What’s that? Only 2 kitchen knives for….anything???i
Yep. Despite the fact that, If you look up “kitchen knives” on Pinterest, you will immediately see massive knife collections.
People, you need two kitchen knives. As in 2. That’s it.
(By the way, before we go further, I recognize that you, dear reader, may want more knives. In which case, please refer to this excellent post over at Bladesto for all manner of knife safety tips.)
The first one is your big, all-purpose chopper. Professional cooks call them French knives or chef’s knives.
A French knife has a big blade that’s flat on top, curves down to a point, then angles back up, kind of a rounded triangle. It should have some weight, but not be too heavy; it’s more important that it’s sharp. Also, you can use the blade to lift up all the stuff you just chopped and move it to the bowl (for salad) or pan (for sautéeing). This one cost less than 20 bucks at the grocery store, and I like it tons better than a really expensive knife Steve got from some dopey knife of the month club that we joined for, I think, a month.
I also have this cleaver, which I bought 30 years ago, when I had my first cooking job at Louie’s Backyard in Key West.
A lot of the cooks used and swore by them. Small cleavers are awesome: the rectangular blade makes them super easy to sharpen. They’re also a friendly shape and heft for chopping just about anything, and perfect to scoop up whatever you’ve chopped from cutting board to pot. You can find them, with a little looking, at your local Asian grocers. Don’t opt for the big ones; they’re weird and intimidating and meant to hack bones. You may have to root a bit for the smaller sizes, but, if my experience is any indication, you’ll grow to love it.
You also need a paring knife.
DO NOT chop vegetables with this. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen a kitchen scene in a movie or on TV and someone is whipping up a delicious meal using a PARING KNIFE. I have googled this, because I can’t remember any exact frames, so cross does this outrage make me. But now you know. Just Watch.
Well, obviousy: no, no, no. Perhaps actors, who really can be pretty helpless with the hand/eye coordination at times (says the former actor) simply cannot be trusted. Obviously, they don’t cook much, or they would tell the producers that a paring knife is for small jobs only: coring tomatoes and strawberries, peeling things you can hold in your hand, like a shallot. People used to use them for paring the skin of carrots and potatoes; hence the name, though I greatly prefer a vegetable peeler. (The cheap ones are still the best.) I don’t use my paring knife often, but when I need it I need it.
The most important thing about knives, especially if you have only 2, is to keep them sharp. Sharp knives are safe, dull ones dangerous. Buy a steel, which may set you back more than your knife and will be well worth it.
Give your knife a few swipes at least a couple of times a week; I know cooks who swipe 2-3 times every time they use a knife. I also take mine to be professionally sharpened about twice a year; it’s well worth it if you’re cooking every day.
The other most important thing with knives is the hand that doesn’t have the knife, which must be…..
…a MONKEY CLAW*!
(*This term comes from a delightful young chef named Chris Ekpiken, who I once interviewed for Ann Arbor Family. His mom is from New Orleans, his dad from Nigeria. Chris started experimenting in the kitchen very young. His parents, both raised in cooking families, wouldn’t raise an eyebrow when he picked up a knife, but his mother would yell “MONKEY CLAW!” to him. It is truly the most accurate description of the ideal non-cutting hand position that I’ve ever heard.)
The monkey claw will keep your fingers safe from cuts. I don’t know a cook who hasn’t cut her/him/themself at some point. It just happens. But the monkey claw—and knowing that onions and peppers are the two most dangerous and injury-producing things to cut—can save you from bloody fingers 99% of the time.
(I did get my son a cutting glove, and he said that it made him bolder in the kitchen, sort of like Dumbo’s feather. So it’s something to think about if knives freak you out a little.)
(Also, do you remember that Bloody Fingers 3 houses away joke from grade school? Or is this just something that used to thrill me because I’m old and we didn’t have things like Saw?)
On the ingredient pages of the website, I give tips for the ways that I’ve found work best for cutting particular vegetables, fruits, and other edibles. The biggest rule is to make sure that whatever you’re cutting has a flat surface to place on the cutting board. You MUST do this with an onion. They are slippery devils.
And the reason peppers cause so many injuries is that people cut them skin side up; the knife slips and takes off a sliver of your finger, which you later find, and which, coupled with your loss of blood, will make you keel over. Not that this has ever happened to me……
Finally, buy a good cutting board on which to use those kitchen knives. Those weird hard plastic ones are awful, and will ruin your knives. I’ve also seen people try to cut right on their marble or granite counters—argh—or on small plates. Invest in a good-sized wooden block, and give it a good scrub with salt and lemon juice to keep it nice and clean.
Consider buying a separate one if you cut meat. In this case the softer plastic boards are nice because you can sterilize them in the dishwasher, or, if you’re a hand washer, basically scrub the hell out of them with some good dish soap and hot water. Because raw meat atoms are killers, people. (That yellow stain kind of vaguely hovering is from fresh turmeric. You have been warned.)
Ok, you got your kitchen knives. You’re ready to cut stuff.