Anyone can gather the ingredients for a great recipe, but without the proper tools, even the most well-intentioned chef can make a mess of the prep work, especially when it comes to selecting the perfect knife for the job. “I would suggest staying away from block sets of knives,” says Jeremy Coco, dean of education at the Louisiana Culinary Institute and certified executive chef. “Do you really need a bunch of super expensive steak knives that dull each time you pull them out of the block? A few quality knives are better than several knives you rarely use.” Below, Coco goes into more detail about some simple, sharp essentials for any home chef’s cutting arsenal.
King of the kitchen
Everyone should have a classic 8-inch chef’s knife or a Santoku, which are great for multi-purpose use. You can use them to cut, chop, slice and almost anything in between. A Santoku—a sheepsfoot-shaped kitchen knife that originated in Japan—is especially useful because of its scalloped edge that keeps food from sticking to the blade. If you’re going to splurge on a good knife, splurge on one of these.
Bad to the bone
A good boning knife is perfect for boning fish or other meat. Because the blade is so flexible, it’s great for bending around bones so that no product gets left behind as you cut. Just make sure you’re not using it to try and cut through any bones. You can always tell a quality knife—whether a boning knife or any other—by making sure the metal part extends all the way through the hilt, or handle.
When I think of Louisiana, I think of people de-veining shrimp or peeling and coring vegetables. That means using a paring knife for a lot of precision work, which a long chef’s knife just can’t handle. You can also use it for any food that requires mincing or detail work, but don’t count on it to slice through harder foods like carrots.
A sharpening tool or whetstone is different from a honing steel, which often comes with knife sets. While a steel is good for maintaining a knife’s edge, a sharpening stone—like a whetstone or a diamond stone—will actually put an edge on a dull knife. Sharpening is one of those things people forget to keep up with, which means that a lot of perfectly good knives go to waste when all they need is to be sharpened.