Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Q & A: Knives!

Dear Il Piatto,
I recently bought some knives noted to be "stainless steel". However after several washes in the dishwasher they have spots, or "stains" if you will. Will the "stains" kill me? If not, how can I clean them properly? Was I wise to purchase the $3.00 (17.80 Swedish kronor) set of knives from Ikea? They included a nice wooden knife block which has not developed "stains".

Dear Byron,
Thanks for initiating the first-and-possibly-last-ever Il Piatto Blu Q&A Session! Your query seems simple but I assure you that you have many many issues wrapped up inside, like a question piƱata. This isn't just about spots, Byron. This is about knife and knife accoutrement quality. A good kitchen knife will make everything surrounding cooking easier. You'll be less frustrated by the prepping inherent to multi-step cooking and you'll get everything done a lot faster. So here's some thoughts:

- Spend some money on a decent knife (or two). You'd be wise to invest your kroner in a sturdy option and stay away from the Ikea stainless set. I have a number of chef's knives, a serrated knife, a boning knife, a cleaver and a paring knife. Out of these, I find that I most often use my mid-size chef's knife, and if you were to only buy one good knife, that would be the one to invest in. Most of my knives are from Wusthof with the exception of a couple Henckels. If you don't want one of those, my all-time favorite magazine/life guide, Cook's Illustrated, has long recommended the Victorinox Fibrox 8-inch chef's knife as an excellent, low-cost option. You can find these knives lots of places--I just linked to Fante's Kitchen Wares Shop for the Wusthof and Henckel because it is informative and because I think Fante's is a great kitchenware store that ships reliably for shut-ins.

- Keep them sharp and safe. Sharp knives cut really well and are much safer than sawing away with a dull edge. Good knives can be sharpened over and over again and should last a lifetime. Ever since Marilyn moved away to Michigan, I have lost my capacity to get my knives sharpened as a social activity, but you can get them done professionally at any kitchen shop (in Atlanta, there's a good service at Cook's Warehouse).

- Don't stick them in the dishwasher. The handles should be OK (after all, a good knife should be well-forged) but the force of the water and the bumping around will dull the blade edge. So I guess this actually falls under the "keep them sharp" category, eh? Also, of interest regarding your hapless stainless-steel knife set, those "stains" that so irk you are probably the result of your knives being in contact with plated flatware, then exposed to the combination of dishwasher detergent chemicals and hot water. It does not affect knife performance, however, and also will not kill you.

- Store them well. I'm glad you aren't storing your knives loose in the cutlery drawer with everything else. It's unsafe for you to do so, as you could reach in and get a nasty cut, but also all the bumping around will dull the blade edges. Which, I guess, would eventually solve your problem of getting cut when you reach in, but it's best to avoid the situation altogether. I myself do not use a wooden block to store my knives; probably originally this was because I didn't buy my knives in a set so I never procured one to begin with. But I don't find them aesthetically pleasing, they take up too much valuable counter space in my small kitchen, and I worry about them mildewing after being repeatedly exposed to liquids and other damp kitchen materials. So here's your chance to get to Ikea again: to pick up their fantastic magnetic wall-mounted knife rack. Spend your Swedish kroner on the Grundtal and leave the Distinkts and Hakes where you found them.

Well, that's pretty much what I know about knives. And if all this talk has made you want to go out and get one for that special someone as a gift, just remember: DON'T DO IT!! It's such bad luck.


paul VASH said...

Maki and Shu got us a fantastic chef's knife for our wedding and I'm pretty sure the Japanese know a little something about luck. We all had a very civil dinner while watching the fireworks and with very little bloodshed. I suspect that this "bad luck" nonsense has Sicilian roots.

carla said...

Ah, but you see--you received a Japanese knife from a Japanese person, which clearly somehow negates the bad luck. Like knocking on wood or something.

biotecchie said...

One should never give knives as presents. Think how awful it would be if the receiver were suddenly turn on you in the kitchen!

carla said...

It's VERY ungrateful to stab the gift-giver. But they should have known better.