Instructions: Dont leave knives lying in porcelain or metal sinks. It may damage the blades. Dont put knives in the dishwasher, either. Make sure that when you put them away, the blades dont bang into each other or into other items in a drawer. Both knife blocks and magnetic strips, which hang on the wall, help prolong the life of your cutlery.
Sharpening is a bit more complicated.
One of the biggest problems is the lack of a properly beveled edge to begin with. A good test of sharpness, says teacher and chef Charlie Vollmar, is the paper test: Make a small slice in a piece of paper and then slice through it. A good knife will cleave the paper in two smoothly and easily. If the blade pulls or drags, its not sharp. Also, if your knife wont cut through the skin of a ripe tomato, its not sharp.
Have the knife professionally sharpened to create the correct cutting surface, advises Grant Garber, who, with his brother Todd, owns Sharpening Mechanics in Campbell. It will cost you $4 to $6 per knife. That professional edge should last about one year.
To maintain cutlery, knives that undergo light use should be steeled once a week. Those that get heavy use should be steeled two or three times a week.
Steeling does not sharpen a blade; it aligns it to correct any bending of the edge and removes burrs that occur naturally during use.
Hold the steel - a long, cylindrical rod that comes with many knife sets - in one hand, either upright in front of you or pointing down on a cutting board.
With the other hand, place the heel of the knife against the steel near the handle. Draw the blade from heel to tip at a 20-degree angle, using a constant, light pressure. Four or five strokes on each side should refine the knifes edge.
Honing is another method home chefs can use to cure defects in a blade. A bronze rod coated with very finely crushed diamonds is used to create a sharpening rod, used the same way as a steel. Unlike steeling, honing sharpens the blade, correcting any imperfections on the knifes surface. Before use, wash both the rod and the knife to remove the debris created by shaving off metal fragments, Garber said.
Garber doesnt have much regard for most electric sharpeners. He considers them glorified can openers, and says they are too aggressive. Without a guide system, he said, Youre just guessing at the angle.
Still, you can get a professional-level edge at home, he says. Of the several home-sharpening kits available, Garber suggests the Lansky system, which holds the blade in place while you use sharpening plates set at predetermined angles to create a quality edge.
With practice, a set of knives can be sharpened at home in about an hour.
Its more of a hobbyist thing, Garber says. Most people dont take the time.
Mastering difficult cutting jobs
Corralling a carrot, step by step
Chef Steve Mesa says carrots are the trickiest thing to cut. Maurice Dissels doesnt like bell peppers and soft tomatoes. Here are a few tricks from Mesa, Dissels and knife skills teacher Charlie Vollmar:
Onions: Vollmar suggests refrigerating onions about an hour before cutting.
This causes the juices to coagulate and lessens those tear-inducing acids.
To chop an onion, cut about 1/2 inch off the tip. Then trim the root end, leaving the root intact. Cut onion in half from tip to root and peel off the skin. Place the onion halves on a cutting surface, cut side down. Vollmar teaches a horizontal slice from tip to root, carefully holding the root end of the onion. (Your knife will be parallel to the cutting board.) Make this horizontal slice two to four times depending upon the desired size of the pieces of onion.
(Mesa invented a renegade method after a cooking school mishap: With the root end of the onion resting on the cutting board, make slices by cutting downward from tip to root.)
Now, make vertical cuts 1/4 to 1/2 inch apart from the tip to almost, but not quite, through the root end. Lastly, slice across the onion. The result: a uniform chop or dice.
Carrots: Tricky carrots can be made more stable by laying a peeled carrot on its side and slicing a strip off one side of the carrot. Place the carrot on the cutting board, cut side down. Cut the carrot into manageable lengths appropriate for your recipe. Now you can cut coins, half-moons or smaller pieces. Or you can slice the carrots lengthwise, stack the slices and slice again, to make a classic julienne cut ( 1/8 inch by 1/8 inch by 2 1/2 inches).
Citrus: Both Mesa and Vollmar offer a wonderful method of preparing citrus fruits. Slice off both the blossom and stem ends of the fruit. Stand fruit on a cutting board with one cut side down. Cut peel and pith away from fruit from top to bottom, following the curve. Section the fruit by carefully slicing between the sections, running the knife on either side of the fibrous membrane around each slice of fruit. Sections should fall right into a waiting bowl.
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