Have you ever wondered what your most essential item in your kitchen drawer is? Have you ever thought about the details of kitchenware you are using every day? Or are you aware of the different types of knives in your kitchen drawer? If even one of these questions captured you, keep reading!
In this article, Cat Bude (author of this article) explains what you need to know about kitchenware we are using every day, knives.
Now, let’s take a look at her insights on knife essentials.
There is no object you own that is anything like your kitchen knife. Every day you pick it up and use it to create and transform. This, I suppose, could be true of a paintbrush or a keyboard, but the knife is more than a creative or functional tool … A kitchen knife carries a cultural, historical and technological load out of all proportion to its simple structure. A knife has a beautiful purity of purpose, it’s almost the perfect expression of form that precisely follows function. - Tim Hayward. Knife, The Culture, Craft and Cult of the Cook’s Knife. 2016
Although a spatula or a whisk might come to mind as the most essential items in your kitchen drawer — the knife is at the top of my list. Years and years ago - when I first started watching food TV shows - it seemed odd to me, why a chef or cook would arrive with their personal knife-roll. (Who could forget — ‘Please pack your knives — and go” !?) But soon, I learned the importance of a good knife and maybe even more so — a good knife that you KNOW. Have you ever cooked in someone else’s kitchen? It almost feels about the same as camping. You might have a good spoon or a basic knife (the paring knife is the number one choice when asked what knife most home cooks prefer.) a cutting board, spatula — maybe some tongs. When I used to do catered dinner parties, I learned to pack all of my favorites — having my own kitchen tools supported my confidence in cooking in ‘foreign’ spaces. When I travel to the US to teach cooking workshops - you can bet there is an extra suitcase of kitchen essentials going with me!
Knives 101- What you need to know
Materials. The first knives in primitive times were made from flint, bone and wood. Here is a list of the various choices we have in our modern world:
- Stainless Steel. This is what most standard household knives are made of. In the early 20th century, stainless steel was developed by adding chromium to carbon steel to make it more durable and resistant to rust. Stainless steel is also much slower to corrode when exposed to acids (hence the name stainless steel, duh). It’s important to note, though, that no steel knife is completely invincible – they all break down when exposed to acids, salts, and moisture.
- High-Carbon Stainless Steel. High carbon stainless steel is basically stainless steel with a little more carbon added. This is supposed to make the knife both stain resistant and more capable of holding an edge, but while high carbon cutlery may hold its edge a little longer than standard stainless steel, it’s not by a huge margin.
- Damascus Steel. Damascus, or pattern welded steel, is more of a process than a type of metal. By taking a few different kinds of steel and layering them together, artisan knife-makers achieve unique patterns in their cutlery. Take a peek and you’ll notice that Damascus knives have interesting-looking patterns throughout the metal blade, and these patterns actually go all the way through the knife. Anything called “Damascus-look” isn’t really damascus at all; it’s most likely a superficial pattern in the surface of the metal that just looks pretty.
- Other Metals. Knife manufacturers put all sorts of metals in their steel mixtures. They can contain such compounds as cobalt, nickel, manganese, and others, each having their own properties. There’s no such thing as “the perfect knife” – each manufacturer will tell you that their steel recipe is the best for X and Y reasons. In the end — the only way to truly understand which knives are stronger and sharper is to use them yourself.
Handmade vs. Machine-made. This is one area where I truly believe you get what you pay for. You can purchase a really great knife that rolls through an assembly line and is made of high quality material and has a blade stamped with a renown brand — or you can purchase a knife that spent many hours and days in the hands of an artisan (and the blade is signed if you are lucky!) I have both in my knife collection - as I was gifted an artisan made knife that I could not afford otherwise. I have to tell you — it’s outstanding and blows all of my other knives, out of the knife drawer. This is what it looks like and even though it’s a little samurai looking in my opinion — the blade is so exceptional, it is currently my most used knife. I feel the difference between the machine- made and handmade knives is ‘soul’ — I think you can feel the dedication and craftsmanship in an artisan knife, that makes it more than just an essential tool.
But what is more important? Uses!
Ever try to cut a tomato with a butter knife? A baguette with a steak knife? Or a roast with a paring knife?
I think growing up — my mom had three types of knives in her kitchen drawer. A paring knife, a serrated knife and a set of steak knives (which seemed to be used for everything!) As a child of the processed food generation — not a lot of whole foods were being made in the kitchen, outside of chopping an onion or dicing celery. On Sunday the steak knife sets would be on the table so that we could manage to cut our roast beef.
