The other jaunt I made on Saturday (after a brunch trip to the Gypsy Kitchen), was to The House of Knives, just around the corner from me in Petone. Some friends were looking for a new bread knife, and being as HOK is the leading purveyor of quality, covetable knives in this neck of the woods, I thought I'd join them in paying a visit.
I find something uniquely comforting about being in a store filled with extremely sharp blades. Sharp knives are one of those things you take for granted when you have them, and when you replace old, blunt, inefficient knives with new, sharp knives, you think "why didn't I do this years ago?"
I also find knives extremely covetable. I used to have a flatmate who had a set of Global knives, which Anthony Bourdain insisted were the coolest knives, because they "look cool", which is a fair point, but these days, the knives I most desire are made by the German brand Wusthof, and this was what my friends bought - a super-stylish and ergonomic serrated blade for slicing bread with a minimum of tearing, and a rounded tip for serving. Oh, so fine.
I reckon if you are at all keen on cooking, you need at least four knives. You need a big (say, 10") thick, broad, sharp, curved blade for chopping big things like pumpkins, kumara or parsnips, as well as chopping herbs and stuff like that. My knife that falls into this category was hand-fashioned by a German chap in Nelson from the chassis of an automobile - no kidding. It has a wooden handle, and a brass hilt, and feels great in your hand. When it has just been sharpened, it is ferociously sharp, as a little knobbly bit on the end of my left thumb would attest.
Next, you need a bread knife - something serrated that will make nice slices from a fresh loaf relatively effortlessly, without crushing the bread. My pals' new Wusthof is probably pretty much the ultimate in this department. I, on the other hand, make do with a trusty old Mundial - plastic handle, unglamorous, but effective enough to make me put off getting a new one (like the lovely Wusthof...)
I reckon you need an in between sort of knife as well - I have a beautiful wood and bone-handled blade, by Central Otago knifemaker Peter Lorimer, that was a gift from an old flatmate - the blade actually broke at one point, and was cut down, so the weight of it is probably a bit off, but I kind of am used to it, and it still feels lovely in your hand. The blade is very thick and heavy. This would be my weapon of choice for chopping and dicing onions, or for smashing up and chopping garlic cloves, or slicing carrots or zucchini, or chopping nuts. Probably my favourite knife, and certainly my most used.
And then I reckon you just need a little, sharp knife - for coring and slicing tomatoes or apples or pears, or for poking into veges to see if they're cooked - just those little jobs. I have never seen the need for anything particularly special in this category - just a little, cheap Wusthof paring knife, and another Victorinox number have been more than serviceable, even if they will need replacing soon.
When it comes to the bigger knives, I store them on a magnetic block on the wall (alongside the massive cleaver The Mexican gave me for my birthday, which is brilliant for dismembering a chicken). They don't ever get thrown in the dishwasher - they just get wiped clean and placed back on the block.
What I don't have is a steel or whetstone - I either take them to House of Knives and get them to grind them to a razor-like edge, or impose on my friend Julie (at Olive Café) for a hand with sharpening; I'm really crap at it - obviously a skill you have to work at.
But I do love my little swag of knives. They are like a weird, misfit family of mismatched shapes and sizes, but they all do their bit on the food prep gig in my kitchen. And, while I would dearly love to replace them with a brand spankin' new set of Wusthoffs, I get the feeling that if I did, I would probably miss the old crew, and all their idiosyncrasies.
What knives are crucial to you in your kitchen, whether you are an enthusiastic amateur like me, or a pro? How many knives do you reckon you absolutely need? What do you most covet at the knife-porn shop? And how do you store and care for your knives?
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