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PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 April, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 April, 2005, 12:00am

How to choose ... knives

In a professional kitchen, a chef is more possessive about his knives than anything else in his tool box. It's something he has chosen carefully, considering brand, weight, size, balance and (if they're honest) how cool it looks.

What is it? If you cook, it's an essential tool in your kitchen. Unlike electrical equipment, it can mince, cube, julienne and dice to precise dimensions - as long as the person wielding the knife has the right skills.

Types: the one you'll use most often is a chef's knife. Other useful types are a small paring knife for more delicate jobs and a serrated knife for breads and pastries. You might also want knives for boning poultry or filleting fish.

Size: macho chefs will drone on about how they would never use a chef's knife with a blade shorter than 25cm, but if you have small hands, there's no shame in using one that's about 20cm.

Balance: all types of knives should feel balanced in your hands. If it's too heavy in either the handle or blade, it will be harder to control.

Metal: they're usually made of carbon steel, stainless steel or carbon-stainless. Carbon steel sharpens easily but also rusts if it's not dried immediately after use, and the metal also can react with acid ingredients such as tomatoes and lemons. Stainless steel is difficult to sharpen but doesn't rust or react. Carbon-stainless combines the positive attributes of both metals.

What else? Chefs used to boast about their German, Swiss or French knives, but now many of the hottest chefs use super-sharp knives from Japan. Some brands of Japanese knives are honed only on one side of the blade, unlike European knives which are honed symmetrically. If you buy this type, make sure you're getting one that's made for a right- or left-handed person, depending on which hand you use to hold the knife.

A knife is only useful if it's sharp; in fact if it's not, it can be dangerous because you'll need to use brute force to slice through something and the blade might slip. Buy a sharpening steel or whetstone, and use it frequently. Store knives carefully, preferably in a special knife-holder.

Where to buy? The kitchen sections of Wing On (tel: 2852 1888) and Sogo (tel: 2838 8338) carry many different brands of knives. If you want a Japanese knife, you should consider picking them up on your next trip to Japan - they'll still be expensive, but they're even more costly if you buy them here.