Of all the rooms in the house, the kitchen’s the place where gadgets tend to congregate. Some of them – like garlic crushers or lemon juicers – are very handy and see lots of use. Others are there just to clutter up drawers and waste space (step forward, banana guard and strawberry huller). But the one piece of kit that every kitchen needs is a decent set of knives.
While you might not have the lightning-quick chopping skills of a TV chef, with a good sharp knife you can get every job done quickly, efficiently and neatly. And though it may sound contradictory, sharp knives are way safer to use than blunt ones. They’re less likely to slip, so therefore less likely to take the tip off an innocent finger.
You can, if you’re in the mood, spend an absolute fortune on knives. But just buying the most expensive one you can afford won’t necessarily get you the best result. So there are a few important things to think about when you go knife shopping:
Materials: the sharpest and most durable knives are made from steel, and the Germans and Japanese seem to have cornered the market in manufacturing the best blades. Japanese knives tend to be made from the hardest steel, so they stay sharp longer (but are trickier to sharpen). German steel is softer, so blades dull more quickly but are easier to sharpen.
Feel: comfort comes from a weight and length of blade that suits your hand size and grip. A knife that’s enjoyable to use will be balanced, with a handle that feels natural. Try out a few different brands and you’ll immediately appreciate the difference.
Purpose: think about how often and for what you use your knives. If you spend a lot of time cooking and enjoy fiddly tasks like filleting, you might want a full range of specialist knives. Otherwise, a small paring and vegetable knife, medium-sized utility knife and serrated bread knife might do the trick.
And once you’ve found your perfect knife, what then? As it may well have been something of an investment, you’re going to want to keep it in tip-top condition. Which means:
Washing: never, ever put your knives in the dishwasher – that way immediate bluntness lies. Wash them carefully in soapy water, dry them immediately and thoroughly and avoid letting them drain upright in a cutlery rack as the tips will become bent.
Storage: wooden blocks take care of your blades and are way safer than rummaging in a drawer for a knife. If you do want to store your knives in a drawer, use blade guards to protect fingers and keep edges honed.
Sharpening: is a real skill and if done badly can be the ruin of your knives. Make sure you buy a sharpener that’s designed for the type of knife you have and read the instructions to make sure you’re using it correctly. Pressing too hard or over-grinding can easily damage blades. If in doubt, get a professional to do it. And never attempt to sharpen a serrated blade in a straight-edge sharpener – you’ll need a special serrated device.
Chopping Boards: steer well clear of very hard surfaces like granite or glass. Not only will they make a blood-curdling noise as you chop, they’ll also blunt your blade in no time. Using a wood or rubber board will preserve sharpness for longer.