How to Choose the Right Chef’s Knife

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Using the right knives is essential to success in the kitchen. Whether you’ve just invested in a set of knives or are looking for advice on the right things to add to your collection as you start cooking more, we’ve got you covered. The first part of our Knife Skills series will focus on how to choose the right chef’s knife: what to look for when purchasing a good-quality knife, the price range and how to care for your knives.

A good chef’s knife is an investment. It is the one ‘go-to’ tool in your kitchen that can perform a myriad of tasks and, if treated correctly, will last a lifetime. I’ve had some of my knives for over 20 years and they are still going strong. This in, in part, because of the initial financial investment I made in them and also because of the way I care for them.

Step 1: Test the Knives

When purchasing a knife, be it a chef’s knife or other type, it is a good idea to go to a store where you can test out the knives – physically hold them and see how they feel in your hand. Some knives are heavier than others and have different handle configurations. Some handles are made of wood, others of plastic, and some are metal. When you are using your knife, you want it to feel comfortable, like it is an extension of your arm.

What to Look For

Weight: You will notice, when you actually hold the different knives that there is a marked difference in the feel and the weight of them. German made knives tend to be heavier, and the blades thicker while Japanese knives are lighter and the blades are thinner. Ceramic blade knives are very light as are some of the less expensive (read: less well-made) knives.

Knives that are forged of high carbon or high carbon stainless steel are the choice of many professionals and home cooks alike. The have many pluses, including their quality and durability, their ability to keep an edge and ease in sharpening and a few drawbacks, the most notable being the price.

Sturdiness: When you hold the knife, you want it to feel solid, and when you engage the blade, it should remain strong and firm. If it wobbles or bends at all, set it down and move to then next one.

The exception to this is if you are purchasing a fillet, slicing or boning knife. We’ll talk about those in the next post. As you hold the chef’s knife, notice the blade. It should be smooth and sharp, with a definable edge to it. If it has serrations on it, again, set it down and move along.

Blade Extension: Look at the blade as it meets the handle. A good knife’s blade will extend all the way through the handle. This helps to balance the knife and reinforces the blade.

You will notice some knives that have handles that are simply attached to the blades. These are generally less expensive than full-tang knives making them a budget-friendly option. They are also lighter and made of stamped stainless steel. Their main drawbacks are that they are not as strong as high carbon forged knives and they are difficult to sharpen. They range in price from $30 to $100.

Ceramic blade knives are also very light and have super-sharp blades. They are budget friendly also. Their main drawback is that the blades can chip very easily and some are less durable. They range from about $20 to $70.

Step 2: Set a Budget

A good chef’s knife, one that will last you for years and years with proper care, will cost anywhere between $75 and $300. I advocate for one closer to the $75-$150 range. Some of the better known manufacturers are Wusthof, Henckels, Victronix, Miyabi, Global and Shun.

$150 for one knife may seem like (or be!) a lot of dough to lay out. Again, if you think of it as an investment, it may ease the initial wallet shock. Many of the better made knives come with lifetime warranties as well. Good to know when you’re considering which knives to buy.

Step 3: Set up a Care Routine

To ensure that your knife will last you a lifetime, proper care is in order. If I can impress one thing upon you it is to never, EVER put your knives in the dishwasher. EVER. Hand wash them with hot, soapy water (no steel wool!) and dry them. Store them either in a knife block, in a knife sheath or on a magnetized bar. This is to protect the blades and also for safety.

Next post we’ll learn about the different knife types and their applications and I’ll offer suggestions as to which knives will provide a good, solid foundation for all of your kitchen adventures. Until then, happy chopping!

- Chef Holly Pierce

How to Tell When Food is “Done”

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We’ve followed the recipe, made sure we diced and chopped and stirred and prepared to the exact specifications in the directions. We’re ready to apply some heat and get things cranked up. We sear, we roast, we braise, we saute and we consult our directions to find out at which point we stop cooking and start eating. And there it is, the mother of all ambiguous instructions, ‘cook until done’.

Cook until done?! We look in the pan and that pork chop is staring back at us. And it’s not giving up any secrets. In fact, we could swear it is taunting us, ‘Do I look done?’ it says. We poke it, we prod it, we may even cut into it – a few times during the cooking process – and still we are left with uncertainty. Is it done?

Search the internet and you will find a slew of blogs, charts, websites and articles all offering up information on ‘how to tell when it’s done’. Everything from the hand test to calculating thickness or pounds to determine length of cooking time and a host of other (some questionably reliable) ways in between. Most of this information is formulated to test the doneness of animal proteins (beef, poultry, pork, fish, etc). This is because the USDA has determined that in order to kill bacteria that meats harbor (which could cause sickness in humans), they must be cooked to a certain ‘doneness’ or internal temperature.

