Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Knives - an edgy article

Cutlery isn't just knives, it's also forks and spoons and any other tool for slicing, dicing, preparing, and eating food. I always associated cutlery with only the knife. It turns out that some primitive tribe using shells to cut their food is, by definition, using cutlery. You can buy knives with pearl-style handles - I wonder if that's a subtle cutlery joke.

This blog is supposed to be about knives, so I'll skip the discussion on proper fork and spoon etiquette and "table" that for another time.

Not all knives are the same. The "best" are made from high-carbon steel. They are tough and long lasting like my deodorant. Knives such as boning and filleting are often made of titanium as they are more flexible than steel and hold their edge longer. Ceramic knives hold their edge 10x long than steel but are more delicate and should only be sharpened by a professional. The lower grades are made from hammering away at steel bars. I've even read some are made from stamped metal. Stainless steel blades are a composite of steel and chromium or are simple coated in chromium. Wow, high-school chemistry could have been so much cooler if only...

A knife is a knife, right? You've got a blade and a handle. Like anything else, there are technical names for these. The part of the blade that is inserted inside the handle is the tang. Some tangs are short and some extend the length of the handle. In this case, the more you stick out your tang, the better...that's my opinion.

Some knives, like bowie knives and swords, have a bolster. This is a thick piece of metal to provide balance as well as safety from a hand slipping over the blade. Ouch.

Knife handles are remarkably still called handles. They can be made of wood, wood/plastic composite, plastic composite, or stainless steel. Some companies take their handle design across all lines of their knives as a way of branding their product.

Growing up, I was in the boy scouts. Ever since then, I always carry a Swiss-army knife with me. Not the 18 piece with the magnifying glass but the 6 piece. I've used it to cut apples, carrots, fishing line...you get the picture. A swiss army knife is a perfect piece of utilitarian cutlery. Working in the kitchen takes a few more tools that are specialized for their purpose. Sorry, the kitchen's just not the place for the swiss...the knife, not the people.

What does it take to load up your kitchen with the ideal knives? Let's see, you'll need a chef's knife, a carving knife, a paring knife, a serrated knife, a utility knife, a boning knife, a filet knife, a cleaver (not June), a santoku knife, a steak knife, a mincing knife, an oyster knife, a deveining knife (disgusting!), a claim knife, a grapefruit knife, a cheese knife, a chestnut knife (only if you have an open fire), a tourne knife, a peeling knife, maybe a ceramic knife, and the slicer.

The chef's knife (aka cook's knife) and the santoku knife are the knives most people commonly use.

The chef's knife is seen an all purpose kitchen knife for chopping, dicing, mincing, and slicing. Blades are straight and thick. These can have blade lengths of 6, 8, 10, and 12 inches. Meaty hands should get the longer blades. The chef's knife has a bit of weight so it's easy to cut poultry and anything else that needs an extra bit of elbow grease to prep.

The santoku is associated with Asian food. This knife has a wide blade with a long straight edge curving up slightly at the end. The santoku is thought to offer better control due to its design of a wider blade that is thinner in thickness, shorter in length, and curves up very gradually at the end. This thinner blade allows for more precise cutting substances such as "dense vegetables" like broccoli. The santoku also has a granton edge. This granton edge reduces food from sticking to the blade. it can be observed as dime-sizes circles along the blade near the edge.

I've read reviews for both. The santoku has the coolness factor with the granton edge and the fancy name but the chef's knife has always won as the "knife of choice." There is a knife for every purpose. Maybe your kitchen calls for both.

Lastly, care of a knife. Wash them by hand with mild detergents. Store them in wooden or plastic knife boxes. Don't throw them in a utensil draw. Surprisingly, discoloration can occur with knive blades, so wipe them off after using.

Hopefully it goes without saying but I'll say it. Sharpen your knives according to the instructions that came with the knife. When in doubt, let someone else do it.