25 January 2010

My tool box

I'm not a sucker for kitchen gadgets. It helps that I'm cheap, but I also have always followed a pretty good rule: There are very few kitchen tools you need that perform just one task.

I used to say there were no kitchen tools you need that were one-task wonders, and then a friend pointed out to me that a cherry pitter is a handy tool despite the fact that we couldn't think of another use for it. So, buy the cherry pitter, but think twice about avocado slicer, the orange peeler and the grapefruit knife.

In this food-obsessed world, it's no surprise that retailers have pegged us American home cooks as gluttons for FoodTV-endorsed gadgets. I do not need a George Foreman Grill, Rachael Ray's Bubble and Brown nor Emeril Lagasse's Deep Fryer.

What I do need, what every cook really needs, is a great chef's knife.

My knife is the one tool that gets used over and over again each day when it comes to everything from a whole chicken to an apple. It's a decent knife, but not the top of the line. I've had it for about seven years, and I'd guess I'll be using it for many more.

So I wanted just to share with you a few tips when it comes to your kitchen knives. Here goes:
  • Despite what the sales person told you, you do not need a different knife for every kitchen task. Spend your money buying just three good knives: A chef's knife, a paring knife and a serrated bread knife.
  • There are two types of metal knife construction, forged and stamped, and it's important to know the difference when shopping. Forged knives are typically heavier, sturdier and more durable. These are easily spotted as the type of knife where the blade and handle are all one piece, making the handle heavier and easier to use. Forged knives are typically more expensive but will last a lifetime if cared for since they can be professionally sharpened. Stamped knives are lighter in weight and less durable. These knives typically have a handle that is made of wood or plastic.
  • It's true that you are more likely to cut yourself with a dull knife than a sharp one, so get your knife professionally sharpened regularly. Home-sharpening tools help correct the beating knives take in daily use, but they simply can't as good a job as the pros. My local hardware store sharpens knives. Look for stores that specialize in knives. If they don't sharpen, they can tell you who can. Some kitchen stores have knife-sharpening hours as well.
  • A serrated knife can't easily be sharpened, but if it's used properly it should last a long time. Use serrated knives to slice breads, cakes and other soft, delicate food items. Because slicing breads doesn't take the same manpower as chopping a dozen onions, it's OK to go with a less expensive serrated knife.
  • If you use a block to store your knives, insert them upside down. This will keep the blades from dulling as they're pulled in and out. Other good storage options are magnetic strips mounted above a work surface.
  • Even though that granite you love won't be scratched, it's still not the place to chop and slice. Use wood or plastic cutting boards, not glass or other hard, solid surfaces, which will dull your knives. Also, knives can slip on hard cutting surfaces, making it way to easy to cut yourself instead of the food.
  • When shopping for a chef's knife, get your hands on it. You really need to actually slice something (think onion, not banana) to get a feel for how comfortable it is to work with. Specialty kitchen stores or knife shops sometimes give customers the chance to try out knives.

1 comment:

Boothe said...

Your comment about the cherry pitter reminded me of another use we have for it. We also pit the plums that grow on our parking strip trees. They're just small enough to fit in the cherry pitter and although they are pretty tart, they make a great chutney which pairs well with a baked ham.