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On the cutting edge

There’s one simple rule when buying knives for your kitchen: The right knife for the right job. It may sound logical enough, but grabbing any old knife that’s nearby to do a job can lead to lost productivity and a shorter lifespan for the knife. So here’s a shortlist of the very basic, must-have knives for every kitchen, along with some thoughts from the folks who use knives most—chefs.

The knife kit

Chef’s knife. The mainstay of any kitchen, the blade length on a chef’s knife varies between 6 and 12 inches. The long blade of the knife does most of the slicing work; its sharp point can be used for piercing or detailing. The weight of the blade should be roughly equivalent to that of the handle, a factor important to Chef Salvatore Gisellu of Urban Crust in Plano, Texas. He considers “the shape, weight and balance between the blade and handle the most important features to look for when buying a knife.”

Paring knife. With a blade length ranging from 2 to 4 inches, this knife is used for paring and trimming jobs, such as removing the peels from fruits. Available in both 31⁄2- and 41⁄2-inch blade lengths, Culinar paring knives from Wusthof are forged from a single piece of steel and have stainless steel handles.

Boning and filleting knife. The boning knife is used to cut meat off a bone; the filleting knife to take the flesh off fish. The blade of the boning knife can be either flexible or rigid; filleting knives tend to be more rigid. Blade length on the boning knife averages between 3 and 8 inches; the filleting knife is slightly larger. Mercer’s new, moderately priced Renaissance line offers 6-inch boning knives with either stiff or flexible blades.

Slicer. Perfect for slicing breads or tomatoes, the slicer has a distinctive edge (known as a Granton edge) with ovals notched into the blade to help avoid crushing delicate food. The blade can be anywhere from 14 to 18 inches, and can be straight or offset from the handle. The Dexter Connoisseur slicer features a 14-inch rosewood handle and a high-carbon steel blade.

Santoku. This Japanese import has made big inroads in U.S. kitchens over the past few years. It’s identified by its wide blade and tip that curves down to a point. Most santoku knives have a Granton edge similar to those on slicers. Blade length ranges from 7 to 9 inches. Paula DaSilva, executive chef of 1500° at Eden Roc on Miami Beach, says, “For everyday chopping I use a Santoku because I like how light they are.”

Getting on board

Wherever knives are used, cutting boards are close at hand. The debate over whether wood is safer than plastic still goes on, with no firm evidence to point to one type of board being safer than the other. While both wood and plastic have definite advantages and disadvantages, some basic safety essentials apply to both types:

  • Use dedicated boards for different types of food. HACCP color-coded plastic boards can be useful for this.
  • Wash thoroughly after each use and sanitize regularly. Allow to air dry completely after cleaning.
  • If the board develops deep cuts or warps so that it doesn’t lie flat on the counter, it’s time to replace it.

If you find you need to replace your cutting boards, some new products are making the traditional board even more useful. San Jamar’s Saf-T-Zone board is designed for use with allergen-free products. It comes in a “non-HACCP” color, purple, and features an allergen message embossed directly on the board. Vycom’s Sanatec line of boards features a nonporous, solid textured finish to help resist contamination.

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