Knife and chopping board.jpg

Update: Knife skills are covered thoroughly in my home study course, available online and on DVD.

Expensive juicer, high-power blender, catering-quality food processor, cheap hand blender, dehydrator, spiraliser, mandoline, the list goes on …

Like me, you may have invested in some or all of these fantastic kitchen items, but there’s one item I haven’t mentioned that is by far the most important to have at your disposal, and the good news is it may also be one of the cheapest. What is it?

If you’ve ever seen me doing a live food prep demo, you’ll probably know where I’m going with this and will have guessed already. What I’m alluding to is a good quality knife. Without a doubt, if you combine a good quality kitchen knife with a few basic knife skills, your time in the kitchen will be so much more productive, not to mention enjoyable.

How to choose a good quality knife

There are a few key things when looking for a good quality knife:

  1. Make sure that the knife is constructed from one piece of metal that goes all the way from the tip of the blade to the end of the handle.
  2. There should be a nice curve to the blade to allow for ‘rocking’ the knife when chopping.
  3. The knife should just feel good in your hand in terms of the weight distribution. This is more a personal preference.
  4. It seems obvious, but it’s worth mentioning that your knife should be as sharp as possible. I’m going to recommend some knives later on that I know are very sharp and will stay that way if you look after them.

This is a good time to mention that in a kitchen environment, a dull (blunt) knife is far more hazardous than a sharp one. Using a sharp knife should be effortless. You should be focussing 100% on what you are doing in that moment — chopping can be meditative! When using a blunt knife, it’s common to have to apply too much pressure and get quite frustrated, which causes your mind to wander and ultimately ends in an accident.

How to hold the knife

Your thumb should actually be on the blade on one side, with your index finger on the other side of the blade. This allows your other three fingers to curl round the handle. One of the biggest mistakes people make is to hold the knife by its handle with their whole hand. By holding it the way I’ve described, you will have more control over your cutting.

How to use your knife

It’s my intention to put together a short video showing you some basic knife skills that relate to raw food in particular (cutting a large amount of kale doesn’t have to take ages!), as most books on the subject place a lot of focus on cutting meat.

I’ve found the best way to practice is to buy some cheap veg — carrots and celery are good because they’re crisp — and spend a few minutes trying these methods out. As with every skill, just a small amount of practice, and you’ll see results before you know it.

Looking after your knife

  1. Never leave your knife in a sink full of washing-up water. This has implications both for safety — you don’t want to be dipping your hand in a sink with a sharp knife that you cannot see — and also for the life span of your knife.
  2. Never scrape the knife blade across your chopping board, as it will dull very quickly. If you need to gather up, for example, some herbs you’ve been chopping into one neat pile, make sure you tilt the blade to 45 degrees or turn it over and use the top of the knife.
  3. A sharpening steel should be used regularly to hone the blade. The steel itself will not actually sharpen the blade forever. If you use your knife a lot, you may need a sharpening stone to get a nice new sharp edge, using the steel in between uses of the stone.

I use the MAC Ceramic Sharpener that does seem to keep the blade sharp without the use of a stone.

Recommended knives

There are many great knife companies out there that produce fantastic knives such as Wusthof and Henckels, both of which I can recommend. But by far my favourite knifes are MAC. These knives feel so good to use because of their weight distribution, and also their build quality —they are so sharp and so light. They tick all the boxes I’ve been talking about and, in terms of professional knives, they are very well priced.

They have been a little difficult to get in the UK but I recently found this store that has a great range and online mail order service.

The MAC Pro Mighty Santoku knife is my current knife of choice.

Remember, it’s all about practice. Start slow, don’t try to rush, stay present in the moment when you’re cutting, and you’ll soon be impressing your friends with your new knife skills.