What do chefs look for in a professional knife? With so much choice available to us, it can be hard to decide on what sort of knife to buy. Cost, of course, can be a good indicator of quality, but when it comes to choosing the essential and must-have chef knife, what should you go on? After a little research, we have compiled a few crucial facts and pieces of information that should help with this difficult decision, and hopefully ensure that you are kitted out like a professional (even if you're not aiming for a Michelin star just yet...).
One of the fundamental first deciding points relates to the knife's size and weight, which should feel balanced and comfortable in your hand. Okay, its probably not quite as exact as the process of choosing a wand in Harry Potter, but you get the idea. You don't want the knife to feel flimsy or too light, as this will make it hard to control or use with precision. If a knife has some weight to it, it will actually help you to cut through various kinds of food as well as making your chopping, dicing and slicing far more professional (although sadly not magical).
The blade material is of course very important, as this is the bit that needs to be sharp and do all the hard work.
Steel is a great resilient and very durable metal, and is used in the majority of professional knives. Knives that are produced from sheet metal (sometimes known as 'stamped knives') can be quite flimsy, and are much lighter in weight. Stainless steel has a very hard quality, and as a result is trickier to sharpen than high-carbon steel, which is a little softer.
Damascus steel is made from a layered, folded and welded combination of various steels, including high-carbon, and is an ideal material for blades. The process of forging steel is much more lengthy and and complicated than that of producing knives from sheet metal, and as a result the cost is often a little higher. However, in the long term these knives can be seen as an investment as they are incredibly durable if they are properly looked after.
Another good knife option is the ceramic blade, which can keep an extremely sharp edge for a long time. Ceramic knives are lighter than steel in weight, which could suit people who feel that steel blades are on the heavy side.
Knives can be titanium coated: titanium nitride is a very hard ceramic material that is often used as a coating to improve the surface properties. Titanium nitride is gold in appearance, and it non-toxic. It is applied as a thin coating to ceramic knives in order to harden and protect the knife.
So now you have the basics on the qualities and materials of an ideal professional knife, which type of knife should you go for?
Any chef will tell you that the single most important knife in their kitchen is... a chef knife! Equally, a Japanese Santoku knife can do the same job as a traditional French chef knife. The reason that this is the must-have knife is because of its versatility – from smashing garlic to finely chopping herbs to slicing veg to dicing meat and fish, this blade is great for undertaking pretty much any task you set for it.
The second most important knife that you should invest in is the paring knife. It is similar to the chef's knife in its shape and style but it is much smaller, making it ideal for tasks such as peeling, trimming, de-seeding and coring. All the fiddly stuff that chef school absolutely requires... Well, a paring knife will make it all a bit easier.
The last (but not least!) of the essential professional knife trio is the serrated knife. This is perfect for cutting up food that is delicate, or has a varying texture such as being hard on the outside and soft within. These types of foods (such as tomatoes, soft fruits and bread) might break or bruise if you try to slice them with a non-serrated blade – use a serrated knife to cut them up without damaging their appearance.
Obviously only you can really decide on which knife is most comfortable and best suited for your culinary adventures. Although you might not even be an aspiring chef, there is no doubt that a few tips from the professionals can speed up and even increase the enjoyment of cooking. Although you might pay a little extra for quality initially, remember that you will be saving money in the long-run as a high quality knife will be much more durable as well as performing far better than lower-grade knives. Particularly if you are looking to invest in your first set of knives (or replace some old and blunt ones), the three knives listed above will really give you a head start in the kitchen.
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