March 22, 2018
Knife Sharpening Skills with Chef Warren
Properly sharpened knives are a must have tool for professional chefs and home cooks alike. Learning how to sharpen your own knives can save you time and money. It can also prolong the life of your knives. Indeed, if you do this right, you should have to buy new stones before you ever have to buy a new knife! I sharpen my knife about once a month, but if I'm really going crazy and using it a ton I might sharpen it once a week! You don't need to own and use expensive, custom, handmade knives to make sharpening worthwhile. Even standard / basic (but still well made) knives can be excellent tools and will last a lifetime with proper care.
Now, let's get started.
I personally use what's called a Japanese Wet Stone for sharpening my own knives. The one I use currently is a Norton Water Stone (these are around $100, I've had mine for 3-4 years). With a 4000/8000 grit, this stone is meant to maintain the sharpness of your knife. If my knife were to get significantly dull, I would need to use a stone with a lower grit in order to bring the sharpness back up. The lower the grit the more metal the stone will take off in order to create an edge again. However with a maintenance stone like mine, I don't worry about it taking too much metal off.
About a half hour before you plan to sharpen you'll need to start soaking your stone. Soaking makes the stone more pliable and loosens the grit! Submerge the stone completely in cold water for 20-30 minutes. There shouldn't be any air bubbles coming out of the side, you'll want it to be nice and wet! (NOTE: My stone has not been soaked in these photos, yours will be much wetter!)
When using a wet stone, you are sanding off little pieces of metal to make the knife sharper. You can also control the angle of sharpness your knife is. A flatter angle - typically 15° to 16° (common on Asian style knives) will create a really fine, sharp edge. But, because the flatter edges are more brittle, they will also dull faster. A broader angle around 20° (common on European style knives) is not quite as sharp, but you can get more wear out of it. The angle to sharpen a knife all depends on the the type of knife, the intended use, and the user preferences / needs. For example with my fish knife, I do about a awfully flat at a 12° angle (very very sharp), most of my knives I sharpen around a 16° angle, and a couple classic chef knives I keep at 20°.
How to set the angle of the bevel? Many experienced chefs do this simply by experienced eye and feel. You can learn this skill by gauging the angle one step at a time. A knife perpendicular to the stone will be at 90°. Half of that angle will be 45°. Half of that is about 22°. From there you can get pretty close. However if you are learning to sharpening on a stone, you may wish to purchase a honing angle guide. This will assist you in getting the correct angle consistently while you practice.
I would recommend that you lay out your stone on a table over a towel to keep the water from getting everywhere.
There are multiple ways to sharpen your knife on a wet stone. I do a simple side to side motion, and I do the same angle on both sides of my knife. What ever you do you're going to want to apply 4-6 lbs. of pressure evenly distributed across the knife. Some chefs want one side to be more angled than the other, that's all up to you and how you actually want to handle your knife.
You'll want to take care of your stone so that it can take care of your knives. If your stone starts to bow you're not going to create an even edge on your knife! To do this, you'll need a flattening stone.
When your stone is wet, make some hash marks with a pencil across the entire the top of the stone. Rub the flattening stone along your wet stone until the surface is nice and flat and all the pencil marks disappear . This will ensure that your stone and your knives are kept in great condition!
Once you're done with your stone you'll want to make sure it's nice and clean (it will look black from the metal), dry it off (soak up any residual water), and keep it in a ventilated container or a nice dry area.
Although this is our preferred method to sharpen knives, for the home cook who's intimidated by investing in and learning to use wet stones, there exist other very serviceable knife sharpening alternatives.
We've achieved excellent results using an Apex Edge Pro device. This contraption helps to set the proper angle and encourage the proper motions without as much practice required as traditional stones. The end result can be effectively the same as a sharpening on a traditional stone. Highly recommended.
Another option is a Diamond Hone knife sharpener. These offer preset angles. Some units will sharpen all knives to 20 degrees. Others will sharpen to 15. Some units allow you to switch and back and forth between multiple angles. These are very intuitive to use and will do a good job at making most knives plenty sharp for most applications. However, these don't get your knives quite as sharp as a true stone and in applications you may be left wishing your knife was even sharper.
Something that most home chefs don't know is that many knife manufacturers offer a life time sharpening policy. You typically only have to pay for the shipping. Just mail your knives in and receive them back later with a fresh factory edge! If you use your knives daily, the waiting game may be unreasonable. But for many home cooks, this can be a great option.
There are also some bad sharpening options to avoid. For example, devices like the one below can help you get through a project in a pinch when your knife is dull and not cutting effectively. However, these are not a long term solution and are certainly not recommended for regular repeated use. Instead of the sanding / polishing effect of a stone, these tend to shred the metal on the edge of the blade, which both removes the proper bevel and shortens the lifespan of the knife.
What about honing steels?
Many of you will have a honing steel already. These are often sold as part of a knife set. These are a must have tool and very helpful in the kitchen. However, it's important to understand that these do NOT sharpen your knives.
Sharpening is the act of creating an angled bevel on the blade edge. Honing, on the other hand, is simply ensuring that the bevel is straight along the edge of the blade. If you've ever seen a barber strop a straight razor on a leather strap prior to a shave, you can understand the difference here. That razor gets sharpened on a stone whenever it's dull. But it is stropped (honed) on the leather before every use.
