If you ever found yourself in a situation where you had to choose the bare minimum of cooking utensils you could pack with you, what would you take?
It depends on whom you're asking. Novices and cooking amateurs will name a thousand different fancy items or obscure gadgets. But when you ask experienced housewives and top-quality chefs, they will all choose their knives first above everything else.
Yes, your kitchen knives are the most important items in your repertory of utensils and other cooking gadgets, and if you want to sharpen your cooking skills, you seriously need to learn how to make the best use of your kitchen knives.
First, of course, comes the type of kitchen knives commonly used. Chef's knives, paring knives and serrated knives are the three basic varieties you'll find in any self-respecting kitchen. What are they good for?
A chef's knife will usually have a blade that is between 6 and 12 inches long, depending on whether it's the French or the German variety. The depth is, however, the same – at least an inch and a half at its widest point. The main use of this knife is in chopping, mincing and slicing. The side of the blade is used for crushing garlic cloves, peppercorns, and ginger slices.
A chef's knife can be a daunting tool to use at first, but you'll get the hang of one if you go ahead confidently. It's best to start with smaller versions of the chef’s knives, no more than six inches long, so that you can easily gain speed and control. You will take some time and practice in getting used to the longer blade but eventually you'll prefer it to the shorter one because it's extremely efficient for slicing and chopping. You'll also get tired faster if you're using a small tool for chopping large amounts.
A paring knife is much shorter, and has only a three to four inch long blade that is less than an inch wide at its widest. This small blade is used mainly for paring and peeling fruits and vegetables, and for numerous small tasks such as trimming the chicken's breasts, etching grooves in thin slices of meat, and corrugating pastry dough. The paring knife is really a very versatile tool whose size belies its usefulness.
A long serrated knife is the perfect tool for cutting/slicing crusty breads or bagels. However, a good specimen will be handy for many varieties of tasks. Many experienced cooks prefer using serrated knives on tomatoes and peaches, and other kinds of food that have a soft and easily bruised skin. You'll really be surprised at the hardiness of this tool, and how it manages to keep its sharp edge in spite of repeated heavy use.
When buying kitchen knives, always try to find out which one you are most comfortable with and can easily be gripped in your hand. Unless you can chop and slice your vegetables, fruits or meats confidently and with relative ease you can't concentrate on the cooking itself. Also, make sure that the blades of your kitchen knives are made of high-carbon stainless steel and forged, not cut out of sheet metal. This is the kind that makes for the hardiest blades.