Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tools of the Trade

these are a few of my favorite things

Question: Why is it important for a chef to master knife skills?

Answer: Because it is the most commonly used tool in the kitchen.

Recently I've developed a fondness for Japanese knives. The steel, geometry and artisan quality of Japanese knives, far outshine the steel, geometry and quality of the German knives. If you know what you're doing, although it takes a lot of practice, you can get a wicked edge on a Japanese knife unknown to any German blade. And it will last. As I convert my knife set to mainly Japanese knives, I'll have to find homes for the German stuff. There are many types of steels and styles of manufacture among Japanese cutlery. Here's a little Show And Tell...

The knives from top to bottom are: an 8 inch shun gyuto, a 240mm Kumagoro gyuto, a 170mm Moritaka santoku and a paring knife that I picked up at Dehillerin. I love all of these for different reasons. The Shun was a gift from a former executive chef at the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel, the Kumagoro I ordered from The Epicurean Edge, and the Moritaka I ordered straight from the maker in Japan (click here).

Next is a closer look at the Kumagoro gyuto. It is made of Blue Steel #2. It is the sharpest knife of the bunch currently. It's high carbon, so one has to wash and dry it lovingly. If cared for properly, it will develop a wonderful patina. The handle is made of Ho wood. It's untreated and must be specially cared for. I'm using a mixture of beeswax and mineral oil. See pictures and a description below. The ferrule is water buffalo horn.

This next picture is of the 170mm Moritaka. This style of knife, santoku, is becoming very popular in western kitchens. Santoku refers to three virtues; it's a knife designed for meats, fish and vegetables, kind of your all around-multi-purpose kitchen knife. This one has a rosewood handle and water buffalo horn ferrule. It's also made of Blue Steel #2. I think I waved the knife over these veggies and they just fell into these cuts, terrified by the sharpness of the knife.

In this picture, you can see that the high carbon blade of the Moritaka is forge welded to a stainless steel tang (the metal part that goes into the handle). This is supposed to give the knife a longer life.

Here are the three lined up so that you can see the heels.

The Shun is by far the most western of the bunch with the metal bolster. All three have a D-shaped handle for ergonomics. The Shuns handle is impregnated with resins and, therefore, needs little special care.

Here's what I am now using to treat my knives' wooden handles (and also my cutting boards). I make a mixture out of beeswax and mineral oil. I learned this from a terrific spot for knife talk: Fred's Cutlery Forum. The beeswax is from a local bee keeper. This pound of wax cost me five bucks. It feels and smells fantastic.

The mise en place for my mixture.

For melting the wax into the oil, I used a double boiler method so as not to overheat the wax.

There's the finished product along side the knives. I first made a blend of about 25% beeswax, which turned out to be too hard at room temperature. I found that 20% seems to work well, but I might even go a tad lower next time.