Carpe TunnelFor knifemakers, alchemical gold is a metal that can take a sharp edge and hold it. The quality of the steel (carbon + iron) and the use of alloys (see the 20s on your periodic table), and especially heat treatment, or tempering, give the blade its properties. Blades made from Japanese steel are thinner, lighter and more brittle, or harder, than standard Western counterparts, and thus have more potential for a sharper edge.
|Haslinger's 6 1/4" Blue G10 |
That lightness has given the santoku, a compact, stub-nosed, Japanese chef knife, and the longer and more Western-style gyuto squatting rights on international kitchen countertops.
Consider that cutting efficacy is not a function of weight but of blade sharpness, or that a wasted motion is as profane as a tomato past its prime. A day of making mirepoix or minestrone for the masses won't brand your hands with the calloused thumb and forefinger mark of the chef -- or repetitive stress -- but a few years just might.
In Canada, ex-chef and knifemaker Thomas Haslinger of
We dubbed Haslinger's 6 1/4'' chef knife the "Silence of the Lambs" knife because it was so razor-sharp and succinct it scared the heck out of us. Once we got over ourselves, we fought (figuratively) to make Meyer lemons translucent, to julienne hunks of jicama. Our ex-chef carved a hazelnut into a rose with the tip.When choosing a knife, forget about your gut and go with what feels best, most comfortable. Because size and weight vary, merchants will usually let you trial test their products. "You can get a good knife from Wusthof for about $180," says Haslinger. "But for a little more, I can custom-make you one."
Guns, Germs and High-Carbon SteelFortunately, the surfeit of knife choices is easily navigable once you decide which characteristics you want. Knives are made from three types of steel:
So, sharper but more maintenance? How sharp is sharp, you want to know?
It's relative: Paper can give you a wicked cut. Steel, however, is measured for hardness -- again, its ability to hold a keen edge -- on something called the Rockwell scale. Japanese chef knives come in around 60R to 62R. Classic European brands offer softer, thicker blades from 52R to 56R, which makes sharpening at home easier and vastly decreases breakage.
Rockwell aside, Wusthof's and Henckels' most competitive edge may be in the marketplace. Both companies now make top-selling branded versions of Japanese knives. And I have to admit, that wee Wusthof celebrity santoku (7" Grand Prix II) was sharp out of the box and fun to work with. Priced at about $80, I'm calling it cute and capable.
|Suisin Inox Honyaki 8.6" |
The Porsche Is a VolvoFor chef/instructor Ari Bejar of the California Culinary Academy,
|Chroma's type 301 7 1/4" |
Admittedly, we were put off by Chroma's futuristic, sleek, all-metal look. It made one of us think of the Viking stove she couldn't afford. But the pearl, which demarcates the end of the handle, made our novice feel safe and comfortable. "It's like a Volvo," she said of the santoku. "It rocks ... literally," says the food writer, who made a mean guacamole with the 10-inch model. "I can get used to this," says our nurse. Apparently several winners of the
"You start with gold, you get gold," smiles Bejar, who does have a knife relationship with the company.
Mokume-Gane is the technique of developing a pattern much like wood grain using at least two different-colored metals or alloys. Often called Damascus steel, nothing beats it for sheer beauty. Our testers fell deeply and straightaway in love with Hattori's Ryusen Damascus 8-inch gyuto, imported exclusively by
|Hattori's Damascus 7 1/8" |