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Whole books have been written about knives. There are multi-disc DVDs sets that teach knife skills. At cooking schools and in training, the first lessons learned by chefs are knife care, handling and skills. For the next four weeks, my "Chef Tim Says" columns will be covering the key points of selecting and purchasing knives and maintaining your most important tools.
You are better off to purchase a few selected high quality knives than a complete set. For practical purposes, even the most demanding chefs use only three or four knives regularly.
Those knives are a Chef’s knife (often called a French Chef’s knife), a paring knife and a long serrated knife. After you are comfortable with your knives you should consider adding a boning knife.
This is your workhorse knife. The triangular geometry has the top of the knife flat and the cutting edge with a deeper curve to it. At the hilt of the knife it will curve to about 2 1/2 inches deep. The curve allows for an efficient knife tip to handle rocking motion while slicing. Some Chef’s knives have deeper more rounded, curving geometry and others a shallow arc.
Depending on how large your hands are, a knife between 6 and 10 inches long will likely be the most comfortable for you. My knife is an 8 inch Chef’s knife and I have pretty large hands.
Your paring knife will be used for smaller tasks – peeling, cutting smaller items, detail work and the like. They come in many different shapes. Some have a slight curve to the blade like a Chef’s knife and others have a flat cutting surface. I have had and used both and I feel that buying a curved paring knife is easiest if you have less experience. I only recently began using a flat blade and feel very comfortable with the control I have. Look for a paring knife about 4 inches long.
Purchase a long flat serrated knife to round out your collection. Having a serrated knife is essential if for nothing else but slicing bread. Most people think of this as a bread knife but you can do so much more with it. I slice tomatoes regularly with my “bread knife” and when carving poultry or a roast you will find the task made much easier using a knife with a serrated edge. A slightly longer blade may work better for you – at least eight inches - and you might consider a ten inch serrated knife.
This is a tool that I have and use regularly, but you can get by with using your Chef’s knife at first. Boning knives are of intermediate length – five to eight inches. The blades are generally thinner and often slightly flexible. The geometry does not have as deep a curve to the blade as with a Chef’s knife. Where a Chef’s knife will be 2 1/2 inches deep, a boning knife is more like a paring knife: no more than an inch thick at the handle.
Next week: Which manufacturer?
November 21, 2005