Fact: a good knife set is indispensable in a kitchen. Like the cogs of a well-oiled machine, the key to a smooth running kitchen is a good set of knives. Just like a pair of shoes, a suit or a watch, a true gentleman should make an effort to acquire the best knives he can afford. Importantly he should possess the skills required to maintain them, meaning his set will last for many years to come.
Where to start? Or rather, where to look? Most chefs find nirvana after stepping into the temple that is Chef’s Armoury – serious knives that make grown men salivate and tremble. There are plenty of good other retailers such as King of Knives and various kitchen stores… but if you’re looking for the best, my personal opinion is the Armoury.
If you’re starting from scratch you’re going to need 3 knives, a good quality ‘steel’ and a sharpening stone. This is your arsenal and will allow you to do almost any job in the kitchen. Remember to buy the best you can afford and always remember a well maintained entry level knife is better than a neglected top range one.
A large chefs knife:
28cms or larger (larger the better). This is your bread and butter. Make sure it’s comfortable, as this will do most of the jobs in your kitchen. Versatility is the key – this is the navy suit of the knife world. Personally I (and various chefs from top restaurants) use the Takamura Octagon. Beautiful lightweight powdered steel. 80% of my jobs are done using this knife, though this is a professional knife and not necessary for the home kitchen. Recommendations for the budding cook: Shuns, Kasumi and Wusthof – make sure to try before you buy – every good retailer should have some vegetables laying around for you to dissect.
A utility knife:
Ideally you want both a boning knife (strong steel for cutting meat of bones) and a filleting knife (flexible for filleting fish etc), though a utility knife is a good place to start – lightweight and maneuverable this knife is for more delicate jobs, and is more likely to be pulled out when impressing the inlaws or the beautiful woman you invited over for dinner. I opt for the Wushtof classic, an inexpensive good knife.
A paring knife:
I’m quite the fan of these little knives. These are your odd-job knives from peeling to scoring and more. I quite like the Shun Elite Paring. It has a thick handle and can be used in multiple ways.
Maintenance: two important things to know about maintaining your knives:
1) YOU ARE MORE LIKELY TO CUT YOURSELF WITH A BLUNT KNIFE – a blunt knife requires much more pressure and strength to cut through anything, resulting in awkwardness and eventual injury. A sharp knife is effortless.
2) A STEEL DOES NOT SHARPEN A KNIFE. It only burs the edge making sure the edge stays longer on your knife – this is important but not enough to protect your investment. Also if you’re not Ramsay you don’t need to pretend to be. Slow even strokes along your steel ensuring the same angle on either side of it, and from tip to heel is being ‘burred’.
To sharpen your knife you’re going to have to invest in a stone. If you’ve purchased Japanese knives I’d implore you also purchase a wet stone (one which you soak in water before sharpening). There are several ways to sharpen a knife but the main thing to know is: whatever angle you decide to sharpen it, keep the same angle. I place my stone parallel in front of me holding my handle in a fist and guiding the blade with my spare hand across the entire face of the stone at a 32-35 degree angle. I repeat the action until I’m satisfied with the edge, repeat the same process on the other side for the same amount of repetitions. Ensure you use the same angle when maintaining your knife on the steel.
When it comes to choosing knives there are a many great variety out there: Japanese vs German; forged vs folded steel; wooden handle vs metal; weighted or lightweight. Essentially no way is right, but more so tailored to suit different preferences. Take the time to use as many different knives to see what feels right for you.