Welcome to Part 2 of our Knife Skill Series.
In the first part of our knife skill series we learned the anatomy of knives. Today we will follow up and learn how to care for our knives. Cooking with a well cared for and high quality knife will make all the difference. I can’t say that enough. But even if you buy the nicest knife in the entire world, if it isn’t properly cared for and maintained, it won’t matter. You may as well have purchased a knife for $5.99 at Target or just tried using a spoon to cut up that onion.
Sharpening and Honing
Most of the steps we take to care for our knives are to keep our knives sharp. Sharp knives cut well. Sharp knives make us happy. So we will start here today.
Washing & Drying
Immediately after you are done chopping or preparing your meal, your knives should be washed. Knives should be washed by hand. Putting a knife in the dishwasher can pose a couple of problems. First, it might mess with the handle. Second, it is much more likely to get jostled and banged into other utensils or objects in the dishwasher, which can dull, dent or bend the blade. Not good. Don’t ever place your knives in a sink full of water. It’s worse than swimming in the ocean with Jaws in the water -trying to reach into the sudsy water and hoping you find the handle not the blade. How do you hand wash knives safely? This is how I do it. I use a kitchen sponge and wrap it around the back side or spine of the knife and scrub back and forth from the bolster to the tip. Then I rinse and immediately dry the knife.
Why do I approach it from the spine? So that if I slip, I won’t cut my thumb off :). It also keeps my sponge from being maimed.
If I have cut any meat and need to sanitize the knife before chopping raw ingredients, I will spray my knife blade with a diluted bleach solution (1 teaspoon bleach per 1 quart warm water) after cleaning it, let it sit for a couple minutes, then thoroughly rinsing the knife to remove the bleach. I’m not sure this is technically kosher, but it’s what I do. I also have water that comes out of my sink really hot. Like 180 (and yes I have measured the temperature). So I will also just run it under super hot water for a few minutes after cleaning the blade as well, if I’m worried about disinfecting it.
Some knives need to be dried so they don’t rust. All knives appreciate being washed and dried right after you are finished. They really don’t appreciate having bits of garlic dry onto their blades. And you won’t appreciate trying to clean dry garlic off your blade. (Not that I have ANY personal experience doing that.)
The knife drawer. It’s pretty much the worst idea ever. Knives banging together equals dull blades. Plus it’s kinda like Russian Roulette trying to get a knife out of the drawer without cutting yourself on another knife. There are devices that you can use in a drawer that keep the knives separated and comfy cozy. I’m cool with that idea. But one of my very favorite kitchen gadgets in the whole wide world is a knife block. Does it make me weird that I get all jazzed about a knife block?
Remember how we talked about buying open stock knives instead of a knife set? Well, sometimes, this is a pain because your knives might not fit in a standard knife block. Enter the Kapoosh Knife Block. It is magic.
The Kapoosh has hundreds of flexible nylon filaments inside the wooden frame. Kind of like a Pin Head (remember those toys?) When you slide your knife in, the filaments move out of the way. This allows you to store any shape knife in pretty much any configuration. Cool huh?
The filaments are soft enough that they won’t dull your blade. And the entire filament block can be removed so it can be washed.You can store pretty much any knife (except really long ones) in the block. Seriously, check it out. They are so cool!
This is my knife block.
Also acceptable are magnetic knife strips or other devices that keep the knives separated.
If you want your knife to stay sharp, then you have to be nice while cutting things. The most important prevention is to use a proper cutting board. A cutting board needs enough give, so that it doesn’t dull the blade as it comes in contact with the board. Cutting boards made of wood or soft-ish plastic are a.o.k. But cutting boards made of glass? Um. No.
The kitchen counter? Also not a good idea. First off, it will ruin your counter top and second it doesn’t have enough give and will dull your knives.
So which is better, wood or plastic? Opinions vary. I have both. A lot of people will say that you should use plastic for cutting any meats, since it can be sanitized better. But there is a huge caveat. If your plastic cutting board has any deep grooves in it, then it can’t be sanitized and it is probably harboring lots or terrible bacteria.
Wood cutting boards require more maintenance, including oiling the surface. They also shouldn’t be put in the dishwasher.
The Right Knife for the Right Job
Obviously, you should’t cut through tin cans or shoes like they did in the Ginzu informercials. But you should also avoid cutting through hard objects, like bones. Sometimes you might need to cut through hard or very substantial objects. Use the right knife to the job. Seems like a silly thing to say, but don’t try to cut challah with a cleaver. Use common sense. Small knives for small jobs, big knives for big or heavy duty jobs.
The End, for now…
Hopefully, you are already following many of these guidelines and you won’t need to change your behavior too much! Be nice to your knives are they will be nice to you! In the next installment we will actually begin using our knives and learning the basics of cutting, chopping, mincing, dicing, cubing, julienning, chiffonading, and so forth.
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