How to Use Chef Knives: The Beginner’s Way
If you’re planning to begin your career as a chef, how to select the right knife, proper handling of kitchen knives and maintaining them all are crucial to sustain in this field. Proper knife skills will enhance your general experience and boost your confidence level. In this article, we’ve jotted down detailed instructions about the aforesaid aspects.
1. How to Choose the Right Knife
A. Anatomy of Knives
A chef’s knife may consist of variations with regard to its size, material, weight and price but all the knives comprise of the same cardinal parts and constructions. From butt to point and everything in between, we’re going to discuss them all here.
Blade is the knife’s main body and comprises of tip, point, edge, heel and spine. The shape, size and material of blade are the factors that define the characteristics of a knife. Different kinds of blade points are Spear point, Needle point, Trailing point, Clip point, Drop point, Sheepsfoot point, Gut hook and Tanto point.
Bolster refers to the area between the handle and the blade. It enhances the stability of the knife by counter-balancing the handle and the blade. Critical areas such as handle to blade intersection and rear of the knife where high impacts need reinforcement are improved by the bolster. These also aid to secure and protect the handle.
It’s the portion of a knife that stretches from bolster to the rear. It may vary in shape, material and weight. Though knife handles have typically been made of wood, wood handles trigger certain problems due to its porous nature. For this, handles made of rubber or plastic are becoming popular. Nowadays, some handles, made of composite materials, are having plastic resin treatment to give them a wooden appearance as wood is more appealing to many people.
The edge or belly is the sharp-edged portion of the blade that stretches from point to the end of heel. The angle is designed for specific tasks of a knife. Chef knives are multi-tasking tools and normally come with a grind angle of 30-50 degrees. They mainly focus on finesse and control in slicing, mincing and dicing herbs and vegetables.
Situated at the butt of a blade, it’s the widest part of a knife’s edge. It’s the most powerful part of a blade and is perfect for cutting activities that need more force like chopping tough items such as nuts, carrots, winter squash or even chicken bones. Knives that come with longer blades generate greater leverage, thus producing greater cutting force.
Rivets are the cylindrical, raised studs that hold the handle securely fixed to the tang area of a knife. This can be typically found in knives with wooden handles. In case of presence of rivets, make sure that the tops are even and don’t obtrude from the handle by any chance.
This is the place where a knife’s stability, balance and strength come from. It’s the metallic part of blade that stretches to the handle. Based on the knife, tang can expand halfway to the handle (partial tang) or till the end of the knife’s handle (full tang). Full tang constructions offer better balance, thus making the knife much easier to use.
B. Types of Knives
To become a good cook, you would only need to have three types of knives. With these three types and lots of patience as well as practice you’ll be able to enhance your knife skills and cooking skills from beginner to expert almost in no time. Even though you can find different kinds of kitchen knives everywhere nowadays, these three are crucial for every kitchen.
a. Three Must Have Knives
1. Chef’s Knife
Chef’s Knife is the most important knife in your kitchen and you’ll be doing most of your kitchen work with this. You’ll use it for chopping herbs, vegetables, carving chicken, slicing steak and whacking coconuts, amongst others. With an extensive blade typically ranging between six and ten inches (most advice an eight-inch knife), you can do almost anything that you need to learn to uplift your skills.
2. Paring Knife
The small paring knife is crucial for performing certain tasks in your kitchen, which are almost impossible to perform with your chef’s knife unless you’re an expert. Like their bigger counterparts, paring knives also come in different styles, weights and prices. It’s much like a mini chef’s knife that holds a blade. It usually ranges between two to four inches and becomes useful for tasks like supreming citrus, peeling fruits etc.
3. Bread Knife
For any kitchen, bread knife is less-used compared to chef’s knife or paring knife. This thin, long and serrated knife becomes handy when you need to slice a country loaf or the softest brioche. And it does that smoothly without smashing the bread or loaf on its way. Additionally, you can use these knives to slice ripe tomatoes, make eye-catching chocolate shavings and level cakes.
b. Other Essential Knives
4. Fillet Knife
It’s a specialist knife used for filleting and skinning fish. With its nimble, sharp and flexible blade, you can easily get into a fish and slice through its flesh while working around the bones. This is ideal when you need to have some delicate fillets of your desired fish.
