Knives are the single most important investment you can make as far as kitchen tools go. A good knife, properly maintained, will last you a lifetime.
When I was 18 I was given a mis-matched handful of hand-me-down cheap knives from the 70’s that I muddled with for a few years, not knowing any better, crushing tomatoes, smooshing bread and generally hacking away at anything I was cooking.
Then I happened upon a deal online for a “build it yourself” cheap knife set. I got 6 knives and a magnetic knife bar for under $60 and even those cheap things made a world of difference. They were bent, made of cheap steel and didn’t hold an edge for crap, BUT they were light-years beyond my first few knives.
I really started to understand the concept that every job needs the right tool when I got that set. I honed my skills for a few years with them and as I got more serious and skillful in the kitchen it became clear that it was time to invest in some quality knives.
A good knife will run you about $100+ a pop, so choose wisely. There is the eternal argument between German and Japanese steel, with a handful of people that will tell you ceramic is the only way to go. I have used both Wüsthof and J.A. Henckels knives, two of the best brands out of Germany, they are solid choices and will do you well for a lifetime, but in my opinion there is just no comparison to Japanese steel in how it keeps its edge and the level of metallurgic quality and craftsmanship you get with a good Japanese knife.
Personally I went with Shun (like “moon”) by KAI brand out of Seki City Japan. The most important piece of advice I can give you about knives and knife skills in the kitchen is to read up on the subject before you get out your credit card. There is an excellent book on the subject I read years ago (and still reference regularly) called “Kitchen Knife Skills” by Marianne Lumb that is great to have around.
Once you find a brand you like, sticking with the “classic” line is a good idea. Most of the more expensive options are basically the same as the “classics” but with trendy handles etc. that raise the price; a knife is a tool, it can be pretty to look at but does not have to be to do its job. My advice is to start with one knife at a time and build your set to your own kitchen needs.
If you are strapped for cash, used might be the way you want to go with these, eBay is as always your friend. Sometimes you can even find deals on “factory seconds” which are new knives that have some minor cosmetic defects in them from the manufacturing process, usually at about half the normal retail price. There are many different kinds of kitchen knives designed for a multitude of different jobs, but there are four basic knives that can get almost any job done.
The four basic knives you need to do just about any job are:
6” chef’s knife
Storage and sharpening options vary, I use a wall mounted magnetic bar, a honing steel sharpener and an electric whetstone. I feel the magnetic bar is much cleaner than a wooden knife block because it does not trap moisture or bacteria and also does not take up valuable counter space, because in the kitchen (especially apartment kitchens) counter space is at a premium.
A honing steel, or other sharpener is also key to maintaining your knives, a dull knife is useless. It’s well documented that you are more likely to cut yourself with a dull kitchen knife than you are with a sharp one. Sharpness is precision, and precision reduces accidents.
Equally important to choosing the right knife is the cutting surface you use it on. Food does not dull the blade of a knife, the cutting surface does. You want to avoid glass or stone cutting boards as they will dull and even chip your blade.
Stick with soft wood (like bamboo or hinoki) or NSF certified plastic cutting boards. Having 3 is best, one for vegetables, one for meats/fish and one for bread, this will cut down on any cross contamination of your raw foods.
“Cook’s World” located at 2170 Monroe Ave. is a great local business choice for any equipment needs and knives are no exception. They also have regular sales and specials, you can find more info at: www.cooksworld.com
Part 2 – Meat & Potatoes
Meat and Potatoes is an old-school western society standard. Hearty and filling, easy to make year round. This recipe is a 3 part dinner for two, but can be contracted or expanded to any number of guests. It’s a very simple, basic and reliable play on the French classic “Steak Frite” but I sub out the “Frite” (French fries) with oven roasted potatoes and pair it with a warm spinach salad.
You will need:
Steak (Any kind will do, but I recommend Rib eye, Delmonico or NY Strip)
Potatoes (Any kind, but I prefer Yukon Gold)
Onions (Red and Yellow)
Fresh Baby Spinach
Salt & Pepper
Herbs De Provence* (optional)
*Rosemary, Marjoram, Thyme, and Savory: Fresh is best, but dried is fine and is available in any grocery store spice section. All of these are also easily grown indoors in pots. An indoor herb garden is best to start in the late spring, but provides you wonderful fresh ingredients year round.
Starting with the potatoes preheat your oven to 350⁰ on the roast setting then peel (optional) and chop the potatoes into 1 inch cubes, peel and chop the yellow onion and shallot into large pieces, peel and crush/chop 1-3 cloves garlic and in a cast iron pan (or oven safe baking pan) mix the potatoes/onion/garlic with a generous amount of olive oil, the herbs and salt and pepper to taste.
Cover with a lid or tinfoil and roast for about an hour (or until cooked), uncovering for the final 10-15 minutes until golden brown. I always make more than I need when I make these roasted potatoes, they are great warmed up with a poached egg the next day.
While the potatoes are cooking prep the meat by rubbing both sides with olive oil and a generous amount of Salt & Pepper. When you uncover the potatoes its time to preheat a pan on the stovetop (preferably cast iron) with a little butter and olive oil and cook the steak.
Taking care not to overcook the meat, you want to flip it once and once only. When you have reached your desired cooking temperature set aside the steak and rest it about 5 minutes before serving, topping it with a pad of butter and some of the Herbs De Provence.
While the meat is resting, you then wash the spinach and place it in a serving bowl. Thinly slice the red onion and cut your tomato into cubes and sauté them in the same pan the meat was cooked in (with the oil, butter and meat juices) on a medium heat until heated through and colored nicely. Once cooked, pour the onion, tomato and liquid in the pan over the spinach, dust with salt and pepper and a few drops of balsamic vinegar and serve immediately.
Plate the rested steak with the roasted potatoes and serve. This meal pares well with any dry red wine.
*Note on choosing your beef:
Local is always best and organic is even better. At the supermarket most people seem to look for beef that is bright red in color with marbled bright white fat but these are telltale sighs that the meat was factory farmed, full or hormones, chemical dyes and corn fed.
You want to look for beef that is deep red in color with fat that has a slightly yellow tint to it. The deep red color tells you that the beef is free of dyes and the yellow fat tells you that the cow was grass fed and lead a healthy life. Personally, I buy all my beef from a local independent rancher yearly.
Special thanks to my dear friend En Esch for loaning the “Highlife for Lowlifes” title for these food guides, once again I am in your debt. I promise I’ll do more vegetarian recipes! The original “High Life for Low Lives” was a SlickIdiot US Concert Tour in 2002.
J.Nevadomski (also known as Juda) is an accomplished musician and artist from Rochester. He has recorded with musicians from all over the world for his project “The Fragile Path” (which he heads and produces) and is a veteran artist who’s paintings have been featured in galleries, newspapers and exhibitions throughout the Rochester area. In 2012 he was the “artist guest of honor” at RocCon: Rochester’s Anime, Sci-Fi and comic book convention. He lives in the NOTA area of Rochester, keeps a yearly urban vegetable garden and regularly cooks and hosts dinner parties for friends and colleagues.