When I was a newlywed, a door-to-door salesman for Cutco knives was transversing my neighborhood. Some of my sister-in-laws, convinced of their merits, succumbed and made the investment. Me? I didn’t want any sharp knives in my house. I was too scared.
My first set of “meat” knives was an impossibly dull set from TJ Maxx that came in a wooden butcher block (my second “dairy” set was at least functional). That’s probably why I avoided root vegetables for so long.
Oh, my sister-in-laws would make fun when they were over at my house for a meal and it was time to cut the watermelon: “Just how do you cut a watermelon in this house?”
Um. That’s why I delegated that job.
I’ve been making due for a while with an adorable red Santoku knife, but I think it’s time have a little more chopping versatility in my drawer.
To get it right once and for all, I asked Chef Mike Gershkovich, executive chef and owner of Mike’s Bistro, considered one of the top chefs in the kosher world, for his professional opinion on the knives I need.
“You need a paring knife, a traditional chef’s knife, and the third knife I’d choose is an offset serrated knife,” Chef Mike tells me. “The paring knife is for intricate tasks, like pruning an artichoke or peeling citrus and removing the segments. A chef’s knife is good for chopping herbs and your everyday chopping. The offset serrated knife will help break down things like melons, which require more power and not much finesse. They’re also good for slicing bread and don’t require sharpening.”
More important than the type of knife, Chef Mike tells me, is having a sharp knife. “In the end, you need a sharp edge. If it’s dull, it doesn’t matter what type of knife it is, or how expensive it was.”
Most of us home cooks don’t really know how to maintain our knives. “I have chef friends who obsess over their knives,” Chef Mike says. “They spend $400 to $500 a knife and dedicate a half hour to an hour a day sharpening them. If you’re like me, you don’t have time to play around with your knives. I just want a sharp knife that takes an edge easily and is cost-effective. The first thing you have to do is maintain your edge as you work by honing your knife on the honing steel.”
Oh. So that’s what that stick is. I always wondered how it got in my drawer. The honing steel straightens the edge of the knife, but doesn’t sharpen. You should hone your knives every time you use them, he tells me.
“The longer you wait to sharpen, the harder time you’ll have getting an edge. For quick sharpening solutions, I recently purchased a $200 knife sharpener. I find it to be very useful. For a home cook, rather than purchasing expensive knives, I think it’s a better investment to purchase a knife sharpener, use $25 - $30 knives, and take old knives and make them new again. ”
Another interesting knife tidbit. Chef Mike tells me that some knives sharpen better than others, and I should look for a knife that has a balance of steel and carbon. Knives like those made by Cutco are made from very hard metal, and though they’ll keep an edge for a long time, once they lose the edge, it’s difficult to get it back.
And if you’re scared of chopping accidents, Chef Mike reassures me that working with a sharp knife is safer than working with a dull one. “You won’t have to put as much force to get results. Knives are much more dangerous when you have to put high energy into cutting.”
To learn how to properly hone your knife and to refine your knife skills, see this video demonstration from Chef Mike.