Knives, for a chef, are more than tools. A knife becomes a part of you, an extension of the hand itself. You can spend money on an array of fancy equipment and tools that claim to make your work in the kitchen easier, but the most important piece of equipment you can ever own is your knife, so it's important that you make the right decision. But what is the right decision? What is the best knife for you?
Anatomy of a Kitchen Knife
Let's first look at the basic structure of kitchen knives:
Forged vs. Stamped
Bolsters and Tangs
Another topic that can spark heated debate among the knife-obsessed is that of bolsters and tangs. A bolster is basically a byproduct of the forging process, which creates a thick band of metal at the heel of the blade before the handle. Sometimes, these bolsters are cut away for aesthetic reasons. Stamped knives don't have a bolster, and many fanatics will claim that a bolster is a sign of quality and safety. While the bolster can add weight at the top of the blade, which helps the balance, it's not a sign of quality nor safety. It's a sign of how the blade was manufactured.
The above points, as previously mentioned, are all a matter of personal preference. A good quality knife isn't solely dependent on if it's handmade, stamped or if the tang extends to the end of the handle. A good knife is one that feels comfortable in your hand, is sharp, and can hold its sharpness. If you're like me, and you have smallish hands, then a blade with a stick tang without a bolster may be the most comfortable grip.
Like everyone else as a newbie at culinary school, I bought a "Knife Starter Kit", much like the one shown in the picture below. The kit includes:
The above kit is one most culinary students at my institution begin with. Kitchen equipment is expensive, and this kit is around 475 dkk, which is less than $100 CAD/USD. Pretty affordable, right? And they do the trick! They''re sturdy and sharp. They're also cheap. While they tend to stay sharp for a while, they can quickly become dull with daily use, which is why it's a good idea to invest in a honing steel. You may even have one stashed in your knife block already. A steel is used to hone a knife, keeping an already sharp knife from degrading too quickly. However, a steel will not sharpen a dull blade, and if your knife is dull or pitted, take it to a professional for sharpening. Honing is considered non-destructive, while sharpening is not. To sharpen a blade, you need to remove bits of it. My former boss had a boning knife that's been sharpened so many times that it resembles a toothpick with a handle.
There are three main types of honing steels:
Check out this video on how to steel or hone your knife:
Other Types of Knives
You really only need a couple of good, universal knives in your kitchen: A chef knife, a serrated knife and a paring knife. These knives can tackle most jobs thrown your way.
There is a huge array of specialized knives and tools on the market, but I've selected some that I personally own and enjoy using, which you can see below.
Japanese vs. Western Knives
When I talk about Japanese and Western/German knives, there are a few differences that are about more than just style.
Without getting into a huge debate, the main differences between these knives are hardness, shape, blade thickness and steel used. Many would argue that one is better than the other, but it really comes down to preferences and how much you're willing to spend.
Japanese knives are known for their lightweight, hard steel, which can hold an edge (stays sharp) for longer. The drawback is that the blades can get notched, and if you drop one, it can break.
Western knives are known for being durable and heavier, with a softer steel. The weight of the knife can help in cutting through ingredients. The softer blade means it may not hold an edge for as long, but instead of notching or breaking, it may bend instead.
If you're interested in learning more about Japanese and Western knives, you can read this article at sharpen-up.com.
Knives are one of the most important tools in the kitchen, but safety while using potentially hazardous tools is even more important for your own safety and well-being.
Here are some of my top safety tips:
1. The claw grip
Ok, the name may sound a bit silly, but it's accurate. You literally make a claw shape with the hand holding the food being sliced, which means tucking fingertips under your knuckles and keeping your thumb back and away from the blade. When slicing, the blade rests against your knuckles, keeping those soft fingertips on your fingers where they belong, instead of in the food.
2. Use a sharp knife
It may sound silly to say it, but a sharp knife, as scary as it may be, is much safer to use than a dull blade. Sharp blades don't take as much work to use, meaning that not only do you reduce strain to yourself, but you don't need to press as hard for the knife to cut. The harder you have to work to cut something, the more there is potential for that knife to slip, and for your to injure yourself. Unless you're clumsy like I am, and can trip over shadows.
3. Put a damp cloth under your cutting board
When you place a damp cloth under your cutting board, the cutting board is much less likely to move around or slide while using it. This gives better stability (just be sure that the cutting board isn't rocking on the cloth) and reduces risk of accidental cuts.
4. Cleaning knives
Never put a knife into a sink full of soapy water. The next person, or even you, may lose sight of it and cut your hand when reaching in. Place the knife on the side of the sink, wash it immediately, or place used knives into a separate bucket for separate cleaning. Remember to store your knives safely and out of reach of small children.
