Knives are one of the most important tools in a kitchen, arguably second only to the stove. Choosing the right type of knife (of the right weight, construction, materials, etc.) and the right brand for you is crucial. But which knives should you have in your set? What do they all do, and how do they differ from one another?
These are the five knives every well-equipped kitchen needs:
A chef’s knife (or ‘cooks knife’) is the cornerstone of your collection. This is the most versatile knife in your kitchen, used for almost any chopping, slicing, trimming or carving.
Usually the blade of a chef’s knife is 20cm (8”) in length, although some chefs prefer a longer blade with additional weight.
Traditionally, the blade is curved to allow a rocking motion when chopping with a minimum of force. It tapers to a point to allow intricate tasks to be performed accurately.
Remember, this will be your ‘workhorse’ in the kitchen, so ensure the weight, balance and handle are correct for you.
A common companion to the chef’s knife is the utility knife. This is a smaller version of the chef’s knife, typically with a 10cm – 18cm blade.
The utility knife is used for finer work, making shallow cuts or incisions (such as scoring calamari, or creating cavities in a roast for garlic and herbs, and for any cutting where greater control over a small area is required.
A paring knife, also a valuable part of your collection, is smaller again, the handle fitting easily between the thumb and forefinger for maximum control.
It is commonly used in the preparation of fruit and vegetables, since the narrowness of the blade makes it easier to change direction mid-cut. It can be used to peel, to remove seeds and stalks, and to shape decorative shapes into fruit and vegetables.
More specialised in its use, a carving knife is often a little longer than a chef’s knife, but far narrower, and without the chef’s knife’s customary curve.
It is used primarily, as the name suggests, for carving meat, particularly roasts. The shape of the straight blade makes it easier to create precise, thin slices of meat, even when slicing at the table.
A carving knife must be razor sharp to produce minimal friction on the meat, allowing you to cut easily and cleanly against the grain.
A bread knife has a serrated blade, around 25cm or less, which is ideal for slicing bread and pastries.
The serrated blade is long and straight to allow for even and precise slicing. It is also ideal for slicing soft fruit or vegetables where you want to avoid squashing.
Bread knives (and other serrated knives) should not generally be used with fish or meat, as the blade can damage the structure of the flesh.
Other popular knives:
Santoku: a popular variation to the chef’s knife, often referred to as a ‘Japanese chef’s knife’. ‘Santoku’ means ‘3 good things’ – cutting, slicing and mincing. Often available with a Granton (dimpled) blade to prevent food sticking and to allow for more efficient slicing.
Boning knife: essential when working with whole fish or poultry, or when trying to cleanly remove meat from the bone (such as tunnel-boning a leg of lamb). Its flexible, thin, curved blade helps you control the knife when removing bones, skin or cartilage, without damaging the meat.
Cleaver: common in Asian kitchens. Features a large, solid, rectangular blade that can generally be used with greater force, assisting in the cutting of harder materials without harming the blade.
There are, of course, many other knife varieties, most of them suited to a specific purpose (ie. sashimi knife, tomato knife). The above list, however, should provide an outline of the various knives that are most commonly used in the kitchen.
The Essential Ingredient understands how important having the right knife is in the kitchen, and that’s why we supply knives to many of the country’s leading chefs. If you need help buying your first knife, increasing your collection or getting some tips on how to care for and get the most from your knives, visit your nearest store and speak to one of our experts.