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Buyers’ guide to kitchen knives

Stylish kitchen knives that cut more than the mustard!

Kit out your kitchen with knives that are both practical and stylish with our comprehensive guide

Possibly the most essential and frequently used piece of equipment in any kitchen, a good knife can determine whether cooking becomes a pleasure or a chore. ‘A knife is one tool that has to perform well in your hands every single day,’ says Jay Patel, owner of The Japanese Knife Company, which supplies some of the most highly esteemed chefs and restaurants in the world. ‘Like a pen, an iron or a vacuum cleaner, if it doesn’t work well, it will cause immediate frustration.’ Purchase the right knife, however, and not only will you find food preparation is easier and quicker, but safer and more enjoyable, too. If it’s looked after properly, a quality knife will last a lifetime.

Buying a knife

Although it’s tempting to rush out and arm yourself with a full set, the majority of work you do in the kitchen will be with one or two knives. Professional chefs may buy a blade for a particular purpose, but when choosing knives for your own kitchen, it’s likely you won’t need a vast array. As Marcia Barrington, tutor of the Divertimenti cookery school’s most popular class, Knife Skills, advises, ‘Begin by buying one or two essential knives, then build your ideal set over a period of time as you find you need other blades for more specific tasks.’

When choosing knives, remember the following:
o Buy the best knife you can afford. You get what you pay for and a high-quality knife will last for years. Better to invest in a good knife and sharpener, than a whole block you don’t necessarily need.
o ‘A knife is a tool, not art, so choose function over form and buy a blade not a brand,’ says Jay Patel of The Japanese Knife Company.
o Hold a knife before buying it, to make sure the handle sits comfortably in your palm and that you’re comfortable with the weight. You don’t have to buy the same brand for every knife – many chefs use a whole variety of different manufacturers.
o A well-balanced knife means the handle and blade are almost the same weight, therefore the knife will rock easily. To test, hold it as you would on a board and rock it back and forth to see whether it feels comfortable. Ideally, you have to use your wrist less to achieve a rolling action while cutting. However, unless you’re a professional chef, you’re unlikely to get RSI, so, although it’s nice to have a balanced knife, it’s not absolutely essential.

Choosing your knives

When it comes to knife shape, straight, narrow blades are best for cutting raw or cooked flesh and are not suited to chopping, or cutting fast or with a traditional rolling action. Wider blades with a curved edge are ideal for preparing vegetables (it can rest against your knuckles as you chop) but they are unsuitable for paring or peeling.

A basic set of knives might include two or more of the following:
1. A 15-17cm cook’s knife is essential and the first knife to invest in. Initially, it may seem big, but with practice it will become your knife of choice. ‘This is the knife you’d choose if you were stuck on a desert island,’ says Camilla Schneideman, director of the Divertimenti cookery school. ‘Learn to use it properly and it will be an extension of your own arm’. A good all-round knife with a long, wide, general-purpose blade, it can be used for slicing, dicing, crushing, chopping and mincing. Additionally, you may want a bigger 25cm chef’s knife that will take your weight when cutting things like squash or swede.
2. A paring knife is the most commonly used blade in a domestic kitchen. At 7.5-10cm long, it’s a mini version of the chef’s knife used for slicing and dicing vegetables and delicate pastry cutting. Models with a hooked curve are handy for cutting zest from citrus fruit.
3. A serrated tomato knife is one item that can be cheap and disposable (less than

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Filed under: Kitchen Knives

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