Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Tools of the Trade: Knives

When I was a kid, my father would begin many dinners by standing at the dining room table, brandishing a long knife and a sword-shaped sharpening steel. He would quickly run the blade along the steel and then proceed to carve the meat, while the rest of us watched impatiently.

Knives played a large part in our kitchen. We had a giant butcher block counter along one wall, as well as a large assortment of knives. Some of the knives had been handed down from my father's grandfather, and I have two of them still.

Although I have a food processor and use it for quantity cooking, I use it very infrequently. I actually enjoy cutting and chopping food. First, I select the correct knife for the task: paring, boning, slicing, chopping, or carving. Using the right knife is probably what makes the task enjoyable. It's hard to bone a chicken with a paring knife, and it would be impossible to slice ham well with a boning knife.

I never cut on hard surfaces but use my knives on a wooden board, despite some rather dire warnings from family members. (They feared I would poison everyone if I didn't use plastic, which they thought was more hygienic. Science is now on my side, and wood is considered perfectly safe if kept clean.) Afterwards, if the knife is one of my carbon steel ones, I wash it immediately and then dry it. Only my stainless steel knives with plastic handles go into the dishwasher.

I tried using a drawer with slots for each knife, but I have way too many knives and I'm just not organized enough. So I keep them all higgelty-piggelty in a drawer. Although I keep them nice and sharp, I rarely cut myself.

A good knife lasts for years, and some of mine have lasted for generations. I have three or four favorites that I use every single day. A few, like my carving set, are used only once a year or so, but I welcome it like an old friend.

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