5. Carving Knife
A carving knife is utilized to carve meat from the bone. The long blade of this knife does most of the work on your behalf. You just need to carefully cut down the bone and ease the meat to make a smooth and beautiful slice. Apart from carving meat, you can use it to slice larger vegetables and fruits like eggplant and melons too.
6. Boning Knife
This knife especially becomes handy when you need to debone fish and meat. The narrow, stiff and sturdy blade holds a sharp point, which helps you to make accurate boning in deep holes and cuts. The blade of this knife is designed to work around muscles and bones much easily. With a general kitchen knife, these things seem to be tricky enough to cut through. However, a boning knife gives you total control when you break down a full chicken or butterfly lamb or pork chops.
7. Cleaver Knife
You can break down meat with a cleaver knife, which is characterized by a distinctive thick blade. The sharp tip can be used the same way as you do with your regular knife to slice through the flesh. Then you can use the blade’s weight to break through the bone. The ribs can be nicely separated with this knife.
8. Utility Knife
This everyday knife comes with a smooth, precise and sharp blade. It’s ideal for chopping, slicing and peeling. As this knife is bigger compared to a paring knife, it can be used for switching between vegetables and fruits of different sizes. For instance, you can use it to finely carve red onions and quarter cherry tomatoes.
9. Steak Knife
You can cut food at ease on the table when serving chops, roasts and steaks. The serrated edge greatly helps you to effortlessly carve through meat and juicy steak by creating a gentle sawing action. In case you don’t have steak on the menu, you can use it for spreading butter, cutting salads among others.
2. How to use the Knives Properly
While holding the knife, the palm of your hand should choke up on the knife’s handle while the index finger and the thumb grip the upper portion of the blade. This way, you can use the knife’s weight most effectively together with the sharpness of the blade and strength of the arms, all of which make it an effortless cutting.
Safe chopping is one of the fundamental things to learn for chefs. In tip-fulcrum method, you need to use the tip as fulcrum to lift the dull end of the knife’s blade up and down while strongly pushing the knife toward the ingredient you’re chopping. In wrist-fulcrum method, the area near your grip shouldn’t leave your cutting board and your knife’s point should move up and down to slice the food.
Diced ingredients are much smaller compared to chopped ones. You can create fairly uniform dices by scoring fruits and vegetables through before slicing them at perpendicular angles. First score the ingredients in two different directions at a uniform interval and dice them by applying your knife at perpendicular angles to the scoring.
For slicing, hold the ingredient core-side up, take the knife and around the core at an angle. Now, remove the core and lay the vegetable on its side. Begin from the core end and cut uniform slices utilizing a back-and-forth motion. When the vegetable becomes to tiny to hold, put the remaining portion and slice horizontally.
3. How to Maintain the Knives
Use Wooden Cutting Board
Knowing how to maintain and care for your knives properly would ensure they have greater longevity, let you work more effectively and are safer to use. Unkempt, dull knives can easily slip and can result into unwanted situations. Use composite plastic or wooden cutting boards only. Never use ceramic, glass, steel or marble boards as they’ll wear the edge of your knives.
Clean Knives with Hand and Water
Even if the knives come with a tag that says ‘dishwater compliant or safe’, invest in that minimum amount of time to clean those with your hand. This is helpful for the blade apart from safety. After cleaning, with the help of a dishcloth, gently wipe the knife’s blade from top to sharp edge..
Sharpen the Knives
Irrespective of the price and material, all knives become dull at some point of time. You can check their sharpness by slicing through a piece of printer paper. If it does well, you don’t need to sharpen it. Usually, you should sharpen the knives once a year. Instead of doing this yourself, have them professionally sharpened.
Hone Knives Regularly
Honing a knife involves abolishing the dings, burrs and nicks in the blade to adjust the calibration of the angle of the blade’s edge. You need to do this with the help of a knife steel on a regular basis. If your knives are used regularly, it’s advisable to hone the blades after each use or after they have been used a couple of times.
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- Abe Bars