Knife skills are paramount if you want to be a good cook (and keep all your fingertips).
First, it’s important to find a knife that works for you. We tend to use Robert Welch knives at the Kitchen Academy because they combine a high quality blade with a design most people find very comfortable to hold. However, the ideal knife for you might depend on your height, strength, hand shape and many factors besides.
You do not always have to fork out to get a good knife, but we suggest treating the cheapest options (supermarket brands etc.) with caution, as these are designed purely with profit, not durability and ergonomics in mind. Head to a good kitchen shop and examine their range. Ask the staff to let you handle some of the knives and try to base your decision on how they feel in your hand. Don’t be swayed by aesthetics or the latest endorsement by some celebrity; remember that your hand will be gripping this dangerous thing regularly for the next decade or more, so you want it to feel comfortable long after the novelty has worn off.
Get yourself a decent sharpener as well. Many companies offer one specifically for their range of knives (we use a rather nifty ceramic one) and these are often more than the inevitable cash-in they seem to be. Manufacturers ought to know how to look after their own products, and encouraging new buyers to do so properly reduces the risk of dissatisfied customers blaming the company for a poorly-maintained blade. Once a brand has your attention, ask around and look online for information on recommended sharpening methods and after-sales customer care.
So, how often should you sharpen you knife? Brace yourself: every time you use it. It only takes a few moments and is simply the best way to keep your knife permanently sharp. It is well known that a sharp knife is a lot safer to work with as it glides through food effortlessly. A blunt knife requires pressure which gives you little control over the blade’s movements; it is much more likely to slip and slice unevenly or go through your fingers. Avoid washing your knife in the dishwasher as there is a danger of dulling the blade and the combination of hot water and chemicals can be damaging (not to mention the perils of emptying of a dishwasher full of knives!).
Now, having covered the knife itself, what makes knife skills so important? The most obvious reason is that we would (generally) like to keep our fingers intact for as long as possible. Understanding how to use your knife accurately, confidently and safely will help to ensure that. It will also help keep the knife sharper for longer. Practicing the correct techniques will also allow you to work faster, shortening your prepping and cooking time, increasing your confidence and above all leaving more time to enjoy food and company. For many recipes it is also crucial to be efficient to cut as evenly as possible; food cut into all manner of shapes and sizes becomes impossible to cook evenly.
A final point which we are often asked about is the chopping surface itself. We use a steel chopping surface and plastic boards. Remember it is the food itself that will blunt your knife more than the board you use (provided your technique is correct). Therefore we always suggest using non-slip boards above all.
Personally I find it hard to recommend buying a large set of knives in one go. They may look lovely in the shop and on your kitchen counter, but buyers invariably use only one or two of them and regret the rest. Here is what you will probably need:
– Chef’s knife – the really important one, for multi-purpose use. Must be comfortable and durable. Usually available in various sizes, so choose the one that you like the most.
– Bread knife – less technical, so don’t waste your money. Important to get right nonetheless. Many people find a heavy blade helps with straight, controlled slicing.
– Pairing knife – a short, stiff blade for smaller jobs. Again, a comfortable grip matters here.
– Fish filleting knife – decent filleting is one of the few things your chef’s knife cannot do. This requires a flexible blade.
Of course, once you have mastered the above or require tools for specific tasks like butchery, there is a huge number of specialist knives you can add to your collection.