5. Never try to catch a falling knife
Even if you have superhero-like reflexes, and congrats if you do, never try to catch a falling knife. Put your hands up, step back, and let it fall. It's better to let the floor take a bit of damage rather than chopping pieces of yourself to bits.
A knife is an extension of the arm, and having the right tools to work with can make all the difference. However, you don't need to break the bank to have great knives. Buy the best you can afford, because they will last longer, but be sure to try them out first. It's important that the tools are comfortable in your hands.
Practice proper knife skills, but remember that practice makes perfect.
I hope you enjoyed this post on knives! If you like this content, and would like to see more, feel free to leave a message below or contact me via email, facebook, twitter or instagram. Tell me what you'd like to see next, and be sure to share with your friends.
Until next time, stay chefy!
In previous posts, I talked about how to make and use stocks, and about different soup types. Today, I'll be talking about sauces.
Sauces are the common thread that tie a dish together, adding bags of flavour and moisture to what could otherwise be a dry or bland mouthful. In the early 20th century, French chef Georges Auguste Escoffier, referred to by press as "The King of Chefs and the Chef of Kings", modernized sauces in classic French cuisine into what we now call "The Mother Sauces".
Also called a White Sauce, bechamel sauce is simple to make, since it doesn't require stock. It is simply milk that has been thickened with a roux. Roux is made by cooking equal parts of butter and flour together, and added to sauces and brought to a boil.
A velouté sauce is simple, like a bechamel, but uses stock from unroasted bones instead of milk. A roux is used to thicken the stock to be used for soups, such as my mushroom velouté, or a variety of sauces, such as:
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Or Spanish Sauce. Despite the name, it doesn't have much to do with Spain. The story, as told by Escoffier Online, is that at the wedding of Louis XIII to Anne, the Spanish cooks insisted on putting Spanish tomatoes onto the gravy for a more well-rounded flavour. The sauce was a hit, and the rest is history.
Espagnole is a brown sauce flavoured with tomato and brown roux. A brown roux is made from animal fat and flour, then roasted in the oven. The fat comes skimming the top of stock made from roasted beef bones. One part fat to two parts flour is combined and spread into a baking sheet and baked at 140-150°C (285-300°F) for 1-1.5 hours.
Hollandaise is probably the most well-known of the mother sauces, not only for its use in the popular Eggs Benedict, but for its reputation for being finicky. Hollandaise, like mayonnaise, is an emulsion. Egg yolks, which contain water, mixed with oil by itself would separate. When acid (lemon, vinegar) is added together with the whisking motion, the mixture is able to blend more freely and stabilize. For a more sciency explanation of what an emulsion is, and how it works, you can check out Stella Culinary's explanation here. Hollandaise is the basis for:
The best tip I can give for making hollandaise/bearnaise sauce is that all the ingredients should be the same temperature when you combine them for the highest chance of them sticking together without splitting. Find a great recipe for hollandaise here.
Some of these sauces are far more difficult to master than others, like the hollandaise sauces, but with practice and patience you can pack loads of flavour and moisture into any dish with just one good sauce.
In my post entitled "All about Stocks", I explain about the different types of stocks that are the foundation for great soups and flavourful sauces. This post elevates stock to a new level and focuses on soups.
Whether a steaming bowl of chicken noodle soup, or a comforting, creamy bowl of potato soup that seems to coat our ribs like a fuzzy sweater, soups are a fantastic comfort food that almost everyone loves to eat. In french tradition, soups are broken up into 2 groups: Clear Soups and Thick Soups. Any soup that doesn't fit snugly into these two categories are lumped into a third category called specialty/national.
Clear soups are based on stock that hasn't been thickened, such as a good, old-fashioned chicken noodle soup. The clear soup category can be broken down as follows:
A thick soup is soup that has been...well...thickened. Whether using a thickening agent, or a puree to make it thick, these soups are the easier to make, requiring less fine knifework and lots of room for error. The types of thick soups are:
Specialty or National Soups
What is a Stock?
Stocks play a very important part in the culinary world as the basis for soups, sauces and more. A well-made stock can pack your dishes with a punch of rich, deep flavour that sets it far apart from watery stocks and store-bought granules, and it's easier than you might think.
Stocks (or fond in french) is one of the foundations of professional cooking, whether simmering tender chicken and noodles for a comforting bowl of soup, or want a thick, rich sauce for your meat and potatoes. Stocks are essential, and important to get as much flavour our of your ingredients as possible.
A stock is an essence created by simmering ingredients in water for a long period of time to draw out the flavours. There are many stock varieties all over the world, but for now, I will stick with the basic four types of stock:
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Hey there! My name is Lea, and I'm a Canadian Culinary student trying to survive chef life in Denmark. I want to share my journey, and some great food and experiences with others. I believe that anyone can be quite chefy!