Intro

Here we are over a month into our newsletter and not one malicious threat on our lives or on our kitchen appliances. As of this very moment we believe that we can chalk this up as a win in the good idea department. This newsletter is made possible by readers like you! One small step for chef, one giant leap for chef-kind. We did not have hug that Kitchen-aid for just a few seconds uncomfortably long! You want the cake? You can’t handle the cake! … I uh … lost my train of thought there … so sorry.

Let us just start off here with a quick review of what we, the writers, have imparted to you, the readers, over the course of this last month.

First we explained about the knives and what characteristics you want to look for in a knife. (week 2) Depending on what you wanted to accomplish with your knife and what you wanted to break down would determine what type of knife to look at. Remember you want a knife that feels good in your hand and not what someone tells you to buy. For example, Lee prefers Japanese style knives with their smaller edge angles and lighter weight while Eric prefers the German style knives with their robust edges and hefty weight. We both cook exactly the same thing in very similar ways but our knives feel best in our hands.

Remember to test drive a knife before you buy it. Find a kitchen store near you and ask to handle the knife you are thinking of buying. Try to find a store with multiple brands and styles and give them a try. Most stores will have a block and some vegetables for you to cut.

Secondly we covered the cuts. (week 3 & 4) First we started with the basics and the difference in size between a chop, dice, and mince. Then we dove into more complicated cuts that ranged from very specific in size to purely decoration cuts. You will get all of these cuts in a nice info graphic available on our website asap! Print it out, put it on your fridge and you can have a quick reference readily available to help you get the most from your recipes.

Now to wrap this all up we are about to talk about knife maintenance. We now have a knife and we, hopefully, have a good understanding how to properly use the knife. We have been using it for weeks now and we bet you have noticed that it’s not cutting those limes for your margaritas as well as it used to. How about when you try to chiffonade some spinach? Does it slice right through or are you finding it tears & bruises the leaves more than anything else? If you are feeling resistance when you cut then unfortunately my friends, your knife is getting dull. It happens, do not worry about it. Alton Brown’s knives get dull too you know. So what do we do about it?

Why So Dull?

First why not learn a little about what makes a knife sharp and what happens as it gets dull.

Go grab a knife … we will wait.

HEY! MAKE SURE NOT TO GRAB IT BY THE SHINY THIN PART!

So a knife edge is actually consisting of two parts. Lay your knife flat on the table with the edge towards you, handle on the left for left handed folks and on the right for norm … right handed folks. Now look at the edge of your knife while you read the next few sentences. First you have the visible part which is the shoulder. The shoulder of the knife starts where the angle changes on the blade or the sharp part of the blade.  The shoulder ends at the very edge of the blade running the length of the knife. If you grab the handle with your main hand and rock the knife away from you then back you will notice the shoulder will reflect light at a certain angle. There you go, that right there is the shoulder.

Next we have something that you cannot see very well but you can sure feel and it is called the burr. Now the burr is at the very edge of the knife where the shoulders from either side meet. The burr is what actually cuts your food. When your knife is nice and razor sharp, (seriously I can shave with my kitchen knives if I so wished to … I do not indulge however. Really it is a little disturbing to wipe your cheek with the back of your hand while cutting cauliflower and decide that you need to shave and … well you get the picture. Just because you can does not mean that you should.) the burr will be nice and straight down from heel to tip. As you use your knife the burr can curl and you end up with a dull knife.

The quickest way to fix this is with a traditional steel or a ceramic steel. We recommend a ceramic steel and we will explain why in a minute. What a steel does is bring that curled burr back to the straight position that we need for cutting so well. As you run a knife down and across a steel you are uncurling the burr as well as knocking off some of the teeth. Yes your knife has teeth! Even though you may not be using a serrated knife your $20 - $1500 chef knife will have teeth. As a knife is made and sharpened they will start out with something fairly abrasive (coarse) to remove a lot of metal from the edge to create the shoulder. When they have the angles they want the knife is then sharpened with a less abrasive (medium) stone to begin the sharpening process. Before you get to that stage you can actually see scratches and gouges on the knife shoulder. If you were to look closer you would see teeth along the edge. As you use finer and finer abrasives the spaces between the teeth decrease and you are left with a ever finer row of teeth. So back to knocking teeth off. As you use your knife the burr (which is made up of tiny teeth) will bend one way or the other. The teeth that are heavily bent will get knocked off by the teeth of the steel. The moderately bent teeth will either get knocked off or straightened while the lightly bent teeth will lose their curl and stand straight again. As you continue to use your knife and your steel you will lose more and more teeth until your blade has a hard time cutting a stick of butter no matter how many times you run it on your steel. This happens with every knife. If you use a ceramic steel this happens less often as a ceramic steel is much less coarse than a traditional steel and will encourage even heavily bent teeth to straighten rather than break off.

