Choosing and Sharpening Kitchen Knives
The basic four
A few high quality, well-chosen knives are an essential part of every cook’s equipment. These four should be able to tackle most tasks in the ordinary kitchen, but you can always supplement them with more specialised tools for filleting, boning or carving, if necessary:
• Small paring knife with 75-90mm (3 – 3-1/2in) blade: for paring and cutting small fruits and vegetables.
• Cook’s knife with 125-180mm (5-7in) blade: for general peeling, paring and chopping.
• Cook’s knife with 200-230mm (8-9in) blade: for chopping, slicing and dicing.
• Serrated bread knife with 255mm (10in) blade.
How to choose a knife
The best knives are made from a solid piece of steel ground down to give a blade and tang (the part of the blade that is embedded in the handle). Look for knives with a tang that extends all or almost all of the way down the handle, and that is firmly riveted into place. Avoid knives which have only a short piece of blade glued into the handle. Choose a blade cast from high quality carbon steel or stainless steel.
Carbon steel knives hold a fine cutting edge for longer, but easily rust and stain. They can also discolour fruits such as apples, pears and lemons, and may taint the flavour. Stainless steel needs more frequent sharpening, but resists most stains and won’t affect the taste of fruit.
Sharpening kitchen knives
To keep a sharp knife in tiptop condition, run it through a manual or electric sharpener before every use, or give it three or four light strokes on each side on a steel. If the knife has been neglected for a long time and the blade is very dull, run it through the sharpener several times, or use a steel and apply a heavier pressure for up to 15 or 20 strokes.
Have your knives professionally sharpened about once every two years or when home sharpening no longer gives a good cutting edge. Look in your local Yellow Pages under ‘Hardware retailers’, or ask at kitchen shops, key-cutters, tool and lawnmower repair services.
Sharpening on a steel
1. Hold the steel, point down, on a non-slip board. Place the widest part of the blade edge at the top of the steel and hold it at an angle of about 45°.
2. Draw the knife down the steel, keeping the same angle but sliding across the blade, so that when it reaches the bottom, the tip is against the steel.
3. Draw the other side of the knife blade up the other side of the steel at a 45° angle, finishing with the tip against the steel. Repeat both steps, working up and down the steel until the knife is sharp.
Looking after your knives
• Use a wood or polypropylene chopping board, which will not blunt the blade.
• Never use a good kitchen knife for cutting paper or string, or for prising off lids.
• Store knives in a knife block or in a magnetic knife rack.
• Don’t hold a knife blade over an open flame – you will ruin the temper of the steel.
• Hand-wash carbon steel knives immediately after use to prevent staining. Remove small marks with a nylon scouring pad, and more serious stains with the flat end of a wet cork dipped in a powder cleaner.
• Rub carbon steel blades with a drop of cooking oil after washing and drying, to protect them from water vapour and steam in the kitchen.