When Leah, fellow (Style) Lush writer and of A Girl and A Boy fame, wrote in, asking for recommendations on a set of knives for her wedding gift registry, I immediately jumped at the chance to answer her question. I can help! I have opinions on knives! Shiny, shiny knives!
Hi Food Lushers! I'm finally (FINALLY) having a wedding, and even though my groom and I aren't exactly "just starting out" such that we're counting on guests to buy us dish towels and pillow cases and a matching soapdish/toothbrush cup set, people are nevertheless asking us to register for things we need. One thing we actually *do* need is a set of nice knives.
Could you point me toward some good knives or knife sets (butcher, paring, bread, slicer, etc.; block not necessary) that will do a fine job--and maybe make us feel like grownups instead of broke college kids--without breaking the bank (that belongs to some kind and generous wedding guest)?
Had I been posed the question a decade ago, I wouldn’t have had the first clue what to tell her. Heck, I was still in college, and I’m pretty sure I never really had a need for a decent kitchen knife, what with all the pre-packaged and frozen foods I subsisted on in my early twenties. Ya just tear open the box. No chopping or slicing necessary.
Enter my then-boyfriend/now-husband who was a real-live chef. He knew how to do things like dice an onion! And chiffonade basil! And butcher a chicken! (Warning: the last link is not for the squeamish.) He kept his set of knives -- by Cutco, I believe -- in a leather-bound case. Fancy!
When we got married, almost six years ago, I was just starting to become interested in cooking, and like every good engaged couple, we registered for all kinds of kitchen goodies, including a basic set of kitchen knives and a block. We chose J.A. Henckels, the German maker of fine cutlery my husband had been coveting for many, many years.
So, here’s the thing. I’m not an expert. I’ve not played around with lots of different brands of knives to be able to say J.A. Henckels is the best. But, having used our knives to prep vegetables versus my mom’s hodge-podge set of knives likely bought in a discount department store, there really is no comparison. You can’t put a value on a decent kitchen knife, and here’s why.
I’ve learned a lot about food preparation from my husband. He’s a very patient instructor, having shown me how to properly (and finely) dice an onion at least a dozen different times. The main thing I’ve taken away from his tutorials is to “let the knife do the work.” There’s really no need to strain yourself when dicing an onion so long as your knife is sharp and of solid design and construction.
There seems to be two schools of thoughts when it comes to accidents in the kitchen -- equipment error, or user error. Having nearly sliced off my knuckle on a no-name brand mandoline, I’m fairly certain both the equipment AND the user are to blame for my bloodshed. I’ve never once cut myself with our J.A. Henckels’ knives. Is it the equipment, or my (ha!) years of training? Who can really say.
What I can say is, whatever brand you decide is right for your budget (Chicago Cutlery, Ginsu, Wusthof), choose cutlery you will really use. I’ve highlighted the three knives from our collection we use the most, all from the Professional “S” series: the 8-inch stainless steel chef’s knife (right), the 7-inch Santoku-style (center), and the 8-inch carving knife (left).
We use the chef’s knife for all sorts of preparation, including dicing and slicing vegetables and butchering meat. The carving knife, which gets a regular sharpening on the steel that came with our set, is used primarily for slicing cooked meats. My husband isn’t really a fan of the Santoku (which we registered for independently of a set), but I use it all the time for shredding lettuces and herbs. (I think my husband doesn’t like it because it can’t be sharpened on a steel, and it’s gotten a little dull over the years.)
The one knife we don’t own, but I would recommend getting, is a long serrated knife for slicing bread. We have a short one that also came with our set, but it’s really too small.
Additionally, we also received a set of eight steak knives (also by J.A. Henckels) that not only are great for meat, but I pull one out when I want to slice off a few hunks of cheese for my two-year-old. Works better than our designated cheese slicer!