The Thing About Sharpening

Regardless of what type of steel you have there will come a time when your knife will need to be sharpened. There are 4 ways to sharpen your knife and we will cover all four of them here.

First we need to tell you how to hold your knife while sharpening. Grab the handle with your dominant hand. This hand will control the movement of the knife. Next take your other hand and using your first three fingers spread them out from and inch away from the tip to about the middle of the knife. This hand is for applying pressure to the blade and to keep the knife steady as you sharpen so the angle stays the way you want it the length of the blade. Now the key is to remember the feel of how you are holding your knife. After a bit of practice you will be able to sharpen your knife in the dark just by feel because of muscle memory. Neat huh! Now your main hand will guide the knife across the stone from bolster to tip. Start with your stone laying left to right in front of you, rest the heel of the knife on the stone and adjust to the angle you want. In one motion you will slide your knife to the left or right while also bringing the handle towards you so the entire edge gets hit in one swipe. Bring the edge to a burr and then flip it over and do the same. When bringing to a burr that means you can feel the burr curling on one side of the knife all the way down the knife. The burr will always curl away from the stone. So take your knife, sharpen to the burr on one side run your finger from spine to edge to feel the burr. Make sure the burr is all the way down the entire edge. Flip the knife over and run a few light strokes on that side. Feel the burr and then switch to a finer stone and repeat. If you only have one stone then you are done at this point.

Now the angles.

First is your Asian angle. This angle is generally about 15*. A very sharp but slightly fragile edge and burr is left when you sharpen your knives this way. You can take any knife and sharpen it at this angle. A Japanese knife will come this way while a German knife will require a bit of material removal with a coarse stone before you can get this angle.

To sharpen a knife with this angle try to imagine a small paper matchbook (or grab one if you have one) on the sharpening stone with your knife resting against it. Edge against the stone with the spine in the air. That is your 15* angle you are looking for.  Follow the sharpening instructions and get this angle on your knife.

Second is the European angle. This angle is generally about 22*. Still very sharp with a more robust or abuse forgiving edge. 22* is half of a 45* angle. Best way to get this angle is to take your knife and put it at a 45* angle on the stone, then cut that in half. Hold your knife and start sharpening.

Third is one of the dual bevels. If this is your first time sharpening … wait on using any dual bevels until you get the feel of sharpening one angle at a time. So one way to dual bevel a knife is to first sharpen it using the 15* angle to get that nice thin sharp blade. Then once you have that sharp come back at a 22* angle just on the edge to give you a bit of durability. so you have most of the thinness and ease of cutting from a Asian knife as well as most of the durability of a German knife. This is a very popular way of sharpening among some chefs.

Fourth is the second type of dual bevel. This is the way that Eric sharpens his knives. Once again you will be combining both the Asian and European angles but instead of one on top of the other you start with the European style at the heal of the knife and end with an Asian style at the tip of the knife. What this does is give you awesome slicing power at the front of the knife (his knives will almost fall through a tomato without any pressure applied just like Lee's Shun Classic) and the durability at the heel of the knife where it hits the cutting board most often. To sharpen a knife this way, start at the heel of the knife at the 22* angle and as you slide the knife down the stone gradually change to a 15* angle. Flip it over and repeat.

Once you have sharpened your knife you shouldn’t need to sharpen it again for at least 6 months. With a ceramic steel you can get closer to a year between sessions with a whetstone. To steel your knife, hold the steel in your off hand by the handle and put the tip of the steel on a cutting board. Put the heel of the knife near the top of the steel and adjust to the angle of your knife. (matchbook or half a 45)and pull the knife down and the handle towards you. Make sure your stroke starts at the heel and ends at the tip before you get down to the cutting board or that just ruins the tip of your knife when you hit the cutting board.

Lastly … if your knife is stainless steel it can stand a little bit of moisture on the blade for a little bit of time. If your knife is carbon steel then it will start rusting pretty quickly if you do not take care of it. Regardless of the type of knife. We recommend that you hand wash them every time and dry them with a towel immediately after using them to keep minimal edge wear, handle degrading, or pitting of the blade.

Closure

Since this is a maintenance section we'll pass on a recipe this week.his closes out our section on knives. As you know our goal in cooking is to teach you three steps in the process...

  1. The Knife - Cutting things apart
  2. The Spoon - Mixing things together
  3. The Flame - Transforming things with heat
We've completed the first and will start next week with Lee taking the reigns again to talk about mixing things up. Believe it or not, how you do it makes a difference!

Also, please do not hesitate to ask us questions about anything we have in our newsletters. We aim to make things easy to understand and turn anyone into a confidant chef of their own kitchen. Towards that goal we are always happy to answer questions or clarify.

See you next week!


- Lee & Eric

The Text Book:

Knife Skills Illustrated: A User's Manual is an excellent resource for learning more knife skills. The book lists all the cuts that are considered standard fare in professional kitchens with detailed explanations and illustrations. An excellent resource.
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