October 2008

To the Point

A good knife is a sharp investment  by Amanda Chantal Bacon

Knives

Yes, they’re expensive, but they’re also functional pieces of art that will change your life. Don’t be intimidated by expensive knives specific to scaling river eels and peeling ripe fruit. Simply invest in three great knives—a chef’s knife you’ll use for 80 percent of your work, a paring knife for detailed tasks like peeling shallots and a long serrated knife for cutting bread.

Japanese knives have exploded onto the Western scene—with good reason: They start out sharper and are easy to keep that way. Shun is my standby. The Damascus-style blades have a metallic-watermark appearance, and the D-shape handles are so balanced they feel like an extension of your hand. Also phenomenal is the line of steel and titanium masterpieces French chef Michel Bras and Japanese knifemaker Kai teamed up to produce.

There’s no mystery to keeping a sharp edge on your blade. Once you get the hang of using a waterstone (not a grinding stone), maintaining an edge will become truly meditative. A waterstone with two grain levels is optimal. Soak the stone in water for at least five minutes, then place it on a towel to stabilize it. Starting on the larger grain, hold the blade at a 10- to 15-degree angle to the waterstone (think the width of two pennies stacked) and draw the side of the blade lengthwise on the stone with consistent gentle pressure. Repeat on the other side. Use a ceramic honing rod regularly to maintain a fine edge on your Japanese knives.