Whilst moving into my new abode, my roommates were rather shocked at the number of cutting implements I own and carry about.
Fancy tools and knives is not the important thing; you need to understand them and know how to maintain them. This is VERY true for knives, I own a large number and a true understanding of how to care for them is what takes their performance to stellar levels.
Some BASIC tips:
HONE YOUR KNIFE.
Honing is NOT sharpening, honing aligns the cutting edge.
To quote Daniel @ Seriouseats:
To understand how a steel works, it helps to think of a blade’s beveled edge as a really pointy mohawk. When a blade is freshly sharpened, it’s like a perfect mohawk, the hair converging to a fine point, with the help of far too much gel. But with use, that pointy edge starts to flop over on itself, making it much less effective, the way that mohawk gets when the gel has worn away over the course of a day.
With knives, this happens on a microscopic level—it’s not something you can see by looking at it with the naked eye. But it is something you can feel. Your knife, which may have previously felt sharp as a razor, starts to bite and catch on the food you’re cutting. You can sense some resistance that wasn’t there before. By running the blade along a honing steel, you can pull that microscopic edge of metal back into an upright position, and regain a good deal of its cutting power in the process. It’s sort of like applying fresh gel to a flopped-over mohawk.
Eventually, though, that super-fine edge of metal will break off and wear away, like a pencil point dulling down. As this happens, the honing steel will become less and less helpful. Your only good option then is to re-sharpen the knife, which rubs away metal on a whetstone to create a brand-new edge, just as a pencil sharpener puts a new point on a pencil.
SHARPEN THEM WHEN NEEDED
To repair nicks and other mars on a blade’s edge, (NICS?, MARS?, SHUDDER!!), you need to sharpen it. How to tell if a knife needs sharpening? It will slide uncontrollably whilst cutting an onion. I’ll either do this with a water stone or as usual when I’m pressed for time, have them professionally sharpened.
THE NEED FOR SHARPNESS
One comment from my roommates, “Ohhhh, THOSE ARE SHARP….”. AH, YEP! THEY ARE..
A sharp blade requires less force to do the work at hand. One thing you DO NOT WANT TO DO IS FORCE A BLADE. Forcing a blade, will cause a loss of control, and a loss of control will result in stitches at the minimum.
A sharp blade will also drive an awareness of where the blade is, the food is, and where your fingers are…
USE A PROPER CUTTING SURFACE
Whilst a glass or stone cutting surface is quite attractive and can be sterilized easily given the solid surface, they are ruinous of the blade edge. Very much like putting a helmet on the aforementioned mohawk. Use a wood, plastic, rudder or bamboo surface.
HAND WASH AND HAND DRY YOUR BLADES
Never, ever place decent blades in a dish washer. Good blades will have a high percentage of carbon and will rust. The washing action can throw blades around and induce nics in the edge, crack the handle and in general begin to deteriorate the overall utensil. Placing blades into their holder with out properly drying can hasten the effect of rust and promote mold growth. Yes, knives can grow mold, and can transfer that mold to foods being cut, with less than desirable effects.
Whence cutting acidic foods, rinse and dry the blade immediately.
ALWAYS CUT ON A STABLE SURFACE
Keep the board level, and make sure the food is not going to shift as you cut. Place a wet paper towel under the board to avoid the board slipping as you work. Instability will lead to stitches.
STORE YOUR KNIVES PROPERLY.
Just dropping them into a drawer will ensure that the edges get dulled, and can lead to cuts whilst searching for the proper tool. As an aside many knife sets will include “steak knives”, for the most part these are useless in the kitchen, they are too small for most jobs, and are not of the best quality for holding edges. Also most knife sets include some form of wood storage block. Wood storage blocks will hold moisture against the blade, harbor germs, and take counter space. I either use a magnetic knife rack, a proper knife bag, or blade guards and place them in a drawer.