Working in a kitchen does not necessarily make you a chef. It takes years of hard work to gain the abundance of knowledge necessary to become one. When I used to tell people I cooked for a living, they made the assumption I was a chef, which I didn’t mind too much until the questions started. What some people may not understand is that there is a pretty significant difference between a line cook and a chef. When I first started cooking, a knife was just a knife. I had no previous cooking experience, outside of working in my own kitchen, but everyone has to start somewhere.
Let’s start with the most basic “all-purpose” knife. A chef knife is probably the most universal knife when it comes to cutting capabilities. It is generally used to slice, dice, mince and chop just about anything from meats and cheeses to fruits and veggies. If you are planning on having one good knife, this is the one you most likely want invest in. There is also a smaller version of the chef knife, referred to as a utility knife. And no, this is not the same type of utility knife that is used by construction workers. This knife has the same basic purpose as the chef knife. It is lighter and, for some, easier to handle. If the thought of using knives frightens you, this may be a better choice.
The most common fruit and vegetable knife is the paring knife. This is a smaller knife, which, like the utility knife, makes it easier to handle. It has a variety of uses from carving out seeds, to peeling off skins and coring. These knives work wonders for getting the core out of tomatoes! Many creative chefs use these knives to etch designs into fruits or vegetables and can turn the food item into a work of art. I have seen some chefs use a paring knife to turn a carrot into a flower, and I’ve seen others make a coiled snake out of a cucumber. It’s pretty amazing to see.
Bread knives, which, by name, are mainly used for cutting bread, tend to be longer and have a serrated edge. This allows for a cleaner cut, since bread is airy and has a lighter texture. It can basically saw through the crust without smashing the softer interior of the bread. I also like to use this or similar knives to cut tomatoes. You can use a really sharp chef knife, but I prefer the serrated ones, because you are less likely to lose all the tomato’s inner contents. Even a sharp, serrated steak knife will do just fine on bread or tomatoes. There are also butter knives that are designed specifically to apply butter to bread. They differ from the normal butter knife often found in a flatware set. These are shorter and wider. They remind me of a cross between a spoon and a conventional butter knife.
Now we get to the good stuff: the meats, poultry and seafood! It may seem that we are about to open a can of worms on this topic, but I will run you through the basic “meat” of protein knives. There is the cleaver, which is used for cutting through the meat and the bones. It reminds me of an axe with a longer blade. There is also the convex ground blade, which resembles an axe even more. More people are familiar with it being referred to as a cleaver than as a convex ground blade. It has a blade that curves up at the end and is used to cut raw meat away from the bone, thus making it widely known as a boning knife. There are various types of boning knives; some are wide, some narrow, and others can be stiff, flexed, or curved. Some of these knives feature more than one of those characteristics. A filleting knife is used to cut the finer bones away from the meat of the fish. It can also be used to de-skin the fish. If you have a larger fish, such a whole salmon, I prefer to use a longer slicer that can reach across the span (top to bottom) of a 40-50 lb. salmon.
There are many more knives for specific uses, such as oyster knives, cimeters, butterfly knives, santokus, and sandwich knives. When it comes to knives, the possibilities are endless. You just have to find the right one for your kitchen venture.