You don’t need a fancy selection of knives – most of the time we use just four: an 8-inch chef’s knife, a small paring knife, a serrated tomato knife and a bread knife.
– Use a chef’s knife for everything from finely chopping shallots to breaking down a whole chicken to smashing ginger and garlic and turning them into a purée.
– The paring knife is suitable for everything from peeling and slicing fruit and vegetables, cutting strips of meat into small dice, shaving cheese, cutting the flesh of a mango or avocado to finely cutting ginger and garlic.
– A serrated tomato knife cuts through tomatoes cleanly and can be used wherever you use the paring knife. If we had to choose, we would take the tomato knife over the paring knife. We prefer an Opinel knife.
– A bread knife is long and serrated and gives you a clean slice from a loaf where you need to use a sawing motion. A chef’s knife, even a very sharp one, won’t cut bread properly.
Nice knives to own
There are times you long for a cheese knife because it cuts cheese so beautifully or to feel the heft of a cleaver when you are smashing garlic. But this is purely for the joy of handling them rather than because we really need them.
– A Chinese cleaver is excellent for chopping through bone (it is heavy and you can bring the blade down on pork belly and cut straight through bone and cartilage). We love it because you can carry chopped ingredients to the wok or pan on the blade. It’s ideal for crushing and pulverising ginger and experienced Chinese chefs even use it to peel ginger. You could decide to make the cleaver your one knife in the kitchen drawer and be perfectly happy.
– A cheese knife: we bought ours in Bra in Italy, home of the Slowfood movement and the world capital of milk and cheese (see the photograph). It has a hand-made wooden handle, a comfortable grip and a large shaped blade that cuts easily through a block of Parmesan or Gruyere. It doubles up as a pizza cutter.
Buying Knives: Try before you buy
If you are spending a lot of money on a knife – a professional chef’s knife can cost €80 or more – ask to try it before you buy. If the shop won’t allow you to cut an actual onion, then pretend to, feeling the heft of the handle in your hand, how it rocks forward and backwards on a cutting board and see how comfortable it feels. A good knife should become an extension of your hand over time.
Japanese versus European blades
In our experience, Japanese knifes tend to be sharper and finer whereas a European blade tends to be thicker and heavier. Wusthof and Zwilling Henckels are two of the trusted manufacturers of European knives while Kyocera and Korin are two of the top Japanese knife makers. Henckels are now using Japanese technology to make their knives quite literally ‘cutting-edge’.
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