Whenever I'm asked what are the basic essentials for any cook's kitchen, it really comes down to a handful of things: a couple of saucepans, sauté pan, chopping board. And knives.
Let's face it, you're not going very far, culinarily speaking, without one. When you think of how often you hold your favourite knife in your hand, to slice strips off a fillet, cut calyx off strawberries, dice up a mango, it's worth making the experience a joy.
Christmas time and the push into the summer entertaining season means that many cooks will seize the opportunity to trade up in the steel department. And even the food-obssessive who has everything would never, ever say no to another knife (we always need another knife).
|The knife selection wall at The Essential Ingredient|
But it needs to be the right knife. What handles beautifully for one cook will not suit another and it is imperative that you get into store (we naturally suggest The Essential Ingredient) and road-test a few. Hold the knife in your hand, feel the weight, make the motions you will use over and over again. Good knives will last you a lifetime, so for goodness' sake, find something you truly love. And that loves you back. Don't simply give in to the appeal of the trendy - when Anthony Bourdain raved about them and Global Knives became the latest cult toy, a friend ran out and got one. But while the Global is a beautiful piece of acute-edged engineering, her grip on the handle brought her hand into constant contact with the heel of the knife. Constantly, bloodily so. That knife now sits in a dusty drawer, with single chopsticks and abandoned candy thermometers.
Many people will get by just fine with a chef's knife and a paring knife. Then they start to add a utility knife, a bread knife, an occasional dalliance with a filleting one. Look at a knife set seriously and consider whether it meets your actual cooking needs. And that maybe you'd be better off with a small Sabatier, a Wüsthof workhorse and a shiny Shun than a set of knives stamped in the same stable.
|Michel Bras knives, made in collaboration with Shun. Hand-assembled, with an individual serial number|
There is little I adore more than the sight of a beautiful high-carbon soft-steel knife from Japan. Am I going to wipe it down with oil before and after every use? No, no I am not. So I gaze at them admiringly and move on. For some chefs, a genuine single forged knife is key. Others will trade the sharpness of the edge for the hardiness of the steel. As with food, it is down to you and your preferences.
A knife enthusiast I know says "People only cut themselves on blunt knives". And this is true, you've bought something with an exquisite edge, so hone it regularly and when needed, bring it in for a professional sharpening at The Essential Ingredient. (Or if you are confident, you can sharpen your knives at home on an oilstone or waterstone.)
There's the old saying "a poor workman blames his tools". Well with one of these lovely knives from The Essential Ingredient you've got no one left to blame but yourself. Cut wisely, cut once ...
The Essential Ingredient is conducting knife sharpening services every week during November and December. Leave your knives by 4pm on Tuesday for Wednesday noon collection. Service from $8.50