Your knives should be sharpened as needed depending on when your knives are dull. Your knives should be honed before most every use. Your honing steel is the kitchen equivalent of the barber's leather strap. It should be used regularly, but it takes just a few passes to ensure that the edge is straight.
January 25, 2018
Knife Cutting Skills: A Step-by-Step Adventure
Knife skills are something that every home chef could benefit from. Sometimes the thing that takes a dish from good to great is simply the presentation! I'm going to show you some tricks of the trade and help you to easily take your dishes to the next level. We'll be working with an onion, an apple, a squash, and an orange! Before we begin, make sure you are using a sharp knife. Dull knives are actually more dangerous than a sharp knife because of the amount of pressure that is needed in order to use a dull knife! This can cause more frequent and more severe accidents. So be safe, use a sharp knife!
Alright, now from this point forward I want you to trust yourself and trust your knife!
I used a standard issue chef's knife for everything. Nothing fancy, this is just a good quality knife!
When it comes to knives, one of the most important things is to hold it at the hilt (where the blade meets the handle). You're going to want to get a good grip without getting white knuckles. Firm but not the grip of death!
Another important part of correct knife holding involves your other hand. When chopping, you want to curve your fingers inward and rest the middle of your fingers on the blade. Make sure that your fingers are curving inward, or else you risk cutting the tips of your fingers off!
When you're not doing a close dice, chop or slice, your hand should be resting on your cutting board like so:
Let's start with the onion. First, we dice! Slice the onion in half through the end bulb, like so. Remove any unwanted layers, but keep the bulb in tact.
Next, you'll slice the onion perpendicular to the bulb without slicing all the way through the onion near the top portion. You should be left with an onion fan of sorts.
You'll also want to slice the onion once in half parallel to the cutting board. Again, do not cut all the way through!
Now rotate the onion and chop perpendicular to your first slices. You will be left with the perfect diced onion!
Next is the julienne cut–also known as the french or straw cut. This is good for salads, soups, caramelizing, etc. This time, the first thing you'll want to do is cut off the bulb at the end. Cut far enough in so that your onion slices will be a uniform length.
And you're done!
*IMPORTANT* In between every use you should wipe down your knife with a clean rag. You always want to work with a nice, clean knife. Additionally, when you're done using your knife it should be hand washed and put away. Never put a knife in the dishwasher as it will cause the blade to rust and deteriorate, the handle to break down, and will eventually ruin your knife.
Next I'm going to show you how to cut a butternut squash! These can be a pain to cut if you don't do it the right way. But, once you know how to do it they are a quick and delicious addition to soups, salads, or any dish!
For easier handling, we're going to start off by cutting the squash in half. The best way to do this is to make sure you've got a sharp knife and simply break the flesh of the squash with the tip of it. Then, work your knife back and forth with a good amount of pressure until you make it all the way through.
Next, we're going to get rid of all the skin. Start from the top and make a downward cut along the squash. Rotate the squash and repeat until all the skin is removed.
After you have your squash completely removed of the skin, trim off the curved edge of one side of the squash. You will be left with a flat surface. Now cut a few slices off at your desired thickness, mine were about 1/2 inch thick.
Place a couple slices on top of each other, flat on the cutting board. We're now going to do what chef's call "squaring off." You don't have to do this, but it makes a more uniform dice and a prettier presentation!
To square off, simply trim off any edges that aren't straight. You will be left with a "square," although with a squash it's more like a rectangle.
Now we slice!
*TIP ALERT* To keep your squash stable while you're slicing and dicing, place your pointer finger over the knife so that it rests on the squash and holds it in place while you slide your knife through the squash.
Begin the slice
Place finger over the knife to hold the squash down
Slide your knife through while your fingers are in place. Repeat!
Now for the dice we're going to turn our sticks the other way and do the same thing. For a good, square dice you'll want to chop at the same thickness of your sticks!
Okay, now for the apple. I'm going to show you how a professional would slice an apple. First, cut your apple in half through the core.
When slicing an apple, I like to hold my knife a little more on the blade than I would usually. I also hold it at a higher angle than normal (maybe a 60° angle). I begin the slice and then drag the knife through the apple, never leaving the board with my knife.
The reason it is so important to slice and drag instead of chop, is because when chopping an apple the slice gets stuck to the blade. Like this:
When I use the slice and drag technique, the slice simply falls to its side. Like so:
It the end I am left with some BEAUTIFUL slices. Perfect for salads, desserts, garnish, or whatever else you might use them for!
Next up I'm going to grab an orange. First, I cut off the ends and peel the orange using my chef's knife.
Once I have the orange peel completely off (including all of the white pith). I switch to my pairing knife to do a cut called a supreme! If you're not familiar with this, basically what we're going to make this orange look like is like those little bare slices of fruit in a can of Mandarin oranges!
For this cut, I'm going to cut between the little membrane segments and only get the flesh of the orange.
This can be done with any citrus fruit and can be used in a variety of ways, or just for a fancy snack.
Thanks for reading! Feel free to reach out with any questions.
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