I’ve met so many home cooks who just don’t get why chefs are so attached to their knives and why they need so many different types. Some even think it pretentious that cooks insist on high quality, versatile knife collections. They cannot fathom the added speed and facility which good knives can give during food preparation. They are unaware of the dangers of using the wrong type of knife for a certain purpose or one with a dull edge. Here are short descriptions of five types of usual and slightly unusual knives and how they can help in a professional kitchen.
It is important to note that almost equally as important as investing in good knives is investing in a good knife sharpener. Even the highest quality knife needs to be kept in top shape in order to do its job efficiently and safely.
1. Chef Knives
Of course, any discussion about knives in a professional kitchen must include some type of statement in praise of chef knives. Chef knives have long, relative big blades and are a versatile option, cutting anything from vegetables to meat. Many different sizes are available, with both the blades and handles made from a variety of materials. The type of blade preferred depends on the cook, but having a knife composed of one, continues piece of metal allows for efficient cleaning. The size of the knife is important as well. Small-built cooks may have a hard time maneuvering extra-large knives, while some of the small, thinner chef knives I’ve encountered can be uncomfortable to hold and cut with, sometimes even chafing away at hand skin.
2. Cheese Knives
Cheese knives differ in their shapes and sizes. Cheese knives with holes are helpful to use on soft cheeses, since they cause minimal sticking, helping the cheese maintain its shape. Such knives are not usually strong enough to handle very hard cheeses. On the other hand, cheese slicers and cheese knives without holes will usually withstand the toughness of a hard, well-aged cheese. Cheese knives can be useful for food businesses beyond cheese plates served as appetizers or desserts. Any dish served with cheese can benefit from the aesthetic presentation of perfectly sliced cheese. Salad with goat cheese medallions should be presented with perfectly circular goat cheese circles. Some knives make this hard to achieve since the cheese tends to stick to them, losing its shape as in is pulled off, but cheese knives make the slicing process easier. Pasta with garlic-thyme butter and parmesan should be served with beautifully, thinly cut parmesan slivers, which are easily sliced using a cheese slicer.
3. Filet Knives
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Filet knives are built to provide maximal comfort when fileting fish. The super-thin, flexible blade allows for easy maneuvering along the bones of the fish and under the skin. Fish tends to be an expensive ingredient and therefore it is in the kitchen’s interest to make the most of the raw ingredient. Fileting in the most efficient way possible, maximizing the meat on the bones, allows a food business to make the most of their expenses. Though acquired skill and practice is required in order to filet fish perfectly, having a filet knife is one step in the process of fileting fish in-house to reduce food-cost expenses.
Though not typically considered knives, peelers can be used to cut fruits and vegetables thinly, adding strategic shape diversity to any dish. Some peelers have a slightly serrated blade, which can even be used to peel tomatoes. Hair-thin strands of fruits and vegetables such as carrot, tomato, and lemon can be “curled” by placing in ice water and then used for garnish to add color to a dish. The easiest way to get the proper width for this garnish is to peel the ingredient and then slice it with a chef knife.
5. Paring Knives
Paring knives are ideal for detailed cutting and dealing with small ingredients. They can be used for “skinning” mushrooms easily, peeling anything from apples to potatoes, sculpting shapes out of fruits and vegetables, sectioning lemons and oranges, and slicing “x” shapes on the bottom of tomatoes before blanching in order to peel them. Though paring knives don’t always take center stage in a restaurant kitchen, they are useful, convenient, and often inexpensive, making them worthwhile to have on hand.
The process of choosing knives for a commercial kitchen should balance budget with utility. Though it is extremely important for kitchen staff to be able to quickly, efficiently, safely, and comfortably chop and cut the ingredients before and during service, knife purchasing should not put a huge dent on the business’ bank account. When selecting knives for the kitchen, purchasers should take into consideration the amount of staff that will be working at once. A shortage of knives will slow down food preparation, while an excess of knives may be a waste of money. Having various types of knives available, with a few knives of the same kind for those which will be used frequently, such as chefs’ knives, will help enable the commercial kitchen to run as efficiently as possible.