Most of the meal prep in our kitchens begins with an onion or garlic pod being chopped up. It is a given, any desi sabzi or meat dish mise-en-place will include onion that is peeled, sliced into two obedient semicircles, their hunched backs ready to be brunoised. The chopping action, swiftness of the steel blade and the final symmetry of julienned, quartered and cubed tiny onion bits is the start to many a tasty dish. The blade is first in action in a kitchen, before the stove is switched on.
This blade, a weapon that we give room in our homes, in our hands has evolved over and over again. In
Knife: The Culture, Craft and Cult of the Cook's Knife, Tim Hayward, explains the two main structures of the knife, the blade and the handle. The blade has a point, a spine, and if it curves along the bottom, a belly. When describing the position on the blade we refer to the heel, near the handle, and the tip, towards the point. The bevel describes the way the blade is ground more thinly from the spine to the cutting edge and the face or cheek is the flat ground surface…In some blades, particularly German-made chef’s knives, a swelling is forged into the metal where blade meets handle. This is the bolster, which serves to strengthen the blade, to make it more intuitive...”
We don’t give this range of thought when we simply chop, there is no need for theory as our muscle memory kicks in and we just pick up our blade of choice. The blades in the Indian kitchen have interesting histories. From the boti, or the curved blade that sits on a wooden plank, where you dexterously slide the vegetable or fruit on the blade, the tiny paring knife that old wives expertly hold in their hands as they slice vegetables in the palm of their hands, the knife has always been about practicality.
But today no part of the kitchen goes uncelebrated, and the knife is the star. Chefs proudly claim it is their favourite tool, ever. Anthony Bourdain, the famous celebrity chef who made all things food look cool, preferred the simple Global G-2 Chef’s Knife. The eight-inch Japanese-style blade he said was all that a starter chef needed. In our kitchens, we are yet to give celebrity status to our knives. The basic function of chopping is done by any paring or utility knife, mostly chosen for how it feels in our hands. But a boning knife or a bread knife may be rarely sought out.
These four knives are a must-have for your kitchen Chef’s knife
This is the basic knife. The go-to model of a handy knife. The blade typically is 6 to 10 inches long. It has a broad blade that tapers upwards and is not serrated. It is ideal for hard vegetables, meat pieces and cuts through with an easy rocking motion.
This blade looks like a smaller version of the chef’s knife. The tip doesn’t point upward, it looks more like a 3- 4-inch-long bird beak. This short blade makes it ideal for peeling vegetables or fruits, deveining prawns and cutting up garnish.
Bread knife or serrated blade knife
This is a longer blade that extends 8-10 inches from the narrow handle. The blade is serrated and this is used to slice through bread, cakes etc. without pressing down on the product. It requires a sawing motion when you use it. Though many don’t reach out for this knife, it is essential to a well-stocked kitchen.
This is a pair of scissors with a tough mildly serrated blade. This is extremely useful to snip vegetables and meat chunks. You don’t need a chopping board to use this blade. They make quick work of cutting French beans, spring onions and chives. Some even have additional features such as a bottle opener or a centre grip for cracking nuts.
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Sharon Fernandes is a journalist based in Delhi.