$1,000 Question pt. 3

Last week my cousin Claude posted this on my Facebook page.

“JD! so I’m finally getting my own place, which means, I need my own kitchen stuff… any recommendations on knife brands? pots and pans as well, but I’ll probably get those for free from friends… CHOP CHOP!”

I’m not sure he was expecting what follows as my reply, but here it is. In this final post, I’ll talk about a very important part of a cook’s arsenal: knives.

As for knives! At home I’ll admit I can’t keep my home blade respectfully sharpened to save my life.  Despite that, I’ve still managed to find some pretty worthwhile blades.  I recommend investing in the following very affordable knives:

Victorinox 10 1/4″ Wavy Edge Bread Knife with Fibrox Handle – a big, slightly bowed “bread” knife that is extremely durable, costs only about 20 bucks on Amazon, and will always do the job, even if it’s not so glamorous.

– For a “chef’s knife” I might go, again, with Victorinox, who make an 8″ blade with Fibrox handle also for about 20 bucks. A steel will whip it into shape for a good year before you consider taking it to a stone, but then you might be sad to have this cool knife that struggles through an onion. Personally, I use a very basic set of ceramic knives that you can most likely find at Bed, Bath & Beyond or a similar store that offers housewares for young people furnishing their first apartments. The kit included a long chef’s blade, an herb chopping knife, and a dastardly paring knife. I’ve had them for about seven months, no sharpening, and they all work just great.

In the case that you do get a metal-blade knife, make sure to get a honing steel, that cool thing you always see chefs clanking their knives on before they dive into some sort of meat-slicing job. Learn how to use it by watching Youtube or whatever it takes. Maintaining an at-least-moderately sharp blade is not only sensible, it’s safe. More knife accidents happen with inadequately sharp knives than with their cared-for brethren.

There are those who argue the merits of having a huge knife collection, so that you’re always prepared; on the flip side there are minimalists who say “just one knife!”  I am content to supply myself with the blades I just mentioned, but occasionally I have found a need for a hefty meat cleaver (the best I’ve found so far are available for super cheap at international markets; it is not uncommon to find in a back corner of these kooky stores, next to the bamboo steamers, a box of reasonably sharp cleavers for under $10. I’ve had mine for two years, and it’s still going strong) and a long slicing knife, for slicing uniform, elegant and thin slices from roasts…these are dangerous knives indeed. In order for them to be justifiably useful, their blade must be kept EXTREMELY SHARP but the result when trying to achieve beautiful slices of fresh or country hams, brisket or large cheeses is unparalleled. Your average “chef type” would most likely recommend a filet knife, but I don’t spend much time with aquatic creatures in my kitchen, so I have almost no advice there. I have used one made by (you guessed it) Victorinox and it’s pretty good and inexpensive.

My last suggestion would be to seek out a Mandoline. Not the musical instrument! A mandoline is a pretty dangerous (if you think about it) but useful tool for achieving consistent and uniform slices of vegetables. A Japanese company, Benriner, makes excellent and affordable mandolines in two sizes (Small and Jumbo); both kinds come with various blade attachments to change the style of cut. Uniform slices and shreds at an adjustable width with just the flick of the wrist!  I have done a lot of mandoline research, and have a lot of experience using models from many different price ranges.  By far the best value is the super-affordable Benriner, but there are some other companies who make very fancy models with stands and vegetable-grippers (to “protect” your hand, though the pros all know using these can be more hazardous than without) and probably more attachments. Unless you have firsthand experience or a really good recommendation for one of these $200, steel-and reinforced/recycled/polycarbonate material show-stoppers I wouldn’t bother. I’ve seen the “legs” (which are supposed to hold the thing up and make your job “easier”) collapse under these things, and the ungrateful knuckle gushing afterward is really not worth it.  In fact, you could just buy whichever model you want, just make sure to get yourself a reinforced, cut-proof Kevlar glove, available online or at most kitchen stores.

Overwhelming, right? I know, believe me. An invaluable step in achieving culinary greatness is outfitting oneself with the proper tools. Unfortunately, this step can take a reeeeaaallly long time and lots of $$…unless you avoid the thousands of dollars of mistakes that people like me (and dumber) have made. Luckily, there are plenty of resources to help point you in the right direction. Cook’s Illustrated, though a little pricey for what you actually get in that 1/8″ volume, is a great resource and has provided me with a lot of the tips I’m giving you today, and it’s available at most supermarket newsstands. All other points aside, it  is important to take your time and invest wisely when buying kitchen tools.  The right ones can last; the wrong ones will just leave a bad taste in your mouth.


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