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What Every Prep Chef Should Know About Cutlery

Aug 18, 2007
Ah, the prep chef, happily whacking away with a steady rhythm. You have no worries about how the Hollandaise sauce is going to turn out, nor how fussy those customers at table seven are. All you have to worry about is making food the right consistency before passing it off to someone else. You can go through the day in an almost Zen-like calm, just tending to the little stuff.

The best restaurants will either let you pick your utensils, or have a good selection already handed down from previous prep chefs. If you're picking out your own, you may be tempted to call that 1-800 number and just get a set of everything (with the bonus turnip twaddler) and be done with it, or you might take your career seriously enough to spend some time seriously picking your tools. Good kitchen knives are never cheap, but they are a career-long investment. Buy wisely and your staff will be using them 50 years from now - to celebrate your restaurant's golden anniversary, of course!

The best-quality knife will be made of either stainless steel or a high-carbon steel and have a sturdy handle. The handle is preferably made of poly-carbonate or nylon instead of wood. Make sure that you get a plain edge, because those wonders that "never need sharpening" just do not work.

It is also recommended that you pass on the complete sets sold by the major knife makers; they usually contain at least one knife you will never use. Instead, buy knives one at a time or in small sets and get the best quality you can afford. Some brand names chefs swear by (and this is an unpaid endorsement!) are Wusthof-Trident, Henkles, Sabatier and Friedrick Dick.

The three knives that you will find essential in every kitchen are a 3-to-4-inch paring knife, an 8-inch chef's knife and a 7-to-10-inch slicer.

The paring knife is definitely one of the most overlooked tools in the kitchen. It not only gets the peeling done, but it also can do a lot of the slicing and dicing usually reserved for the more frequently used chef's knife. For some reason, every time I watch another chef, they reach for a knife that's longer than they need.

A good chef's knife will take care of most of your dicing and chopping magic. It is indispensable if you need to prepare fresh garlic. Just lay the flat of the blade on top of the clove and hit it with your hand, which will smash the clove and split the skin, making removal of the garlic flesh a breeze. An 8-inch blade works best, unless you are very small or very large. Then a 6-inch or a 10-inch knife may be in order, to account for the size of your fist.

Look for a chef's knife which is balanced well with a blade that is wide and rather heavy at the butt, near the handle. A slight curve on the blade's edge will give you a good rocking action while chopping and make the knife much easier to use.

The slicer is used mainly for carving and slicing meat. It's also good for mincing spices, since you can just pitch that handful of chives onto the cutting board and rock the big knife with the curved blade back and forth over it, with both hands on top.

These three knives are good building blocks, but they're just the start. Next, you want to add a bread knife, a bird's-beak parer for peeling and coring round fruits, a second paring knife, and a 6-inch sandwich and utility knife.

To care for your knives, you should wipe them clean with a damp sponge, dry them off with a dish towel, and store them in a knife block, with the blade always down. Never hand them to the dish washer, because the knives will bang against other silverware and get damaged. When using any knife, make sure that the blade lands on a relatively soft surface, such as wood or plastic, rather than on a surface such as the metal surface or ceramic. This is because constant striking on a hard surface will dull the blade rapidly.

Knives should be washed by hand and dried immediately after each use. Because wood tends to swell, it is not a good idea to immerse knives with wooden handles in water for a prolonged period of time. Rubbing mineral oil on the knife's wood handle periodically will maintain their luster. Stains on blades may be cleaned with a mild scouring powder, or with a mildly abrasive pad - never steel wool!

Acidic foods like lemon juice, vinegar, or mustard, should not remain on the blade after use as they will cause discoloration. Your knives should always be cleaned as soon as any job is completed. Knives should be stored in a drawer or in a knife block once they have been cleaned and dried. They should not be stacked, for purposes of both safety and proper edge care.

Remember your safe food handling! To avoid cross-contamination of bacteria, knives should be cleaned before they are used for another product. Most especially they should be kept to separate uses of meat and vegetables for one meal, and never use the same knife for both raw and cooked meat.
About the Author
Freelance writer for over eleven years.

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