A cut above: knife basics for the home cook
by Katie Turpen
kturpen@annistonstar.com
Jul 09, 2013 | 1793 views |  0 comments | 28 28 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A home cook only needs three knives, according to Donald Davie. From left: a paring knife, a bread knife and an 8-inch chef’s knife. Deirdre Long/The Anniston Star
A home cook only needs three knives, according to Donald Davie. From left: a paring knife, a bread knife and an 8-inch chef’s knife. Deirdre Long/The Anniston Star
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A full set of sharp knives is a key component of every home cook’s well-stocked kitchen. Whether one is slicing, dicing, trimming or cutting, the right knife will help a cook do everything from chop fresh vegetables to filet a fish.

But with all the knife styles, sizes and blades circulating in the culinary world, what does a home cook really need to accomplish a variety of tasks without crowding counters and drawers?

“The three basic knives anybody needs are an 8-inch chef’s knife, a bread knife and a paring knife,” said Donald Davie, the head chef at Effina’s Tuscan Grill in Jacksonville.

A chef’s knife is the most common of the knife family and can be used for cutting, chopping, dicing and mincing a variety of foods. A serrated bread knife is not used as often, but will help keep loaves of bread from crumbling. A paring knife has a short, narrow blade that is generally used for peeling, trimming and other tasks that are too small for the larger chef knife.

In addition to these basics, Davie says his chef bag contains a 10-inch slicer, 8-inch boning knife used for cleaning fish and a carving knife for cutting large pieces of meat.

“However, a home cook really doesn’t need all of those knives in their kitchen.” Davie said. “It’s unlikely they are going to be fileting a 20-pound fish.”

Davie says he sharpens his knives at the restaurant every two weeks. He suggests using a honing steel — the steel rod with a handle found in most knife sets — in the home kitchen.

“It doesn’t actually take metal away from the blade, it just hones the blade,” Davies said. “If you do that before and after you use the knife it won’t need to be sharpened for a long time.”

Lacy Smith is the owner of Smith Knives in Jacksonville, where he makes custom cutlery using high-carbon, stainless and Damascus steel. Smith has made culinary knives for people all over the world. For sharpening, he says people use anything from a leather strap to a razor. However, he offers his personal recommendation.

“For a culinary knife, I would suggest doing it on a whetstone,” Smith said. “A couple of swipes on the stone are really all you need.”

In addition to sharpening, Smith says proper cleaning of the knife has an effect on the life of the knife.

“The main part of upkeep is rinsing it off and drying it off real well,” Smith said. “Also, hand rubbing a little bit of olive oil on it before you put it away.”

And while the modern kitchen is filled with appliances and gadgets to make cooking easier, be careful when knives are involved.

“The worst thing you can do is put your knife in the dishwasher,” Smith said.

Smith also says storage is a crucial part of knife maintenance and advises people to avoid tossing knives in a cramped space.

“It’s better to individually store your knife then keep them in a drawer,” Smith said. “It’s good to have a culinary block or at least a separate box.”

While many people are constantly using knives for meal preparation, Smith says they tend to forget about the importance of regular maintenance.

“A lot of people don’t think about taking care of and protecting their knives,” Smith said. “A blade will stay sharp for a long time if you maintain it well.”
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A cut above: knife basics for the home cook by Katie Turpen
kturpen@annistonstar.com

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