Originally published July 9, 2008: Talk about a timely cooking class.
A couple of weeks ago, personal chef Wendy Carroll of Seasoned to Taste in Fresno demonstrated the proper use of knives at Kitchen & Bath Plus on West El Paso near Blackstone Avenue. The class was great for families cooking more at home because of the tough economy.
Not only did the class boost cooking skills, it also featured a student-cooked dinner perfect for summer: crostini (toasted bread topped with peach salsa and brie cheese), gazpacho, panzanella (a bread salad) and semifreddo (a semi-frozen mixture of cream, almond cookies and lemon juice topped with berry sauce).
The class wasn't just about fancy restaurant-style flourishes, either. Budd Solaegui of Perfect Edge Sharpening Systems in Coarsegold showed students how to hone their own knives. And he offered a practical reason for using sharp knives: Since you're cleanly slicing through vegetables and fruits instead of mashing them with a dull knife, your food stays fresh longer.
Here are Carroll's and Solaegui's tips, from choosing knives to seeding a tomato in less than 30 seconds.
The knives you need
Home cooks frequently reach for three types of knives: the chef's knife, the paring knife and serrated knives, Carroll says. The chef's knife, great for everything from chopped to julienned items, should be 7-10 inches long. The paring knife, used for detail work or cutting small foods, is 2-4 inches long. And a 10-inch serrated knife is most useful for slicing breads and cakes.
It's best to shop around and hold several of each type of knife.
"What's most important is how it feels in your hand," Solaegui says.
When buying knives, choose ceramic or forged, high-carbon stainless steel, Solaegui says. Ceramic knives are very sharp and maintain an edge well, but they can break when dropped. Forged, high-carbon stainless steel knives are stronger; they also keep an edge for a long time.
Avoid regular stainless steel. It doesn't maintain an edge and is very difficult to sharpen.
Caring for knives
First, never clean knives in the dishwasher. The heat and dishwasher detergent can damage the blade. Solaegui washes knives by hand, then immediately wipes them with a towel along the back side of the blade. He advises storing knives immediately, using plastic knife guards or a wooden knife block to protect them.
Second, use a soft cutting board that will help maintain the edge of the blade, Solaegui says. For example, bamboo and plastic are better than glass.
Carroll likes Epicurean cutting boards, which are made of layers of paper and food-safe resin. They're dishwasher safe, heat resistant and soft on knives.
No matter the type of cutting board you have, don't scrape your knife sideways across it to clear away peelings and the like.
"You'll end up rolling the edge," Solaegui says.
He demonstrates how to identify a rolled edge. Grip the handle of the knife with one hand and hold it in the air in front of you. Curl the fingers of your other hand, then scrape your fingernails down one side of the blade and across the sharp edge of the knife -- this motion should be quick, as though you were plucking a harp string. Switch hands, and test the other side of the blade. If your fingernails run smoothly across the edge of the blade on either side, your knife is fine. But if your nails catch on the edge of a blade, that means it's a "rolled edge" and it's time to hone, Solaegui says.
Honing a blade "doesn't cut off metal," he says. "It just rolls back the metal to where it's supposed to be."