7 Kitchen Knife Skills Everyone Should Have
Now that you have read my post on the difference between European kitchen knives versus Japanese kitchen knives I thought I would take a look at some of the skills that a home chef or gourmet home chef will need to have in order to use their knives effectively. Now, some of these skills may seem like no duh! common sense, but the fact of the matter is that the greater majority of people do not have the basic requisite skills with their knives that they need to have.
Learning these basic skills can keep you safe and improve the quality and preparation of the foods you eat. It is OK! Kitchen knives are extremely sharp and some folks can feel a bit clumsy when using them. So it is only my intention to familiarize you with some of the skills that you will want to have when using your beloved kitchen knives.
Before I dive into the meat and potatoes of this post I do have a couple of things for you to keep in mind when using your kitchen knives. Do not ever use your knives to cut on an open table. It does not matter what kind of table it is, like glass, marble or steel. Doing this does nothing except damage your knife primary cutting edge and shorten it’s cutting performance significantly.
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7 Kitchen Knife Skills – Explained
Use a cutting board! There are many out there in all shapes and sizes and you should only perform your chopping, slicing and dicing chores on a good quality wood(in my opinion)cutting board and cut away from yourself. Do not ever cut towards yourself and when carrying the knife around in your kitchen from one place to another it is always best to do so with the point of the knife down and the edge pointing back toward you as to avoid cutting others.
These are just the little peeves that I thought I would get out of the way before diving into this post. So now let’s get into the 7 knife skills that you need to know. I will approach these skills in reverse order of importance.
Cleaning your knife.
I know you are looking at this and saying “oh yeah!’ This is a good one! I already know how to clean my kitchen knives! I know that for many of you this is true, but in 30yrs in the cutlery business, I can’t tell you how many people have told me that they sharpen their knives in the washing machine.
Don’t do this! Clean your knife after each chore if you are only using one knife as this helps stop the transfer of bacteria from one food type to the other. Cleaning instructions: Hot water and liquid dish soap. Point the edge away from you. Us the soft side of the sponge, not the aggressive green or blue side as this can scratch the knife up and dull your primary cutting edge. Then take a towel or paper towel and carefully dry the knife off.
Don’t forget to also clean the handle of the knife as this is one of the things that many forget to clean. Keeping the knife handle clean keeps it from getting slippery and collecting bacteria. Do not leave knives in standing water especially if the handles are wood as this will kill the finish and in time make the wood split. Oh, and check this little factoid out. If the water in your sink is soapy and cloudy and there is a knife in there, what happens if someone comes by and puts their hand in there for any reason? Yikes! Risk of cutting people! Use them, clean them quickly and efficiently and put them away!
The next skill I feel a person should know how to do with their kitchen knives or any knives is knife sharpening. A sharp knife is a good knife and a dull knife is a dangerous knife. The fact is that sharp knives will save you time in the kitchen by allowing you faster prep time and a nicer presentation of your dishes.
You want your knives sharpened keen at 15-18 degrees if using Japanese kitchen knives or 20-25 degrees if using European Kitchen Knives. How often you will have to sharpen your knives is dependent on hard you are on your knives and of course what you are cutting your foods on.
Tune ups are done often and full on edge re-profile is done on average three times a year. If the knife is sharp it works great and if the knife is dull it will take more downward pressure to cut and the more chances there are for you to slip with a dull knife and get cut. Ouch! There are many ways to sharpen your knives. A bench stone or Whetstone and either oil or water as a carrier for the swarf or filings that come off the blade.
If you do not know how to sharpen your knives you can learn and if you don’t want to then just get in touch with the manufacturer and make arrangements to send the knives in. If you have someone in your area that you can trust to sharpen your knives the right way then do it that way.
Now along the lines of knife sharpening as a skill all home gourmets and cooks need to have is the knife “honing.” Knife honing is not a full on sharpening session of your knife it is more of a tune up of your blade. The tool that is most widely used in the kitchen is the knife steel. Knife steels are of two basic types: smooth and corrugated.
Which one you use is a personal option. I prefer a corrugated one as when used correctly imparts some really nice micro serrations on your primary cutting edge and makes for really nice tomato slicing. Knife steels also come in a variety of sizes and diameters. The most basic are 10 and 12 inch long varieties and roughly 1/2 inch in diameter. When you use a knife steel you are not sharpening your knife, you are honing it.
