such as rosettes in radishes or fluted mushrooms.


A Boning Knife

A knife with a thin short blade, typically 5 or 6 inches long, used to remove the main bone within a cut of meat, such as a ham or a beef roast. A boning knife will typically have a long narrow blade for ease of manipulation around bones. The blade is rigid and proportioned to the size of the bones being removed. Bigger cuts of meat require a larger more rigid blade that is not too flexible to prevent injury from the blade bending too easily. Smaller meat cuts can be trimmed and boned using a smaller less rigid blade.


A Chef's Knife

Also called a cook's knife, this knife is an all purpose kitchen knife that is used for most types of chopping, dicing, mincing, and slicing. Chef's knives come in various lengths of 6, 8, 10, and 12 inches. The smaller sized knives are typically referred to as mini chef's knives while the longer lengths are known as traditional chef's knives. The heft, weight and balance of this knife allow it to be used for heavy duty work with thicker cuts of vegetables, fruits and meats. The length of the knife you purchase is significant. The longer the knife, the heavier and more difficult it will be to handle. Small handed cooks should choose shorter blades while large handed cooks will prefer longer blades.


A Cleaver

A knife with a wide rigid blade that is approximately 6 inches in length and tapers to a sharp cutting edge. This tool is used to chop, shred, pound, or crush food ingredients and materials. The blade of the cleaver is thick, somewhat heavy and well balanced with a beveled cutting edge. The beveled blade allows for ease of chopping through vegetables or hard materials, such as bones. The flat blunt side of the blade can be used to pulverize meat. If the handle is flat on the end it may be used to crush seeds, garlic or other similar ingredients. A hole is typically provided on the top end of the blade to allow for ease of hanging this tool when storing.


A Filet Knife

A knife consisting of a thin flexible blade, typically 6 to 11 inches long, used for filleting fish. The narrow blade enables the knife to cleanly move along the backbones of the fish, in and around areas adjacent to bones, and to evenly slice along the skin, removing it easily from the flesh.


A Mincing Knife

A knife that can be used to mince or cut food into smaller bits for seasoning sauces, soups, salads, and other dishes. Mincing knives can be either single or double bladed to cut a variety of foods into very small pieces. A mincing knife is also referred to as a Mezzaluna, Mezzaluna chopper or Mezzaluna knife. Another version of a mincing tool is the rolling mincer or rotary mincer. This utensil consists of numerous circular blades, close together mounted on a handle, enabling the user to roll the tool back and forth over the herb as the blades do the mincing.


Paring Knife

Traditionally, this utensil is a small knife with a straight, sharp blade that is generally three to five inches long. Its thin, narrow blade is tapers to a point at the tip. It is easy to handle and works well for peeling and coring foods or mincing and cutting small items. Working with small bits of food or small ingredients, such as shallots, garlic or fresh herbs, can easily be accomplished with this knife.


Sandoku of Santoku Knife

This knife is very similar to a chef's knife with a wide blade that has a long straight edge curving up slightly at the end. The main difference is that the santoku knife has a wider blade that is thinner in thickness, shorter in length, and curves up very gradually at the end providing a straighter cutting edge. Constructed of high-carbon stainless steel, stainless steel, ceramic, or titanium, this knife will typically be expensive to purchase, since it is precision made to be well balanced and well formed for ease of handling and greater control. With a thinner blade than a chef's knife, the santoku can cut smoothly and more precisely through dense vegetables, which may have a tendency to provide more resistance when using thicker width blades. Santoku knives are used for chopping, dicing, and slicing foods into narrow or fine pieces so they can be added as ingredients to enhance the look or flavors of the various foods being prepared. This knife also works well for butterflying boneless chicken breasts, providing a manageability and ease of handling for the cutting required to butterfly poultry.


Meat and Fish Slicers

Knives designed for slicing meat, such as poultry, ham, and fish. They have a long narrow blade that is more flexible than a carving knife and generally at least 10 inches long so it will reach across a large ham or roast. They will range in flexibility depending on the type of meat being cut. A slicer used for ham and fish would have a more flexible blade than a knife used for slicing poultry. The slicer can have a pointed tip, used to cut in around a bone or it can have a rounded tip for slicing boneless meat or fish.


A Utility Knife

A small lightweight knife used for miscellaneous light cutting. It has a blade that is 4 to 7 inches long, which is slightly larger than a paring knife. This utensil can cut food items that are too large for a paring knife but too small for a chef's knife, such as cucumbers, larger apples, smaller squash, and other mid-sized items. Similar to the paring knife, this knife works well for herbs, shallots, fruits, vegetables, and larger pieces of garlic.


How to store your knives
Don't just throw them in a drawer with other things or into a utensil jar on your cabinet. You don't want them clanging around against other things. You want to keep the blades separate from other things.



















I've bought several of the Cutco knives and I love them but they weren't rated very high by some reviews I read online. I have a set of Henckel knives and they have lasted a long time. I saw good reviews for the MAC knives, Wusthof knives, Victorinox knives. As I said earlier, knives can range in price from $30.00 to $3,000.00 @. If you make an investment in some good knives, then take care of them. Good luck on your knives!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much. Useful and comprehensive info.

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