25 Jan Sharpen your Knife Knowledge and Chop, Chop! Make a Chopped Salad
There’s no point in mincing words when it comes to the importance of investing in quality knives for the kitchen. Chefs, cooking instructors, cookbook authors and kitchen shop owners alike will tell you there’s nothing worse than trying to prep food in a kitchen with dull knives.
Let’s cut to the chase. Good knives, like a lot of finer things in life, are expensive and require care. “The first thing I tell my students is to make an investment in a quality chef’s knife. It is the most important tool in the kitchen and should last a life time,” Cooking Instructor and Cookbook Author Jodi Liano in San Francisco said.
Liano said she doesn’t think there is any need to buy a set of knives. “You end up spending money on a bunch of knives you’ll never need. A good cook needs a chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a serrated knife. They’ll handle at least 99% of the work in the kitchen.”
When it comes to a chef’s knife, Liano recommended trying out a lot of knives, which she said might mean seeking out a store that carries many brands and lets you try the knives. The best retailers and knife shops keep carrots and other veggies on hand so you can actually use the knife in the store before making a decision.
“Because there is no one knife that works for everyone, what I like might be the wrong knife for you,” she said. “Look for something that feels good in your hand.”
Consider the weight and balance of the knife as well, Liano said, as some people like a heavy knife while others prefer something much lighter.
Liano went on to explain that a quality knife has what is called a “full tang” meaning the blade of the knife extends from the top all the way down through the handle. This makes it much more substantial and longer lasting.
Ideally your knife will also be forged from one piece of steel, which helps it hold its edge much better than a knife that is constructed in new, less expensive ways like stamping or cutting.
“Since you’ll likely be spending upwards of $100 on your knife, take good care of it by buying a steel that works well with your knife and use it every day that you grab your knife,” Liano said. This won’t sharpen the blade but will hone the edge to give you nice, clean cuts. When you do need your knife sharpened, take it and have it done professionally. Poorly or over sharpened knives just wear down the blade.
Local Personal Chef Elishah Moore said, “If I was a home cook looking to invest in some quality knives I would buy the J.A. Henckels brand or Wusthof. They are both excellent brands and no matter what the price of the knife from those companies, you will get a great knife that will last you.” Moore uses J.A. Henckels knives which come in a variety of prices, depending on quality you are looking for. She claims that even the less expensive of these knives are good quality.
“I really love these knives because they stay sharp for a long period of time. I use the higher priced ones just because I am constantly using them and they are a great investment.”
Convinced it’s time to bolster your collection of quality knives? If so, Pizazz owner Veronica Ronnau has some helpful shopping hints for you. Her belief is that “A great knife is worth every penny.”
She remembers having pretty knives before she bought Pizazz, pretty knives that were pretty dull, that is. “I got used to cutting with dull knives so when I got my first ‘real’ knife I cut myself a lot and my knife skills where terrible!”
Ronnau’s knife selection advice echoes Liano’s, “If I were to pick my three most used knives in my kitchen they would be: Santoku (or chef), paring and serrated.”
Pizazz carries two kinds of knives: German and Asian. According to Ronnau, German knives are the workhorse of knives while Asian knives are for finesse. German knives can seem dull when cutting softer things like cabbage or fish, while Asian knives can chip if you are cutting through more dense or hard foods, Ronnau said.
You’ll find J.A Henckels 4 Star brand knives in sets and open stock at Pizazz, starting at $29.99 (3” parer), going up to $119.99 (cleaver). These knives have a one-piece forged, full-tang blade which improves the stability of the blade for lasting sharpness and cutting edge and a balanced super-bolster. They are precision-honed which ensures that the blade will stay sharper longer and are made of exclusive high carbon no-stain steel which is non-staining and non-rusting, Ronnau explained.
We usually bring in the promotional pieces each quarter, Ronnau said. “For example, our most popular knife is the 7” Santoku (Japanese for “three good things” meaning slice, chop and bone). It normally retails for $112.00, but on promo it is $89.99.”
