Do you know what is it is to julienne? Can you chiffonade?
We won’t mince words here: These terms describe how a particular food should be cut. And the key to doing so is using the right knife.
Because of their shape, edge or blade length, certain knives are best suited for certain tasks like deboning meat or poultry, mincing garlic or cutting carrots julienne-style. Knowing which knife to use and how to use it will make prep work safer and easier. It will also show in the dishes you make. Foods that are cut uniformly look nice and cook evenly.
Prices for knives vary greatly, depending on the materials they’re made with. At Sur La Table, resident chef Steven Delidow says a chef’s knife there can cost as much as $140.
Generally, a knife made with high-carbon stainless steel costs significantly more than one made of basic stainless steel because its carbon content helps keep it sharp.
When shopping for a particular knife, he says, try it out before you buy it; consider its weight and the feel of the handle. Only when you have a comfortable fit will you have the “right tool for the right job,” Delidow says.
There are lots of knives out there, many with niche uses. But for home cooks, there are a handful they’re likely to use most often. Here are five knives every cook should have in their kitchen:
It’s best used for cutting breads and other baked goods like cakes. It has a long blade with a serrated edge. It also works like a charm for cutting fruits and vegetables that have a firm skin but a soft inside. The serrated edge cuts through the skin without harming the inside.
Chef's or French knife
It’s considered the most important, go-to and versatile knife to have in the kitchen. It comes in several lengths, but an 8-inch is a good standard size to have. The blade is wide at the heel end (near the handle) and tapers to a point. A common style of chef’s knife for home use is the Santoku, says Shawn Mac, executive chef at Holiday Market in Royal Oak, Mich. The blade is usually shorter and has a row of grooves near the sharp edge. “It’s more manageable and is a size people are more comfortable with. The grooves are what makes food not stick to it,” Mac says. Use a chef’s knife to chop, slice and dice just about anything.
Slicer or carving knife
This knife is best used for cutting big pieces of meat like a roast or whole turkey. The blade is typically 8 to 10 inches long, but its width can vary. A wider blade allows you to slice the meat and then use it as a serving tool. “The thinner the blade, the easier it is to get thin slices,” Delidow says.
It’s used for deboning chicken and meats, trimming down pieces of meat and removing silver skin, sinew or pieces of fat. A boning knife has a thin blade about 1/2 inch to 1 inch wide and 5 to 6 inches long. It narrows at the tip. “The narrow tip is what makes it easier to get closer to the bone,” says Jim Buckley, meat manager at Holiday Market. “The narrow tip helps make exact cuts easier.”
Use this for small, intricate or detailed work, such as peeling thin-skinned fruits and vegetables or trimming them. The blades are thin and short, about 2 to 4 inches long. Ken Coker, general manager of Cutco Stores Inc. in Novi, Mich., says to use a paring knife for “anything you cut while holding it in the air or in your hand.” Use a paring knife for peeling, paring, coring and pitting or removing the tops of strawberries, he says, “or any small slicing jobs as well.”
How to clean and store knives
Sources: “Things Cooks Love: Implements. Ingredients. Recipes,” Sur La Table with Marie Simmons (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $35); the Free Press Test Kitchen
A slice of terminology
Here’s a guide to terms associated with using a chef’s knife:
Sources: “Professional Cooking 4th edition” by Wayne Gisslen (Wiley, $65); “Things Cooks Love: Implements. Ingredients. Recipes,” Sur La Table with Marie Simmons (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $35); the Free Press Test Kitchen