Knife Skills 101 Part 2- Using and Caring for your Knives
Inside the kitchen of Executive Chef Geoffrey Morden, Shaw Centre
So you’ve remortgaged your home and now have a spiffy set of beautiful kitchen knives. I am frequently asked for suggestions to help get the most enjoyment from quality knives.The first thing I always recommend is to learn the classic knife cuts. Small dice, medium dice, large dice, julienne, chiffonade are some of the most common and useful cuts regardless of the type of cuisine you are working on and there are lots of resources online and in books to help you understand the various cuts.
Once you have mastered these, there are a host of more complicated cuts you can try your hand at, but I always recommend mastering the basics first. You might be wondering why standardized cuts matter. There is a reason that many recipes specify a particular kind of cut — it’s not just for appearance. Evenly cut items not only look more attractive, they also help your dish cook evenly and consistently, giving them the best possible texture and flavour. If you choose to cut haphazardly, you’ll be presenting a dish that won’t have a uniformity of flavour and will certainly look as though you didn’t care as much about its appearance.
Take your time when learning the various cuts. Your new knives are razor sharp so please don’t rush — the last thing you want is a nick (or worse) on your finger. Handling a knife and the ingredients properly may feel awkward at first, but speed and accuracy will come in time. Practice and experiment with assorted vegetables like carrots, potatoes, onions and celery. Using these common ingredients will get you used to cutting different shapes, sizes and textures without breaking the bank, and you can use your ‘practice’ cut vegetables in soups or stews to avoid waste. In time, you will find that your consistency and speed improve immensely. Start by squaring off the rounded edges so that your ingredient sits flat on your cutting board. This will prevent the item from rolling on your board, helping to avoid an accident while also insuring accuracy of your cut.
Next, be sure to let the knife do the work. Try to resist pushing down on your knives with great force. If they are sharp and of good quality, they will slice through your ingredient with relative ease allowing you to focus on the accuracy of your cut rather than the force you need to cut through something. I guarantee that the importance of learning how to execute these different cuts will become apparent to you once you give them a try — you really will see the results in the taste and look of your finished dishes.
Caring for your new knives is almost as important as learning to cut with them. I highly recommend consistently using a steel and a sharpening tool. Use the steel daily — a couple of strategic swipes with this important tool before, during and after use will maintain your knife’s edge and sharpness. Typically you will hold your steel in one hand while you carefully run the edge of your knife down the length of it at a 20 degree angle. Achieving this in a fluid motion to both sides of the entire blade with provide the best results. Maintaining your knife’s edge with a steel will limit the amount of times you will need to actually sharpen your knife with a honing stone or knife sharpener. While there is nothing wrong with using a sharpener or sharpening stone please bear in mind that each time you use them your knife blade becomes slightly smaller. If you knife has become dull and no amount of swiping your knife on a steel or stone will remedy it, I recommend taking them to a professional knife sharpener, just be careful afterwards when you get home and use it for the first time as it will be incredibly sharp! It’s important to remember that a dull knife will always result in more accidents than a sharp knife. Dull knives will not cut accurately and require you to exert more force when cutting, so if the knife rolls off the ingredient you are working with, it may end up cutting you with even greater force.
Cleaning knives is simple but very important. The majority of knives are made to withstand dishwashers but I much prefer to clean them by hand. Clean your blades with soap and warm water. If you need to scrub them use a plastic abrasive scrubber, not steel wool or a metal scrubby pad, the later will scratch and dull your knives. Dry them immediately after washing them, particularly if they are made with carbon steel (many Japanese ones are) these will stain and/or rust if not promptly dried after cleaning. I store my knives in a knife block which has an assortment of pre-established slots which fit all sizes of knives. Please do not keep them randomly in a drawer, this will dull them as the bang together and you run a high risk of cutting yourself as you plunge your hand into the nest of razor edges. There are several other creative ways of storing your quality knives. I particularly like a series of slots pre-cut right into your counter top. Knives can safely be stored in this fashion in a very organized way. Magnetic wall mounted racks are another option however may not be as safe as other more contained options I have mention.
With proper cleaning, sharpening and storage your knives may last you for a lifetime of chopping, slicing and dicing like a pro, once you’ve mastered using these versatile tools.