Thursday, January 12, 2012

Just one good knife..

"Dammit!" If you closed your eyes you could hear echoes of my father, and possibly his father (who I never knew), and men in my clan throughout time expressing sudden, acute dissatisfaction.

The handle on the sauteé pan which I had mentioned earlier would likely fall off due to it's flimsy design was also so thin that it had heated up and burned my hand as I went to grab it.

I made a mental note to ask my siblings to keep track of how my dad's new kitchen shapes up as he and his wife settle in.

I'm ashamed to admit that he was long on the dark side, owning a sleek but barely functional set of CutCo knives with their hard to sharpen beveled edges and clunky handles.

Years ago I vowed to never have to touch another CutCo and so for Christmas one year presented he and my step-mother a MAC 6.5" Santoku, at the time a $50 knife but since being reviewed by Cook's Illustrated (and featured on their PBS program, "America's Test Kitchen"), then later on by the devil herself, Rachael Ray, the price has since "adjusted" to what the market will bear.

It's a damn good knife, and if you only had one, that would be it. I also bought my mother one, and every year I come by and sharpen both for them, and cook up something delicious.

Mom likes rib eye, rare, like me, but dad and ESM (evil step mom, as we affectionately call her, out of jest, she's a lovely woman) have more austere tastes (low fat, low carb, none of the creepy, crawly raw things I and Andrew Zimmern are inclined to stuff my face with).

Dad likes finer things, as do I, but an Epicurean he is not, at least not the swashbuckling, Ramones shirt wearing, Blanton's swilling, 4am bonfire having hedonistic maniacs that I associate with a lust and proclivity for sinful gluttony. A pirate must have the right tools on the high seas, so although when I am not around some gizmos may lay in dark cabinets in neglect, I make it a point to drop some useful kitchen tool or another on my dad and ESM once every other year or so, not for them to use, but for me to have when I make them dinner.

This last year it was a 200-watt KitchenAid stick blender, the wireless kind, that came with a mixing cup and balloon whisk. Before it was spring-loaded tongs, silicone spatulas, OXO Goodgrips vegetable peelers. A younger me might have bought them a 3-stage knife sharpener, which I have since eschewed in favor of the back of a ceramic plate, a'la Jacques Pepín:



I'm neither proud nor ashamed to admit that I own over $1000 in culinary knives.

Additionally I own several hundreds of dollars in cook-ware: pots, pans, sheet pans, muffin tins, random shit.

One does not accrue such a collection over night, but knowing some good shopping tips can save you a lot of pain and money as your own collection comes together.

If you want to make great food, you don't need nearly all of that. It's nice to have special heat resistant silicone spatulas, a flat metal baker's spatula, three different types of vegetable peelers, a freaking mandolin (which, trust me, almost no one ever uses - unless you are making chips, in which case, having one is great).

Let me emphasize this: you do not need more than one non-stick pan, and the one you do own should be cheap and sturdy.

If a friend or family member buys you a garlic press, you should throw it in the trash when they are not looking. Garlic presses are worthless, even as a re-gift.

Let's talk about knives first.

All you will usually need is this:
  • 8" Chef's knife
  • 7" Santoku
  • 8" Bread knife
  • 4" Pairing knife















What I have:
  • 2 8" Chef's knives
  • 1 9" Slicing knife
  • 2 8" Break knives
  • 2 5" Pairing knives
  • 1 7" Sandwich knife
  • 1 7" Boning knife
  • 2 3.5" Pairing knives
  • 1 7" Santoku (steel)
  • 1 6" Santoku (ceramic)
  • 1 3.5" Pairing knife (ceramic)
  • 1 9" Stamped slicing knife
  • Cooking shears
  • 12 ninja like fingers (unfortunately the doctors felt that my useless, cartilage and skin only extra appendages should be removed at birth)















I'm a Wüsthof man, but I have friends who swear by Henckels. Others still insist on Global, and of course I have previously mentioned my affection for MAC. Selecting a knife should come down to: how does it feel in your hands, how well does it work, how does it keep its edge and how much is it going to cost you.

One of two butchers shops I routinely visit in SF, Drewe's Brothers, sells used knives. And steel, like jewelry, often gains value with age. Many of the knives sold at butcher shops or boutiques around the country feature knives no longer available new - cutlery made in Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh decades or even a century or more ago. These are perfectly good knives and a conversation piece to boot (especially if the shop owner knows a particular piece's pedigree).

Even Jacques Pepín doesn't really need all those knives (although he surely has hundreds more that I will ever hope to collect).

Speaking of Pepín, check this out!



Ah, yes.. Pots and Pans..

You can do the same technique on a non-non-stick pan if you properly manage heat and oil. Think about it.. the omelet predates Teflon by centuries.

I have a 9" sautėe pan, two 7" sautée pans, an 8" cast iron, two 6" sauciérs and multiple stock pots. And the one 6" non-stick pan mentioned before.

Of all of these, the non-stick, cast-iron, the sauciérs and the 9" sautée get the most heavy use.

Your pots should be:
  • heavy
  • riveted
  • stainless steel or hard adonized aluminum (eg, Calphalon). Brass is nice, but $$$
  • have a handle that will remain cool while on high heat on the stove
  • oven-safe (no wooden or molded plastic handles) - the exception to this is your ONE non-stick
My heavy, lidded cast-iron pan is made in the USA by Lodge. Every kitchen should have one. Seasoning and care of this beast is the topic for another time.
Next up, we'll talk about some of the accessories that should be in every kitchen.