After a busy Spring season I reflect on all the food that I have prepared for the multitude of banquets and events in our club and catering kitchens. In doing so I can’t help but think of the most important tools that make my job much easier: my knives and that is the subject of this post.
All working chefs have their favorite knives that cut and fabricate food into servable portions and works of edible art. These are my knives that I use the most, each with their own purpose, they are listed in the order on the photo from left to right: pairing knife, boning knife, chef knife (also called a French knife), slicing knife, scimitar, and serrated slicing knife. The countries where these knives were forged are Italy, Germany, Japan and Brazil. Each has its own story, some with more than 30 years of use in many kitchens where I have toiled. All knives, regardless of the brand, must be sharp and comfortable for the user. There is even a saying that states something like this, a sharp knife doesn’t cut you it’s the dull knife that does. This is because when using a dull knife one has to struggle more to cut something and often overworks the action which results in cutting the user.
Cost should not be an option. If you exercise proper care for your knives and use them often, they will always be worth every penny that you paid for them. The following photos are few examples of the tasks that I use them for and the reasons why:
Pairing knives, of which there are many variations, are one of the most used in any cook’s tool box . This rosewood handled knife is Italian (Classe) made and very thin, perfect for carving fruit, turning vegetables, and small detailed cutting. In this basic fruit carving I also used my German (Fdick) serrated slicing knife to cut the pineapple into two thick slices. From these slices I cut out two disks with my French (Matfer) circle cutter which were used as inserts prior to adding the orange crowns and strawberries. The leftover cut out pineapple circles were then used a base for each half of the melon carving.
This next image is of a large Alaskan Halibut filet. Cutting fish requires a very sharp thin slicing knife. I use a Japanese (Mac) knife which is light and extremely sharp. Sharp can be a subjective term with different meanings for different people. Some chefs like to test their knives by seeing if they can shave the hair off of their arm. For me this is not a good test because who wants to eat food that was cut with a knife after that test? A more sanitary test and method that I use is to hold up a piece of parchement paper and then draw the knife through the paper in one stroke to cut the paper in an effortless clean cut. If the cut can not be made clean and effortlessly and tears the paper then the knife is not sharp! Prior to cutting test evaluations for our apprentices, we check their knives in this manner.
Butchering in the culinary world is called fabrication. In most professional kitchens portions are cut from large pieces of meat called primals, which are individual muscles that are broken down from the whole carcass at the meat packers plant. The most common ones used in professional kitchens are tenderloins, strip loins, rib eyes, top sirloins and top rounds. All of them can be trimmed, trussed and roasted whole or broken down into streaks or smaller cuts. Trimming and fabricating these primals into steaks is done with two knives, the scimitar and the boning knife which is also used frequently in the fabrication of other types of meat. In these photos I show the beef rib eye and a rack of lamb which I fabricated into useable portions with these two knives. Tying the steaks to form them into nice round shapes prior to grilling is done with cotton butchers twine which is also used for trussing poultry and roasts. In our kitchens we also utilize all of the trim for grinding or to create a base broth for Au Jus. We even use the fat, when we have the time to render it, for use when mixed with oil for frying French fries and for cooking Yorkshire pudding which we serve with Prime Rib.
Racks of lamb are purchased in two forms. Whole or split with the chime bone removed which is done at the meat packers plant with a band saw. To prepared the rack into chops or lamb racks for roasting the fat cap needs to be removed and the meat between the bones needs to be cut away. This term is called “Frenching or Frenched” and takes a fair amount time and effort to do properly.