Every kitchen should have a good set of cutlery. It will really make preparing meals a pleasure. High-quality knives -- like good pots and pans -- are an important, if not THE most important, component of your kitchen. If you invest in a good set of knives and care for them properly, they will last for many years. Store them properly and always keep them sharp: Celebrity chef Tyler Florence says that dull knives are more dangerous than sharp ones because you must exert more pressure on a dull knife and there is a greater chance of the knife slipping.
There is a knife for every purpose, so once you've chosen a brand you like, I recommend that you register for a base set and add additional pieces as needed. Here are some of the fundamental knives you'll need: 4" paring, 5" utility, 7" santoku, 8" carving, 8" and 10" chef, and 10" serrated slicing knife (or bread knife). Knives are sold in sets or open stock (individually) which makes it easy to get exactly what you want.
There are basically two types of cutting actions: chopping and slicing. Chopping (dicing and mincing) is generally done by rocking the knife, something we have all seen chefs do with amazing speed and precision. The chef knife, therefore, has a wide blade to allow the cook to control it with the other hand while it rocks back and forth. The chef knife is the truly basic knife, and the one most used.
Slicing knives are used in a back and forth slicing motion against a cutting board. (We'll get to cutting boards later.) Slicing knives can be straight-edged or serrated. Serrated knives have a wavy edge and are perfect for slicing bread. You know how bread ‟crushes" when you try to cut it with a dull kitchen knife? Serrated knives prevent that.
Consider also adding steak knives to your registry. You should have at least 12 on hand. Think T-bone steaks on your summertime grill.
Knife Manufacturing Basics: Essentially there are two styles or ways of making kitchen knives: Japanese (Eastern) and European (Western).
Japanese knives are made with a thinner blade, which produces a more flexible, lighter-weight knife and a more acute angle. These knives are, therefore, extremely sharp and may require more maintenance. Eastern knives are great for preparing sushi or for making decorative cuts.
European knives are thicker, heavier and sturdier and have more obtuse, beveled angles. Western knives are heftier in your hand. This makes them excellent for chopping and mincing.
Some of the brands that I recommend:
- Wüsthof, made in Germany
- J.A. Henckels, made in Germany
- Misono, made in Japan
- Shun, made in Japan
When it comes to both quality and pricing of kitchen knives, you have a wide range to choose from. I recommend that you register for knives that are fully forged. Translation: the manufacturer heats a steel blank of high-carbon stainless steel and pounds it into shape with a drop-forge machine. These knives are pricey, but are definitely worth it. If you are seeking more affordable cutlery, look at knives that are machine stamped.This means they are cut from a sheet of steel of uniform thickness. The blades are then ground and edged, not forged. Carried by most manufacturers, they are still decent quality for their price.
Knife Storage: Take extra care when storing your knives. You can't just throw them haphazardly into a kitchen drawer. That would be both dangerous to you and bad for the knives! Many knife sets come with a hardwood knife block. A space is provided for each knife in the set. Some sets come with a wooden in-drawer knife organizer. Or you can look for one à la carte when you register if you prefer that style.
At home I use the Wüsthof aluminum magnetic strip to store my knives. It hangs securely on the wall close to where I cook. The knives are readily available but don't take up precious counter space. I found it at Crate and Barrel.
Other Related Items to Consider for Your Registry
Kitchen Shears: I consider shears to be a part of the cutlery family. (In fact, they are often included in a knife set.) Shears (scissors) can make kitchen life easier by doing many things a knife can do, but more effortlessly and certainly safer. They are great for snipping fresh herbs (chives, parsley, basil, etc.), cutting fresh pasta, clipping fresh flowers or cutting off the tops of uncooperative bags of chips or egg noodles. DO NOT use these shears to open the FedEx box that just arrived or to cut coupons.
Don't confuse kitchen shears with poultry shears, which are sturdier and shaped for a more specific task. Just like their name suggests, poultry shears can cut through a whole chicken, raw or cooked, with ease, or even cut through a lobster! They should feel solid in your hand and have sturdy blades. A good pair will last for years.
As with your knives, take care of both of these shears by washing them with soapy, warm water and leave them open to dry. Oh, and don't run with them!
A good cutting board is essential to help extend the life of your knives. Never cut on a ceramic, glass, marble or similarly hard surface (there is no give) but instead add a good butcher-block or bamboo cutting board to your registry so you will not dull your knife blades. Look for one that is ample in size to give you the best work space. Wood or bamboo cutting boards can never go in the dishwasher (they would warp), but be sure to clean and dry the board well by hand. Plastic or acrylic cutting boards are another option. They are nonporous, dishwasher safe, less expensive and come in a range of colors.
The debate about which board is best for both cutting and sanitation has been going on for a long time. Wood and plastic each have their pros and cons, so the best solution is to have one of each. Designate one for raw foods (meat, poultry and fish) and one for veggies, bread and other prep foods. Regardless of which you choose, be aware of sanitation and avoid any cross-contamination.
- Look for knives made in Germany or Japan. They have long been considered the premier manufacturing centers for fine, high-quality cutlery.
- Wash, dry and store sharp knives separately (not in the dishwasher).
- Pick up each knife and handle it before you add it to your registry. A comfortable weight and balance can vary for each person.
- Replace serrated knives when they become dull over time, since they are very difficult to sharpen.
- Most things for the kitchen are available for the left-handed cook, so be sure to ask when you register. Also try Williams-Sonoma, Crate and Barrel, Amazon.com, Target or Lefty's in San Francisco.
- Always look for a manufacturer's lifetime warranty and follow all care instructions. Register your knives with the manufacturer.
Whether you just dabble in the kitchen or consider yourself the next Top Chef, cooking will be a pleasure with the right tools. Choose knives from quality manufacturers that will perform well for years. It also doesn't hurt if they look good, too!
Take a Slice Outa Life!