Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Cooking with Sharp Knives

'Tis the season for lots and lots of cooking.

You may recall my opinions on Thanksgiving cooking. Well, they haven't changed. However, we will be doing the meal here this year. Eek!!

More on that later.

Today, my issue is knives. The more I cook, the more I appreciate my knives. MetaDaddy first turned me on to how important a sharp knife is. Not a knife that can cut, but a truly sharp knife. Here's why IMHO:
  • Comfort - A sharp knife makes slicing, dicing, etc easier, which increased the cook's comfort level.
  • Usefulness - How useful is a mangled tomato? If you have a sharp knife, you can simply do more, and your food looks more sliced than hacked.
  • Safety - A dull knife requires more force from the user. Hardly safe to apply a huge amount of pressure onto an instrument that while dull for some purposes, is still sharp enough to do some serious damage.
So, having addressed the reasons that I prefer sharp knives in my kitchen, what's the best way to keep them sharpened. Heck if I know. There are all sorts of different ways to address that.

Here's how I look at it:

Issue #1
  • Get a good knife and don't pay a fortune. We've had a set of J.A. Henkles knives for years, and they've served us well, but they're definitely showing their age.
  • Get a strong, well made knife that stays sharp longer than other knives due to the composition of its steel. We have a Shun knife, and it's spectacular. So's the price.
Issue #2
  • You can buy a sharpener and sharpen your own knives. This is an investment, and you'll save yourself the time and hassle of taking it elsewhere. However, you don't want to overdo this option since each time you sharpen your knife, you wear down the metal, thus shortening the life of your blade.
  • Find a knife sharpening service. I took my knives to Sur La Table to be sharpened. However, they just use a sharpener, and it didn't sharpen my knives to a level I was happy with. Make sure that if a service will be sharpening your knives, they're not using a sharpener that you can buy on your own. I found a guy at the Santa Monica farmers' market who has tools, experience, and knowledge when it comes to knives. He's not currently there due to some city code issue (the market organizers told me it's complicated, but they're trying to get him back). I hear he's at the market in Mar Vista, so I'll be looking for him there.
  • Some manufacturers will sharpen your knives for free. Shun, for example, will sharpen the knife at no cost, but you have to pay for shipping and wait up to 4 weeks to get it back. That said, they do the job right. There's a lot to be said about that.
As for the purpose of a steel (that long, metal rod that came with your knife set), it's not a tool to sharpen your knife. It serves to keep an edge on your blade, which gets microscopically dinged up with use. A steel smooths out the edge. Here's a little video that describes a steel's purpose and how it's used.

So, there are a few issues. Personally, I'd rather find someone who knows what they're doing. Since sharpening is an infrequent expense, I'd prefer to get it done right, even if it costs a bit more. At the end of the day, if the knife is treated properly when sharpened, it give me more value for money since it increases the blade's lifespan. Barring that, I'd sooner buy a sharpener and do it on my own than pay a service to do the same.


Anonymous said...

Have you checked with your butcher? He might know of someone local. Heck, I've heard that some butchers offer knife sharpening services too.

MamaGeek @ Works For Us said...

You and me both. The last time I sharpened my (RACHEL RAY set of knives - BOO HISS, I SUCK), I cut my hand.