It's no coincidence that a chef travels with his own knives: a knife is a chef's most important tool, and this is just as true for a home cook. Having good kitchen knives is key to ensuring not only that your dishes are beautiful but that you get the most out of your ingredients. And above all, having good-quality, well-sharpened kitchen knives is also a key to safety.
While some chefs have a whole arsenal of knives, depending on their style of cooking and personal preference, there are really only three that a home cook needs, at least to start out with. Be sure to choose a good-quality knife and to take good care of it; don't put it through the dishwasher, store it on a magnetic knife strip to keep it from being banged around in the kitchen drawer, and sharpen it as needed.
Perhaps the most important knife is the chef's knife; if you can only afford to invest in one high-quality knife, make it this one. Your chef's knife will be your right-hand man for the majority of your chopping, cutting, slicing and dicing.
A good chef's knife is forged in one piece of steel; you can tell if this is the case if your knife has a bolster, which will also show how thick the original piece of steel was, and therefore reflect the quality of your knife.
Chef's knives usually range in length from 6 to 14 inches, though a classic 8- or 9-inch knife is perfect for most home cooks. Chef's knives give you a good amount of control when it comes to certain repetitive tasks like slicing, mincing, or cutting a chiffonnade.
A paring knife is a small utility knife that's particularly useful for doing more delicate jobs, like removing eyes from potatoes or stems from tomatoes, or even hulling strawberries. It's also useful for peeling certain fruits and vegetables that can't be peeled well with a peeler, like kiwi.
Paring knives come in several different sizes. Most chefs have two: a very small one and a slightly longer one. Choose one somewhere in the middle, which will be the most useful for the greatest variety of tasks.
A serrated knife is a knife with teeth that helps cut rougher, tougher foods. The best example is bread: cutting bread with a chef's knife will quickly dull the knife and give you uneven slices. But a serrated knife allows you to cut evenly and cleanly, even through denser loaves, like gluten-free and Paleo breads.
While many serrated knives are marketed as bread knives, there are other utilities for them, particularly when you have an expensive chef's knife you don't want to ruin. Cut tomatoes with a serrated knife to keep the skin from dulling the blade of your chef's knife and to achieve perfectly even slices.
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