Tonya, a qualified chef and in charge of our wholesale department, supplying restaurants all over Newcastle, answers our questions about knives: how to select, store, wash, maintain and handle with care.

Q: What are the most important things when selecting a knife?

A: Definitely, the weight and size of the handle. Some handles are too big for ladies and some are too small for men. The length of the knife must feel right. A knife that is too heavy will cause sore wrists when doing a lot of repetitive cutting.

For the handle, knives made from a single material are easier to clean than the knives which have a separate wooden or plastic handle. However, some people dislike metal handles because they can be slippery when wet.

For the blade, German steel is harder and durable but is more difficult to keep sharp (because of how hard the steel is). Japanese steel is softer and therefore, easier to sharpen. The Global knives make a great entry level knife, versatile and reliable. You can use it and abuse it. The high end Japanese knives, like Kasumi and Shun, are for product conscious people who know how to look after them. They are brittle and must be used for the right task. Ceramic blades are very strong, sharp and light – making them ideal for ladies – but they will shatter if dropped.

Q: What knives are kitchen essentials?

  • A 26 to 28cm chef’s knife,
  • a 10cm vegetable (paring) knife,
  • a bread knife,
  • a filleting knife which has a flexible blade and is used to fillet fish or meat, and
  • a carving knife for roasts.

Q: Some knives are extremely expensive, how can someone on a budget spend wisely?

A: Global is a good, reliable and well priced option for the household. The French brand Sabatier is a step above Global, while Vitorinox makes a good affordable option. A good chef’s knife is worth spending a bit more on for something durable. The blades on cheaper knives can tend to break, chip or bend. A paring knife on the other hand, can be a very cheap item. The plastic handle Vitorinox is a classic and costs less than $10.

Q: Why is it so important to keep knives sharp?

A: A sharp knife requires less pressure, gives less chance of slipping and cutting oneself. In case of a cut, the wound will be cleaner and heal faster. In terms of the food itself, a sharp knife will make a cleaner cut which reduces the enzymes getting broken and keeps food in a better condition. This is especially noticeable with something as delicate as sashimi for example.

Q: How would you recommend sharpening knives?

A: The pull through types of sharpeners (Furi, Global…) with steel attachments or ceramic wheels work well and guarantee that the knife is sharpened at the correct angle. This should be done once a week.

It can also be a good idea to ask a professional knife sharpener although it is crucial to find someone good. Some butchers tend to take a lot off the blade since they are used to big knives requiring constant maintenance. Here, we use the services of To The Point Sharpening* which does a great job with household knives. This should be done every three months. When dropping knives off for sharpening, it’s always a great idea to wrap them up in a tea towel for safety.

Q: How should knives be washed and stored?

A: Knives should be washed in hot soapy water, dried thoroughly and stored in a knife block or on a wall magnetic strip. Knives shouldn’t be put through the dishwasher because the high temperature of the water can change the alignment of steel knives, making them unbalanced, and take the edge off. If stored in a drawer, knives might bang against each other which can lead to chips and change the honing (balance) of the knife.

Q: Does the cutting surface matter?

A: Yes! Knives need a surface which has a little give: wood, bamboo or plastic are good. Plastic boards need to be replaced regularly but can be bleached to eliminate bacteria. Bamboo apparently has healing properties which naturally restore the surface after a cut which also minimizes bacteria. The natural oils in wood boards are also very effective in the fight against bacteria. The Epicurium boards are an interesting product: they are good for knives, dishwasher safe, made from reconstituted paper and do not get cut as much as plastic or wooden boards.

Generally, it is good practice to wash a board immediately after use with warm soapy water and it is important for the board to be sturdy and stable: place a wet cloth underneath to prevent it from slipping.

Glass, steel and stone/marble/granite boards are a knife’s worst enemy!

Q: Finally, any tips for safe handling?

  • Fingers should be tucked away when cutting and the knife placed against the flat front of the finger and the knuckle. This is especially important for fine precision cutting.
  • do not catch a falling knife,
  • wear shoes when using a sharp knife,
  • do not let go of a knife in the sink when washing,
  • when walking, hold knife down, against your thigh rather than in front of you,
  • when passing a knife, turn it around and pass it with the handle facing forward,
  • and finally, it is important to always use the right knife for the job!

Q: Any parting words?

A: In France and Italy, the tradition requires that a small amount of money be given in return for the gift of a knife, or the friendship will be broken… or cut. Pun intended!

Q: Thank you.

* Drop your knives off every Thursday and they will be ready to pick up the next day. 

Visit us in store for a great selection of knives, sharpeners, knife blocks and chopping boards. And if you want to improve your technique, The Essential Ingredient Newcastle holds regular ‘knife handling technique classes’ in the cooking school.