Basic Knife Skills

My Armory: Chef's, Boning, Utility Knives
Image by panduh via Flickr

Last night I took a basic knife skills class. Now I finally know how to dice an onion. Seriously, learning that was my goal for the class. And it was worth it.

If you have access to a similar class, I strongly urge you to take it. Knowing the proper way to use a knife will really up your game in the kitchen. I had read in books about the right way to hold my non-cutting hand and rock the knife, but there is nothing like seeing an expert doing it in person and then having them critique you to really learn the technique. Now I just have to practice!

Besides dicing the onion, we learned how to dice round vegetables like carrots, julienne, chiffonade leaves like basil and bok choy, tackle larger vegetables like cabbage, and mince herbs. The advanced knife skills class moves on to meat. I may take that one as well, even though we are not big meat eaters, because I still don’t know how to take apart a chicken.

I also learned how to take care of my expensive knives. Here are the take-home lessons: hone your knife on a sharpening steel every time you use it, and sharpen them every 6 months. I’m so glad I found a local place that will sharpen them for a reasonable price, because I fully intend to start taking proper care of my knives. A really sharp knife makes all the difference. By the way, honing doesn’t sharpen the knife; it only re-aligns the blade to keep the edge.

There are only three knives you really need: an 8-inch chef’s knife, a paring knife and a serrated utility knife. A utility knife has a rounded tip and is more handy than a bread knife because it can be used to slice bread and cut many other things, such as waxy squashes, watermelon, etc. Look for knives that feel good in your hand and have a full tang (click for pictures). A good knife, well taken care of, will last a lifetime. You can skimp on the serrated knife, since you can’t sharpen those and they won’t last as long.

Finally, I found out some things I am doing wrong. Like my pretty bamboo cutting boards have to go. They get nicked up by the knife and then, because they can’t be sanitized in the dishwasher, bacteria start to grow. Fortunately, I have never used them for meat! Plastic or composite cutting boards are the best kind for your knives and your health.

Also, my fancy Japanese knife that I like so much, the Santoku, is pretty much useless for chopping because you can’t do the rocking motion with it. It’s really only meant for sushi because it slices delicate meats and sticky things well. As my husband pointed out, once we get it sharpened, we can still use it for slicing fish and similar things.

I would love to take more cooking classes. I’m most interested in classes that teach skills and techniques, such as braising or baking, rather than those classes that teach you how to make a variety of recipes and are basically just an excuse to pig out. I think I saw a cheese-making class in the catalog — maybe that will be next.

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4 thoughts on “Basic Knife Skills

  1. mac 12 March 2009 at 10:22 am

    Don’t get rid of your bamboo boards, they’re fine. I use them exclusively and I have maple counter tops, Just wash wash wash. Take as many cooking classes as you can, tonight is my last class at Kendall, I’m getting a certificate in professional cookery. I have had a great time and I have learned a lot.


  2. Pat Turlington 12 March 2009 at 8:26 pm

    A great review of your class. i can’t wait to see you in action. Add wine classes to this and you will be a super star. This does sound like a great course for everyone.

  3. Shannon 13 March 2009 at 7:37 am

    I’m not too too worried about the bamboo because, like I said, I don’t use them for meat and I wash both them and my vegetables. I notice one has a crack that may be growing something, though, so it may be time to toss that one!

  4. Shannon 2 April 2009 at 10:53 am

    I kept all but the worst of my bamboo cutting boards. They are still incredibly useful, especially for bread.

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