Knife Skills are Life Skills

Written By: Barb Sheldon, MA, CHNC

Listen, admittedly, describing the benefits of proper knife skills is much easier if I am standing right beside you. And if you want to make that happen, drop me a line. But until then, there are a few things I think everyone should know about knives, and how they are the tools that unlock your health.

I have been in hundreds of my clients’ kitchens over the years and I can tell you one thing for sure. NOT ONE CLIENT over twenty years has a sharp knife. No wonder people are resistant to cooking! Using a knife is a pain in the wrist and other places if it is dull. It creates strain on your whole body if you are using excess force to cut. How do you know if your knife needs sharpening? Try cutting a tomato. If it doesn’t float through the peel like buttah, you for sure need to take care of that as soon as you can! Because when you don’t cook at home, you are less likely to eat whole, nutrient dense foods. That’s the facts.

What Kind of Knife Do I Need? And How Many Knives is Too Many?

Truly, you need two basic knives.

A chef knife and a paring knife, (you could also add a serrated bread knife into the mix, if you cut a lot of bread-type things). They do not have to be fancy, they do not have to be expensive, but they do have to be (you guessed it) sharp. You can find great knives even at thrift stores, if you know what to look for. Here are some great features to consider:

  • The blade runs all the way through to the end of the handle. This ensures the steel wont snap off from extra pressure
  • The handle feels comfortable in your hand
  • The blade is between 8 and 10 inches long.

I’d like to introduce you to my chef knife, Lagertha. (Yes, I name my knives after Nordic Shield Maidens #nerd). She is a custom-made knife, and I don't take that for granted. She is a workhorse. An eight inch blade, which I find is perfect for my little hands. Do you see the bolster on her? That's the part of the steel that is vertical, before the handle. It is nice and long, so my fingers that hold the handle don't hit the cutting board when I cut. She's very sharp, and she stays that way. I hone her with a ceramic honing tool before each use, and she is sharpened about every three months, professionally, by the incredible artist that made her.

I keep her clean and I NEVER, NEVER put her in the dishwasher. She is my baby. Babies don’t go in dishwashers.

Here is her counterpart, Tovi. Tovi is a paring knife. She also gets sharpened, even though she is little. Because paring often involves thumb manipulation as you move around the peel of food, it is essential to keep her really sharp. A dull knife creates more slippage and therefore cuts to your digits!

The most important thing about your daily utility knife is that you find one that feels really good in your hand. Head to a kitchen store and test drive a few- what blade feels the best? What handle feels good in your hand? Do you like plastic handles? Wood? Steel? How is the weight? Does the knife want to tip forward and fall out of your hand or does it rest comfortably without you having to white-knuckle grip it?

So... How Do I ... Cut...Things?

Cutting takes practice. And patience. Cutting is a hand skill and therefore requires concentration and proper technique, just like any trade. There are a ton of videos out there that show you how to cut., and I am in the process of making you a whole knife skills video which I will post soon!  There are lots of techniques that chefs use so that food is cut into the most palatable shape and size and so that it cooks evenly and efficiently. Different cuts provide different textures to the food, making what you are eating even more enjoyable. I highly recommend you take a class and learn how to get this skill down, the right way. After all, you are holding a very sharp object. You need to be safe, you need to be efficient, and you need to be encouraged to pick it up again and keep on chopping!

Holding my knife is one of the most joyful things I do. Because when I am working with a knife, I know I am making beautiful, nourishing  foods that come from the earth into a beautiful experience for myself and those I love. So get shopping, get chopping, get sharpening and get practicing! And for goodness sake, choose a good name for the beauty you decide on. She’s worth it!

My beloveds, Lagertha and Tovi

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