‘Doneness’ relies on a few factors and the most reliable way to determine the doneness or internal temperature of a piece of steak or a roast chicken is with an instant read thermometer. This handy little device is an almost foolproof way to ensure meats and fish are cooked to the perfect degree of juicy tastiness. It is a terrific and inexpensive investment, about $6 for the standard dial-type and $10-15 for a digital, which can take the angst out of the ‘Is it done yet?’ part of dinner. The chart below is a great primer for different types of meats and their internal done cooking temperature.

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There are also some reliable methods of determining when meat is done if you do not own or do not care to own an instant read thermometer. For whole chickens or turkeys, the rule of thumb is 20 minutes of cooking time per pound of meat at 350 degrees. So for a 4 pound chicken it would take 80 minutes or about one and a quarter hours to cook. Before taking it out of the oven, pierce the thigh of the chicken with the tip of a knife or a sharp pronged fork; if the juices run clear (instead of cloudy or bloody) the bird is done. The same rule can be applied to beef and pork roasts, with the exception of beef tenderloin. The tenderloin is a very lean cut and therefore will dry out very quickly when cooked for a long period of time. Cook it at a higher temperature, 425 degrees, for about 12 minutes per pound.

When frying or broiling a steak or chop (beef, pork, lamb), use the thickness as a guideline. For 1 to 1-1/2” thick steaks or chops, cook for 8-10 minutes per side. The less time, the rarer the meat. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts can follow the same thickness rule. For cuts that are 2” thick or more, cook 12-15 minutes per side (for medium).

Fish is done when it flakes easily with a fork and is opaque throughout. Cooking time depends on the thickness or weight of the piece of fish. For the average ¾” – 1” fillet, cooking time is 4-5 minutes per side if fried/sauteed or 6 minutes per pound if baked or roasted (whole or fillet). Shrimp is done when it turns bright pink on each side, depending on the size, about 2-4 minutes per side. Clams and mussels are done as soon as they open. If they do not open after cooking, toss them!

Whichever method you choose to use to test the doneness, you can be sure that we will provide instructions and information that is as detailed and easy to follow as possible. So that when you look at that pork chop in the pan, you know it will be smiling back at you saying “I’m ready”.

Resolutions are So Last Year

26714686 2016 signAs we enter a new year, many of us have been noodling away at our list of resolutions. We look at the coming months as a blank slate on which we can write all of our positive aspirations. Turn a new leaf. Change a habit which we have outgrown or adopt a new habit or regime. We think about how we can improve our finances, reduce stress, go on vacation, take a class, explore new job opportunities or find more time for friends and family or leisure pursuits. We resolve to lose weight, eat ‘healthier’, exercise more, and attain that perfect image we have for ourselves.

Our lists can grow so long or become so rigid that we can find ourselves becoming overwhelmed and frustrated. We look for ‘expert’ advice and guidance only to find that there are many ‘experts’ all with differing ideas and agendas. Is it any wonder many of our resolution lists are scrapped by March? How do we enact positive change to make better and lasting choices for ourselves?

It starts with the idea behind the ‘resolution’. What if, instead of dogmatically resolving to ‘lose weight’ or ‘eat healthy’ this year, we soften that up and set an intention to take care of ourselves this year? That could encompass choosing to eat healthier foods, setting aside some ‘me’ time, having a massage, taking a cooking class, going out for a hike, reading a book or taking a dance class; generally anything that makes us feel nurtured, nourished and cared for. Without rules. Without a set end goal in sight. One small step at a time. Instead of saying “I will eat only ‘healthy’ foods” we can soften that to “My desire is to feel good in body and mind”. How we interpret ‘feeling good’ is up to us. Choosing whole, natural foods can definitely be a part of that.

When we set parameters for ourselves it can become discouraging if we stray outside of them. We can chastise ourselves for ‘eating that ice cream’ or ‘missing that workout’. Folks, we’re only human. We have lives that get messy, spill color outside the lines, throw curveballs our way and challenge us even on the best of days. What matters is the commitment. It is easier to commit to something when it helps us to feel good. So when we have those ‘off’ moments (or days) we can roll with them and not become derailed.

If you are resolving to ‘be healthier’ or ‘try something new’ this year, we’d like to help you with that. We can take it at your pace, and introduce new things to you one step at a time. We can even address some of your other intentions, like spending more time with family or learning a new skill. Whatever your resolutions or intentions are for the coming year may yours be healthy, happy and delicious.