A Basic Set of Kitchen Knives
The following collection of knives will give the home chef optimum flexibility and satisfaction when it comes to food preparation. A description of knife structure and things to think about when selecting a knife precede the collection.
THE STRUCTURE OF A KNIFE
Blade: The blade is the part that does the cutting. The best knives are fully forged as a single piece including the blade, bolster and tang from a tough stainless steel alloy that resists dulling and takes a very sharp edge.
Bolster: The bolster is the part of the knife between the blade and the handle. The best bolsters are shaped to suit the function of each knife type. For instance, a boning knife should have a sturdy bolster to keep fingers from slipping forward onto the blade. On the other hand, a chef's knife lasts longer if the bolster is tapered to allow sharpening of the entire edge, which is used during chopping.
Tang: The tang is the metal extension of the bolster that is inside the handle. The best tang extends the full length of the handle. A tang may be shaped with one or more metal "knobs". The end knob helps keep the handle on while other knobs are added to make sure the knife is balanced over the working fingers.
Handle: The handle is the part of the knife you hold. The best handles are molded onto the tang to seal out bacterial contamination. Molded handles can be weighted differently to create the perfect balance for each type of knife. Handles should be finished with a slip-resistant grip.
A knife is an extension of the hand. A good knife is well-balanced, comfortable to hold and stays sharp for a long time so you get maximum cutting for minimum effort. Select knives that fit your hand well and are comfortable to use. A knife should be balanced over the working fingers and should have a textured grip that keeps it from slipping out of your hand when it's wet. A molded-on handle seals out bacterial contamination. Fully forged knives take a sharper edge and stay sharp longer.
CHEF'S KNIFE: (Sometimes called a "cooks" knife or "French" knife)
The chef's knife is used for chopping food on a cutting board and is designed so the blade can be rocked from tip to heel for the most efficient, least tiring cutting motion. Most professional chefs hold the chef's knife with the thumb and forefinger gripping the top of the blade just in front of the bolster and the last three fingers curled around the handle. This gives a great deal of cutting control and reduces chopping fatigue. Food to be chopped is guided by the other hand, which is positioned with the fingers and thumb curled under the second knuckles to keep them out of the way of the knife. Whatever the size of the chef's knife, there should be sufficient knuckle clearance under the handle so you don't bruise them during chopping.
Another important feature is the bolster of the chef's knife. The entire edge of the chef's knife must be in contact with the cutting surface for optimum results. If you use a knife sharpener with angle guides (such as Chef'sChoice sharpeners) to maintain a sharp blade edge, it's important the bolster be tapered so the edge is thin enough to allow the entire edge to fit into the knife sharpener. If the bolster is too thick, an indentation will form near it and the cutting ability of the knife will be compromised.
TIP: Always use a cutting board that does not dull knives such as those constructed of polyethylene or polypropylene.
This small knife is used for peeling, trimming and garnishing. It is held with the fingers curled around the handle and the handle is held against the palm. The thumb and tip of the forefinger are often used to guide the food to the blade. The paring knife should have a good-sized bolster (the bolster is the part of the knife between the blade and the handle) to prevent the fingers from slipping onto the blade edge during use.
A boning knife is used to remove skin and cut meat from bones and into portions for storing or cooking. It is designed to be rigid enough to cut precisely but flexible enough to bend slightly when it hits bone. The grip should be slip-resistant and the bolster should be good-sized to prevent the fingers to slip onto the blade edge during use. It is held with all four fingers curled around the handle. The thumb and forefinger may be held against the bolster to guide the cutting action.
NOTE: If you never bone your own meat, you may wish to select a utility knife instead as part of your basic set.
CARVER / SLICER:
This knife is designed for cutting slices of meat, poultry and fish steaks. It should have a long blade designed to be rigid enough to slice straight, uniform portions, but with just enough flexibility to carve around the bone. It is held with all four fingers curled around and under the handle. The thumb and forefinger may be held against the bolster to help guide the knife.
UTILITY: (sometimes called a "sandwich" knife)
This is an all-purpose knife used for slicing, trimming and small chopping jobs and may well be the most versatile in the basic kitchen set. It is usually larger than a paring knife and is smaller than a slicer. It does not have the knuckle clearance of the chef's knife, which limits its effective performance to smaller jobs. It is held with all four fingers and the thumb wrapped around the handle.
A bread knife is almost always serrated because the motion of slicing bread (especially the crust, which is often hard) is essentially sawing. The bread knife is held with all fingers and the thumb wrapped around the handle. A high-quality bread knife should be sharp enough to cut cakes into layers; even cut an angel food cake without compressing it.
TIP: Here's how to slice a cake into thin layers. Put the cake on a lazy Susan. Hold a sharp bread knife horizontally (parallel to the work surface) and slowly move it through the cake while rotating the lazy Susan. Repeat if desired until you have as many nice, even slices as you want.
Always store knives carefully. A wood block or wood drawer insert sheaths the blades to prevent someone from inadvertently grabbing the blade instead of the handle. They also prevent the blade from becoming dull or knocking against other items and cutting them.