In other words, when you perform cutting chores eventually your knife primary cutting edge will bend, or roll over to one side or the other. The knife steel if used correctly will straighten your knifes primary cutting edge and hone it back to the usable cutting edge. The steel imparts nice micro serrations on your cutting edge and will keep your knife in cutting order. The knife steel is basically a file. The same principles apply to use a knife steel as using a bench stone. You can hone your primary cutting edge or you can hone the back bevel and then the primary cutting edge.
Proper chopping technique
Proper chopping technique is a requisite skill to learn with your kitchen knives. It is an easy skill and can be utilized for all types of food. Chopping is easily done on any type of food that does not need to be evenly cut. Vegetables are easily chopped and can be chopped in any size, but meat is something that has to be cut evenly whether in slices or dices.
Chopping is done by gripping the knife in your hand and then taking your thumb and index finger and moving up the handle a bit and grip the blade of the knife from behind. Depending on what your are chopping you will use the heel of the blade as the main chopping area as you rock the blade on the cutting board and “free chopping.”
Or the same method is used when you need to hold the food you are chopping and you do so with your fingers bent and not bringing the blade of the knife up past your second knuckle thus preventing you bringing the blade down on your knuckle.
Dicing is the next kitchen knife
Dicing is the next kitchen knife skill to learn for the preparation and presentation of your dishes. Dicing is prettier than chopping as it takes a bit more skill to learn how to finely and uniformly dice something. It is a skill that they push hard in the culinary schools. As stated chopping is used for foods that do not require even cutting and cuts that produce uniform shapes.
Dicing accomplishes just the opposite, uniformity and presentation. Dicing is for nice even cubes and takes knife and hand control. You can dice in any size and there are three standard kinds of dice: 3/4 inch large, 1/2 inch medium and 1/4 inch small dice types. If you are metric as in a culinary school it is 1.9cm, 1.3cm, 0.6cm respectively.
Julienning food is the next skill to learn
Julienning food is the next skill to learn that enhances your cutting skill as well as your food prep and presentation skills. A julienne is small, finer cutting technique and takes more practice to master. When you have finally mastered this skill you will see that your meals will have a more decorative appeal to you and the people who are going to eat them.
In most cases most people consider the size of a matchstick to be a standard size julienne cut. So if you want to julienne you will need to cut food in rectangle 1/8th-inch planks then put those planks on top of each other and cut lengthwise to 1/8th inch matchsticks or strips.
Scaling and filleting a fish
Scaling and filleting a fish is the final basic skill that in my opinion is necessary to anyone that likes to cook and that uses good quality kitchen knives. The scaling of a fresh fish is easy, you just take the primary cutting edge of your knife and run it up and down the body of the fish and then you rinse the fish off. This is done on fish in which you intend to cook with the skin on it. Now, the filleting part is still easy to do but for some that have never done it then it is not easy to do. After you have done it once it will always be a breeze.
So I will do my best to outline how to fillet a fish in place of a video that I do not have for you. Here we go:
1. If bringing your own fresh fish home with your from a day trip then you will need to clean it as well as fillet it. Cleaning is easy. Lay your fish on its side and take your fillet knife and insert it into the ass end of the fish and gently rock the blade in and out while moving up towards the gills under the head. Clean out the guts with your hands and give the open cut a quick rinse with water.
2. Now lay the fish back down on its side horizontally in front of you and then take your fillet knife and make a cut vertically under the fish’s pectoral fin.
3. Now hold the fish at its head and make a cut horizontally from the previous vertical cut to the tail. If this step is done right then your knife will be parallel to the spine of the fish. This cut will allow the first fillet to come off.
4. Repeat this same step on the other side of the fish to take off the second fillet.
5. Take one of the two fillets and place it skin side down on your cutting board and press the tail end down and slowly as this is your first time take your blade and cut all the way down the underside of the fillet to remove it from the skin.
6. If you happen to notice spines in the fish flesh these will need to be removed. To do so just make some gentle angled cuts one above and one below the row of spines and this will allow you to take out a small portion of the fishes flesh that has the spines, but this will not affect the flavor or presentation of these fillets.
7. Repeat the above step on the other fillet if necessary and WHAM! You are done filleting your first fish.
I recommend that you use a proper culinary/kitchen Fillet Knife or a sporting fillet knife for the outdoors either one will work. I Like to use ones that are longer than six inches but not over ten inches and I like them to be semi flexible. I also like to take the heads and fish bones and put them in my freezer with other things like shells from fresh shrimp and shrimp tails and I save them to make fish stock for other dishes. There you have it guys and gals my 7 basic kitchen knife skills. I hope you liked it.