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Kitchen Knife Basics
When you're stocking your kitchen with all the essential gear to handle standard food prep and cooking, it's important to take a look at which knives have made the cut. In selecting a knife set, there are certain features and blades which are must-haves for any home: a chef's knife, a Santoku knife, a serrated knife, as well as a paring knife. Each has a unique purpose and produces distinct types of cuts, so let's take the time to understand the basics of kitchen blades.
True to its name, a chef's knife is a professional-grade utensil and an all-purpose addition to your kitchen. They're real wildcards for any homeowner, and some career chefs have even gone so far as to say that this type of knife should be a natural extension of your hands. Highly versatile, you can use a chef's knife to chop and slice most ingredients ranging from vegetables to meats and more.
The Santoku knife originates from Japan and is widely used as a general purpose knife. Its name means "three virtues," which gives you a glimpse at all it can accomplish: cutting, slicing and dicing. They're typically smaller and lighter than chef's knives, but their blade holds its edge extremely well and doesn't need to be sharpened as often. Santoku knives are particularly great for cutting meats.
Also known as a bread knife, these types of knives contain a serrated edge that makes it possible to slice through bread without weighing it down or crumbling the dough. They're also ideal for chopping tomatoes and assorted fruits like pears. A singular characteristic of serrated blades is that you don't need to sharpen them to get maximum usage.
Much like chef's knives, paring knives are also a general purpose type of kitchen blade and unquestionably important to have in a modern kitchen. You can easily identify them by their small frame when compared to chef's knives. Paring knives are a must for any task that requires a greater level of precision like peeling vegetables, prepping seafood (in particular, shrimp) and also removing seeds from green, yellow and red peppers.
Although it may not seem like it, the technique you utilize when cutting your food is a key factor in how it'll turn out. Cutting techniques are used to create a standard size for ingredients and allow for a better culinary presentation. Above all, however, their real purpose is to ensure that each portion of food you make can cook properly and evenly.
Dicing is the act of cutting an ingredient into cube-shaped pieces. There are three size variations: small, medium and large, but each chef might make adjustments as they see fit. This type of cut applies to both vegetables and meats.
Mincing results in smaller cuts than dicing and is a technique used primarily for flavoring. You can expect to have to mince herbs and spices such as garlic, making this particular cut incredibly important for seasoning your food.
A staple in French culinary technique, the julienne cut comprises of cutting ingredients in long, thin slices. The idea is to create visually appealing dishes and to use certain food items like tomatoes and other vegetables for decorative flourishes.
Chiffonade is a classic cut for leafy greens and other greenery. You can achieve the chiffonade cut by layering the ingredients and rolling them in a cylindrical shape and cutting across in evenly spaced beats.
Kitchen Knife Maintenance
If you've got a good set of knives in your kitchen, you should also make time to maintain and care for them. This includes cleaning them well after each use and, most importantly, sharpening them as needed. A dull knife is a health hazard and can greatly impair your ability to cook the meals to the standard that you've become accustomed to.
How often you should sharpen your knives depends on how heavily and frequently you use them. Professionals who deal with blades on a daily basis have to sharpen them weekly, but for most other people, sharpening once a month will suffice. If you want to determine if it's time to sharpen your knives, there are simple tests you can perform.
One such test is attempting to peel a tomato. If you can slice the peel in one fell swoop, without needing to put any additional strength into it, then your knife is still reasonably sharp. If you encounter difficulty in removing the peel, then it's time to sharpen your blade.