– Cath Fleet, trainer at Expat Kitchen
– David Lim, managing director of Razorsharp
– Ryoichi Kano, chef de cuisine at Lewin Terrace
– Lua Chang Yung, culinary instructor, Diploma in Culinary & Catering Management at Temasek Polytechnic
– Goh Hock Quee, senior lecturer, Diploma in Culinary & Catering Management at Temasek Polytechnic
WHAT SHOULD WE LOOK OUT FOR WHEN PICKING A KNIFE?
There isn’t one knife that fits all. Consider the feel and fit, and what you’ll be using it for most of the time.
• Size, contour and material of the handle It should fit comfortably in your hand. If you have smaller hands, a slimmer handle will likely offer a better grip and be easier toUSE. The material of the handle shouldn’t feel slippery or rough.
• Weight of the knife It shouldn’t be too heavy or light for you. Your hand will tire easily with a knife that’s too hefty while one that’s too light may not be suitable for handling hardier foods like pumpkins and watermelons. Also consider what you’re comfortable with – some prefer a heavier knife as it falls with more force while others prefer a lighter one that is easier to manoeuvre, says Cath.
• Balance between the handle and blade For a chef’s knife, the handle should not be much heavier or lighter than the blade, while for a paring knife, the handle can be slightly more weighted than the blade as that makes peeling easier, says David. Get a feel of the knife at the store: hold the knife in your hand and make a cutting action, preferably on a chopping board. Buying knives online is not advisable unless you are familiar with the knife.
• Length of the blade The blade should not feel overly long or short for you. Chef’s knives come with blades that are between 15cm to 24cm while paring knives have blades ranging from 9cm to 15cm. Cath is most comfortable with a 20cm chef’s knife and Ryoichi prefers a paring knife with the shortest blade, as it gives him more control when using it.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD KNIFE?
Attention to detail. Note the finishing of these parts:
Tang Go for a full-tang knife, where the steel of the blade extends all the way to the end of the handle. Besides being more sturdy and durable than a partial-tang knife, it offers better control and is effortless to use.
Bolster and finger guard (or choil) This should feel smooth and not cut into your thumb and finger in any way.
Spine It should be smooth with rounded edges, instead of straight ones, which makes it easier on your hand when you rock the knife back and forth to mince food.
Blade If you frequently cut up hard foods, pick one with a slightly thicker blade. But if you prepare mostly vegetables, seafood and boneless meat, a thinner blade would suffice.
DOES THE MATERIAL OF THE HANDLE MATTER?
This is largely a matter of preference, although there are pros and cons for each type. Stainless steel ones tend to be more slippery when wet or handling with oily hands. Wooden ones offer a good grip but require more maintenance – they must be dried thoroughly after use to prevent warping, warns David. They must also be treated with mineral oil occasionally. Choose those made of hard wood, with a tight and fine grain like rosewood, which are more resistant to cracking and splitting, advises Chang Yung. Hard plastic handles generally require no maintenance although some can be slippery too.
IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WESTERN AND JAPANESE KNIVES?
Both have a range of knives for handling different foods and these cater to the different ways food is prepared in each cuisine. Japanese knives are generally lighter and stay sharper longer, says Ryoichi. They also cut more finely, adds David, as most Japanese knife makers sharpen them to an angle of 15 deg compared to 20 deg for most European knife makers. A knife with a steeper edge cuts more finely.
WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS OF CERAMIC KNIVES?
Ceramic knives are lighter and harder than stainless steel ones, and they stay sharp longer. Raw food advocates prefer them as ceramic does not react with enzymes in food and keeps the ingredients in their most natural state, helping to retain their nutritional benefits. However, they’re also more brittle and prone to chipping, especially if dropped, says David.
WHAT ARE THE ESSENTIAL KNIVES EVERY HOME NEEDS?
A chef’s knife is the most versatile for meats and vegetables, while a paring knife is handy for peeling fruits and veggies, and cutting ingredients like tomatoes and garlic. But if you fillet fish, chop up whole chickens or slice loaves of bread frequently, consider specialised knives like a fish knife, cleaver or bread knife.
ARE EXPENSIVE KNIVES NECESSARILY BETTER?
You typically pay for the materials used, type of construction method and the reputation of the knife maker, explains Hock Quee. Forged knives, which are more refined, cost more as they require more time to make – they’re crafted from single pieces of steel and are individually shaped and sharpened. Compare this to stamped knives that are mass-produced from a sheet of metal, explains David.
It all depends on your needs and budget, although experts say you should be prepared to fork out about $200 for a good knife.
This article was originally published in Simply Her May 2015.