In addition, Pizazz has access to Wustof and Shun knives, but they don’t carry them in open-stock on a regular basis, Ronnau said.
As far as ceramic knives go, Pizazz carries the Kyocera which Ronnau personally loves. “It stays sharp a long time.” She’s had hers for five years now and is just now getting ready to send it back to the company for sharpening.
Ceramic knives are super sharp, but should not replace your current knives, Ronnau says. They just enhance what you have. Pizazz has a set (7” Santoku and 3” Parer) for $69.99 and the Santoku (with a free ceramic peeler) for $50.99.
Pizazz sells a lot of different sharpeners, mainly from Chef’s Choice, both electric and manual. They also offer professional in-store knife sharpening for $3.00 a blade (up to 8”). If you purchase your knife from Pizazz, they will sharpen it free of charge. They have a knife sharpening event in October as well.
As for caring for your knives, Ronnau said, even though the manufacturer may say it is alright to put their knives in the dishwasher, don’t do it. Knives will stay sharper longer if you just quickly rinse and dry off immediately.
A honing steel should be used on your knife every time you use it, Ronnau reiterated. “It will prolong the life of your blade. With proper care you should only have to sharpen your knives once or twice a year,” she said.
Show off the sharpness of your newly acquired knives with this week’s Special of the day: Sharpen Your Knife Knowledge and Chop, Chop! Make a Chopped Salad with recipes for Citrus Chopped Salad with Shrimp and Lemon Vinaigrette and Antipasto Chopped Salad.
Pizazz is located at 403 Central Avenue, Downtown Great Falls. Phone: 452-6724
Recipes and food photography by Sydne George.
Citrus Chopped Salad with Shrimp and Lemon Vinaigrette
(makes two entrée-sized salads)
1 lemon, sliced
10 large frozen EZ-Peel shrimp, thawed and peeled
¼ cup sugar
½ cup sliced almonds
1-2 tablespoons lemon olive oil
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar (or other light white vinegar)
Dash of salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 cups finely chopped iceberg lettuce
2 tablespoons finely minced red onion
2 oranges, sliced into small segments
1 avocado, diced
Fill a medium saucepan 2/3 full of water and bring to a gentle simmer over medium high heat.
Add 4 lemon slices and shrimp.
Poach shrimp briefly, just until they turn pink and appear opaque.
Do not over cook.
Remove from heat and strain into a colander filled with ice.
Make Candied Almonds:
Heat medium sauté pan over medium to medium-high heat until hot.
Add sugar and allow to melt, reducing heat if it starts to brown.
When sugar is completely melted, add almonds and stir to coat.
Remove from heat and transfer candied almonds to waxed paper to cool.
Make Lemon Vinaigrette:
Combine olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in glass jar and shake until thoroughly mixed.
Combine lettuce, red onion, orange and avocado in medium mixing bowl.
Add dressing as desired and toss.
Assemble Chopped Citrus Salad:
Arrange chopped salad on salad plates and top with poached shrimp and candied almonds.
Antipasto Chopped Salad
(makes two entrée-sized salads)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 cups iceberg lettuce, chopped
¼ pound smoked turkey, chopped
¼ pound hard salami, chopped
1 cup canned garbanzo beans, drained
1 tomato, diced
½ cup mozzarella, diced
1 cup fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips
Additional fresh basil leaves, for garnish
In a small glass jar, combine olive oil and vinegar.
Cover and shake until thoroughly combined.
Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine lettuce, turkey, salami, garbanzo beans¸ tomato, mozzarella and basil.
Add dressing as desired and toss to combine.
Arrange on serving plates and garnish with fresh basil leaves.
Sydne George is a food journalist specializing in recipe development, food writing and food photography. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . Sydne’s recipes from “Special of the day” are archived at http://sydnegeorge.com/blog/.