All of our best advice for becoming a knife skills aficionado!
There can be no doubt that first class dishes are the result of many different skills that cooks develop over time. Of course different chefs bring different talents to the table, but any good chef needs to have numerous different proficiencies such as heat control, measuring, portion control, artistic sense and presentation and seasoning. However, there can be absolutely no doubt in the importance of excellent knife skills. Not only is having a good grip (literally…) on knife control important for safety, but it also makes a huge difference to the eventual quality and standard of a dish. An ingredient needs to be cut into pieces of equal size to ensure even cooking and that certain pieces aren’t overcooked, and others undercooked; a mistake which would seriously lower the standard of a meal.
For professional chefs not only is this accuracy key but there is then the added element of time pressure meaning that they must practice developing both speed and precision. Excellent knife techniques can take a while to develop but that isn’t to say you can’t learn in your own kitchen! Here are our top Nomad tips for becoming a knife aficionado.
It is key to have the right equipment before beginning to practice any knife skills. Of course there are many different knives on the market designed for a huge variety of jobs, however the majority of jobs can be completed with the following essentials:
· Chef’s knife: the essential classic knife for any cook. We recommend initially buying one with an 8 inch blade and plastic handle, and as you become more confident graduating to a 10 inch blade which is ultimately more efficient.
· Utility knives: These are the knives that you would find in the majority of people’s kitchen and for good reason: they are extremely useful and can be used for most small, soft ingredients. They are generally inexpensive and can be replaced when they start to become blunt.
· Serrated Knife: A large knife which is useful for not only bread but also large fruit and vegetables with thick rinds.
Practice makes perfect! There can be no denying that developing knife skills takes time and a great deal of repetition. Practicing on expensive cuts of meat is costly and can be wasteful so we recommend getting your hands on a cheap vegetable such as potatoes or celery and practicing on them instead. You can use the remaining dices of veg to make stock. To practice cutting for sashimi we recommend using cheap cuts of chicken.
It’s important to keep knives nice and sharp, a dull blade will only every give abad cut. To test the sharpness of a knife, draw the blade along a piece of paper and see if it cuts – if not it’s time to sharpen! We recommend the use of a manual sharpener rather than electric. Not only are these more affordable there is also much less chance of over sharpening a blade and wearing it down too much. Furthermore, to keep blade sharper for longer only ever scrape the food off chopping boards with the blunt edge. Doing it by the sharp edge will inevitably wear it down.
Although commonly mistaken as being the same as sharpening, knives also need to be honed.This basically means polishing out the already sharpened knife edge, thus reducing friction, allowing the knife to cut better and keeping the blade sharper for longer.
There are several different cutting techniques and practice really is the key to all of them. The main methods include chopping, dicing, chiffonade, peeling, battonet (most used on root vegetables such as carrots), mincing (for example a clove of garlic), tournée, and julienning. For a fantastic article on how to perfect each of these techniques we would recommend a thorough reading of “Top 10 Knife Skills”.
There are a great number of knives out there in the market, and the more experienced you get the more you will discover what types you prefer, and which knives suit you best. Japanese style knives have become extremely popular recently and require different techniques to get the best use out of them. At Nomad our chefs all have different preferences but here are some of our long-time favourites:
· All Day Knives – an amazing small business who sell their expert quality knives in batches (the next one is being released in September!). Their blades are handmade by aJapanese family in Sakai who have been forging knives for over four generations and the handles are made from plastic that would otherwise have been heading to landfill. They are designed to last a lifetime!
· Sharp: The Definitive Introduction to Knives, Sharpening, and Cutting Techniques – a fantastically comprehensive book covering pretty much anything you could want to know about knife skills. One for the aspiring experts!
· Hampson Woods Chopping Boards – Another amazing small batch company. Hampson Woods makes beautiful chopping boards from all different kinds of wood. They are designed to last and last.
Becoming a knife skills expert definitely isn’t something that happens overnight; however, we hope that these tips are helpful. Stay safe and have fun!