Cooking Class with Chef Ivan Flowers – Lesson 76 Knives 101

In the last class I taught you all about steak sauces and that got me thinking about steak knives! Yes, knives. As a chef, I am often asked about which knives I recommend for the home cook. Additionally, it is one of the most requested classes I get from my readers. What follows is a profile on a good, basic knife set that every home cook should have in their kitchen. As you advance, you can always add to this set.

Before I get into the list, I want to talk about knives. I’m sure you all are thinking to yourselves, what is there to talk about, they are knives and they cut things. Well, to a chef, a knife is much more. Chefs become attached to their knives and do not like to use another chef’s knives. This is why you see them schlepping their knife bags to competition shows on television. My point being is that knives are a very personal thing. A brand of knife that I can’t live without may be a brand that doesn’t work for you at all. So I will NOT be recommending any particular brand of knife. I suggest you go to the store and pick up many different brands of knives. See how it feels in your hand and if you feel comfortable handling it. Trust me, one brand will jump out and that will be for you. Finally, I do suggest that you spend some money on your knives. There is a difference between cheap knives and pricier ones. You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars either, but think of your knives as an investment that will pay for itself many times over. Okay, I could wax poetic forever about knives and how I love them, but I won’t, on with the list.

Chef’s Knife– This is a knife with an 8-10 inch blade and is up to 14 inches in total length. There are two styles, French and German. They both have a straight edge, but the German is more curved. I prefer the French style, but again, this is a personal preference. You use this knife for slicing, chopping, dicing and butchering. Look for a comfortable weight and a carbon steel blade (all the following knifes should have this type of blade or a similar non-corrosive material). The steel will keep it from rusting or corroding.

Santoku– A Japanese knife that name means three uses. The blade on this knife varies from 5-8 inches and has a long flat edge. The blade also has divots; these keep the food from sticking with the knife. This knife has become very popular recently and you will see it used a lot on cooking shows.  You use this knife for small veggie work and cheeses.

Boning Knife– This knife has a sharp point, narrow blade and very little flexibility. You use it to remove bones from poultry and meat. It is normally 5- 61/2 inches in length and the blade is thinner than other knives. This allows precision when you are trying to de-bone a chicken, etc. Look for a boning knife that will act as a scalpel in your hand.

Fillet Knife– This has a very similar profile as a boning knife, but it is much thinner and very flexible. It is flexible because you use it for filleting, especially fish. The flexibility allows you to run the knife, with precision, directly under bones, releasing a fabulous fillet.

Serrated Knife– This knife has an 8-10 inch blade with teeth that are similar to the ones you see on a saw. You use this on bread, semi-frozen foods and fruits and veggies that are hard on the outside and soft on the inside (i.e. tomatoes). When using this knife, you utilize a sawing motion. With a straight edge knife, like a chef’s knife, you utilize a slicing motion.

Paring Knife– This blade of this knife is 2 ½-4 inches long. You use it for intricate work like deveining shrimp. This knife is also good for small fruits and vegetables and peeling.

Okay, you have your knife set, now what?

I want to talk to you about safety, cleaning and storage. Get plastic blade guards for all your knives. This protects you and the blade of the knife. Have the guards on whenever the knife is not in use. Store your knives flat in a drawer with the guards on the blade. Never put your knives in the dishwasher. Wash by hand with a little warm soapy water, then dry thoroughly and put back in the drawer. Your knives will need to be sharpened. I suggest getting them professionally sharpened about once a month. More if you are using them a lot, less if you aren’t using them often.

One more thing, I get asked a lot about ceramic knives. I do not suggest them. If you drop them, the blade shatters and that is simply a waste of a precious knife.

That’s it, Knives 101! Having a set of knives like this will put you well on your way to being able to accomplish anything you want in your kitchen.

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Chef Ivan Flowers

Chef Flowers has over 25 years of fine cuisine experience. The former Executive Chef at Top of The Market, San Diego, also owned Fournos restaurant in Sedona, Arizona, named a top 25 restaurant in Arizona. He was also Executive Chef at L’Auberge de Sedona, the AAA Four-Diamond, Four Star award winning restaurant. Flowers has created extraordinary cuisine for some of the finest restaurants in Arizona, including T. Cooks at Scottsdale's Royal Palms Resort and the Phoenician's Mary Elaine's and Different Pointe of View.