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Knives

July 10, 2012

So many gadgets!

This is the first of an occasional series I’ll be posting, dedicated to sorting the necessities from the clutter when it comes to kitchen gear.

As part of what I call the ‘food porn’ trend of recent years has come an obsession with cooking gear, which can make it all a bit daunting if you’re setting up your own kitchen for the first time.

If you are getting started – perhaps if you’re a youngster setting up in your first place, or your cooking has been pretty minimal for a while – then setting yourself up with just the basics can actually be pretty simple.

Knives

One of the first things you should get are some good knives.

Again, this can be a bit scary. Go into a kitchen place and you’ll see sets of Global knives selling for hundreds of dollars. And it’s not just the price tag that’s scary – just what the hell do you do with all those different knives?

The good news is that for 90% of the stuff you do in the kitchen, you really only need a couple of good knives, and decent ones needn’t be that expensive.

Of course, there’s a reason why brands like Global are so expensive: they’re bloody good. But to be quite honest, for most of us, it’s a bit like using a Ferrari to do your shopping.

Why just stick to a cheap, reliable family car for the time being?

Scanpan make a range of knives that are surprisingly inexpensive – under $20 – and reasonably good. Not brilliant, but still great value.

So what knives do I need?

To be perfectly honest, I use about three knives for nearly everything in the kitchen: a paring knife, a santoku (or ‘east-west’) knife and a large chef’s knife.

The paring knife is one of the Scanpan ‘Spectrum’ range. Use a paring knife for peeling fruits and vegetables, slicing and cutting small stuff, and basically anything that requires precise handling and delicate work. Unlike most knives, which you use on a cutting board, you can often use a paring knife with one hand while holding whatever it is you’re cutting in the other.

A santoku is an all-purpose knife using a design that originated, as the name suggests, in Japan. Use them for slicing, dicing and mincing. One drawback of a santoku is that the straight blade doesn’t allow for much ‘rocking’ when you’re cutting, but to be honest, I’ve never found it a big problem. On the plus side, for what appears to be such a small knife, they’re surprisingly versatile. Again, the one I use is a Scanpan Spectrum.

If I have one criticism of the Scanpan Spectrum knives, it’s that they don’t hold their edge for as long as they might, but for their price, they’re still a damn good knife.

Finally, I have a big Chef’s knife, which I use for bigger things that the santoku might struggle with, especially stuff like cutting up a pumpkin, etc. I’ve no idea what brand it is – one with a wooden handle pretty well covers it. But I’ve had this particular one for over 20 years, and it’s still going strong.

The only other knives I use with any frequency is a bread knife, and a long, flat pastry knife that I sometimes use to lift troublesome pastry off the bench after it’s been rolled out.

Sharpening

The Global Minosharp sharpener

The Global Minosharp sharpener

Chefs say that ‘you’ll never cut yourself on a sharp knife’. Unfortunately I’ve proved them wrong on a couple of occasions, but that’s probably due more to my amateur knife-handling technique than anything else.

Nonetheless, it’s still important to keep your knives well sharpened, otherwise you’ll just find yourself hacking your way through the kitchen, turning tomatoes to mush.

In the old days, sharpening a knife meant faffing around with a whetstone, something I could never get the hang of, although my wife was a dab hand with one. Bit of a worry, really. But thankfully, today there are some really good knife sharpening tools around.

My personal favourite is the Global Minosharp. It’s relatively inexpensive (about $40) and easy as anything to use.

The Minosharp has a clear, slotted plastic compartment holding two ceramic wheels.Fill the compartment with water, put the knife blade through the slots and rest it in the grooves of the wheels.

To sharpen it, just run the knife back and forth on the wheels about 20 times. Use one wheel first to do the rough work, then move on to the second one to clean the edge up nice and fine. That’s it.

One thing to be careful of is not to put too much downward pressure on the wheels. Just let the knife rest on them, and run it back and forth. If you press down hard on the wheels, they could break.

So that’s the low-down on kitting yourself with a basic, trusty knife set!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. July 10, 2012 1:00 pm

    I have 2 favourite knives which NOBODY but me is allowed to use. I bought both when we were living in Mauritius and were dirt cheap – both kiwi-brand. One is a pairing and one is I would say between a santoku and a chef’s knife. I got into the habit years ago of sharpening my knives against the edge of a serrated (say bread knife) blade with a backwards and forwards motion of the wrist and can’t seem to do it any other way.
    Great to see a post again!
    🙂 Mandy

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