Thursday, December 14, 2017

Thoughts on Knives

I was recently asked by a friend which types and brands of knives I would recommend as a gift for his wife, who does the cooking in their family. Here’s my response, which I am recording because the question comes up from time to time:

I would pick the best knives in each category rather than going for a set. Expensive German or Japanese knives are not always best. I have read a fair amount of testing research, from Cook’s Illustrated and Serious Eats, among others, and have personal experience with countless knives from all sorts of manufacturers. Based on this I can recommend the following to someone just setting out to equip a kitchen or to upgrade his or her knives.
  • Victorinox Swiss Army Fibrox Pro 8- inch Chef’s Knife, $39.95 at Amazon. Workhorse.
  • Wusthof Classic 5-inch Hollow Ground Santoku. $93.89 at Amazon. Nice for cutting small items, like garlic, shallots, radishes, scallions, sun-dried tomatoes, but not necessary, as the chef’s knife and paring knives can do these jobs. It just feels right.
  • Mercer Culinary 10-inch Wide Bread Knife, $22.61 at Amazon. Best I’ve had. Great for tomatoes, too.
  • Schmidt Brothers Cutlery 7-inch Boning Knife $74.24 at Amazon. Expensive but superior to Wusthof and Victorinox. I love this knife.
  • Wusthof Classic 3-inch Hollow Ground Paring Knife in Sheep’s Foot Shape, $64.95 at Amazon (optional, the pairing knives below being adequate, but I love mine). Wusthof and Henkels paring knives are expensive, dull quickly and are impossible to sharpen.
  • Victorinox Swiss Classic 3-piece paring knife set. $14.36 at Amazon. I use these every day.  They are cheap and you can just replace them once a year (which I don't).
  • Victorinox 12-inch Fibrox Pro Slicing Knife with Granton Blade, $43.96 at Amazon. Inexpensive but it has a very thin sharp blade that does its one job beautifully.
There’s one knife that would be a splurge. I have never used it, although the source who recommends it (Kenji Lopez-Alt) is reliable. It’s the Misono UX10 Santoku 180, double edge. $171.99 + shipping at Hocho Knife, much more expensive at Amazon. I have a Japanese style deba knife that I use all the time, even more than my chef’s knives, and I would probably go for the Misono if I didn’t already have mine. Be careful to get the 2-edge model. Amazon has a similar right-hand model (which is the one Kenji uses) at a good price but don’t get that, as it requires special sharpening technique.

Of course there are many specialty knives for specific tasks, like flexible fish knives for boning fish, sushi knives, cleavers, etc., but this post is about basic equipment that can be used for many tasks, except for the single-purpose slicer.

Finally, a ceramic sharpening “steel,” preferably at least 10”. There’s a 10.5” white ceramic sharpening rod for $29.95 at Amazon. I would get ceramic because, unlike a true steel, which hones but does not sharpen, I think ceramic sharpens lightly so you can avoid (or do less often) true sharpening. If you sharpen your knives regularly (but what non-professional does?), then a conventional steel would be fine.

I love knives. I am reminded of Jacques Pépin, who said you only need a chef's knife, a bread knife and a paring knife, but added with a twinkle that he had about three hundred knives. I am not there, but probably am closing in on a hundred.

Bobby Jay

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