But now — as so many are accomplished home-cooks or foodies — knives and food prep have hit a new level of precision. Do you recognize any of these names of ‘knife strokes’? The chop, the rocking chop, the push slice, the pull slice, the ‘locomotive’ (I did not make that one up!) the sawing cut …?
Guide to the most essential knives:
So what’s in your knife drawer? Here are the basic types of knives and their uses …
The Chef’s Knife - Uses: general purpose. Called the ‘most desirable’ of all French pattern kitchen knives, it’s the major chopper in your kitchen. The curved blade lends to the ‘rocking’ type of chopping and dicing. Find my favorite here.
Santuko ‘chef’s knife’ - Uses: all purpose. This knife is a user-friendly version of the classic chef’s knife, with the addition of the grooves in the blade that help it not to get stuck in ‘suction’ as it glides through potatoes, root vegetables, meat, and fish. It’s also a great chopper and easier to handle than larger chef’s knifes. Find my favorite here.
Nakiri Knife - Uses: vegetable cutting and peeling. I love this knife for all of my vegetable prep! It is the ultimate blade for ‘julienne’ and small dicing. The name Nakiri, indicates that it is meant for cutting greens and it chops through cabbage and kale with easy precision. I loved this knife from the first time I used it! This is the set that introduced me to Nakiri.
Paring Knife - Uses: also called the ‘office’ knife, for all veggie prep, peeling and slicing. Many cooks that are uncomfortable with the large chef knife will reach for the small paring knife, although it is challenging, due to its blade size, to do chopping or dicing. I think this is the ultimate paring knife.
Bread Knife - Uses: cutting and slicing bread. Looking for a pretty and durable bread knife? This set is gorgeous.
Hey good lookin'! Are looks important too?
I say YES! It’s your kitchen and a knife (or a pot or a pan) should reflect your style. And sometimes looks also play into function. I love a smooth wood handle, but some knives ‘slip’ in your hands. I love a utility knife with a solid black handle and rivets, but prefer a more carved ergo dynamic feel in my hand. Your grip (the way you hold the knife) is a really important element. If you aren’t comfortable handling a knife — you won’t use it. As well, you won’t use a knife that is hidden in your knife drawer because it’s not nice to look at. I would say in the category of ‘pretty’, these Mito knives that I recently received from Nakano Knives — win hands down. Plus the handles feel great in your hand and the blades are crazy sharp!
What's in my knife drawer? My top 3:
No.1 Pick: I have to say that my number one choice is a chef’s knife, for obvious reasons. If you can handle a big knife (the blade is normally 8” or more) then I think you will find this one is the most versatile for all kinds of chopping, dicing and cutting. It is not the best slicing knife for meat or poultry however, because the wide blade does get ‘stuck’ with suction in some foods instead of gliding through.
No. 2 Pick: The all-purpose paring knife. This is a good choice if you are doing finer work and for peeling it is a must.
No. 3 Pick: I would have to go with the Santuko as my second first choice actually — because it is similar to a chef’s knife but smaller. I find it user friendly for those daunted by bigger blades, and can do all the same cuts and chops.
Because I have been doing photography work for Nakano Knives, I have had the chance to try so many of their great knives. Although this isn’t a sponsored post, I had to mention the ones I love best, as having new knives has really opened up my cutting capabilities in my kitchen. I am more inclined to do a finer dice or julienne and chopping does go much faster and more consistently. One thing I want to mention in wrapping up, is that knives come first and knife-skills follow. I don’t think it’s possible to do better with knife skills if you are using sub-par knives. Speed and fancy tricks are not important - honestly, I am more of a slow and precise (and careful!) knife skills fan.
If you are interested in trying out a knife made by Nakano, be sure to use the code RABBITHILL at check-out to take advantage of current discounts and promotions.
Check out Cat's original article here.
Cat is a writer, photographer, vintage seller, and foodie at heart. She has over 40k followers on her Instagram where she shares French country lifestyle content along with delicious recipes. Her days are filled with daily tasks ranging from writing, photography, and recipe testing to enjoying French country life in Rabbit Hill, their home in Normandy, France since 2013.
For delicious recipes and stories about French country life, photography, and vintage visit Cat's blog!