Whether for chopping or slicing, carving or filleting, every well-stocked kitchen needs a decent set of knives.
We’ve pulled together a guide to the array of kitchen knives available, plus mini tutorials on chopping techniques and knife maintenance to help you make the most of your kit.
SMALL PARING KNIFE
A small paring knife is a great all-rounder. Its smooth, sharp blade is ideal for chopping and slicing smaller veg, precision work and tasks such as slicing herbs and hulling strawberries. Use for prepping apples for a blackberry & apple pie, peeling veg, or scraping seeds out of vanilla pods to make delicious homemade custard.
A carving knife is a thing of beauty, to be used with love. Used for carving meat on or off the bone, the long, sharp blade will do most of the hard work for you – simply cut down with the blade then ease the meat away for a beautiful, smooth slice. Use to carve up juicy roast chicken or lamb for your Sunday lunch.
A decent 8 to 10-inch chef’s knife is an absolute must-have. The blade is rounded towards the tip, making it perfect for rock chopping (see below for technique) and is straight at its edge, making it ideal for tap chopping (see below). Use for dishes that require a good bit of veg prep, like this super-comforting chicken & squash cacciatore.
Another one to include in your basic knife kit, the long, serrated blade of a bread knife stays sharp on its own, so you don’t need to worry about maintaining it. Simply glide it across bread effortlessly – again, the blade will take care of the hard work for you. Great for serving up lovely hunks of sourdough, or for sawing into pineapples and roughly chopping chocolate.
Another great everyday knife, the blade of a utility knife is sharp, smooth and precise, making it ideal for peeling, chopping and fine slicing. This super-versatile knife is larger than a paring knife, so is great for switching between different sized fruit and veg. Use to quarter cherry tomatoes and finely slice red onion for a juicy tomato salad.
MEAT LOVER MUSTS
Use a narrow-bladed boning knife to debone meat and fish. The sturdy, stiff blade has a sharp point that helps make precision boning in deep cuts and holes much less difficult than if you were to use a standard kitchen knife. The blade is designed to easily work around bones and muscles that are tricky to cut through.
The classic cleaver, characterised by its distinctive thick blade, is used to break down meat. You can use the sharp tip the same way you would use a regular knife to cut through the flesh, then use the weight of the blade to tap down at the heel to break through bone.
A specialist knife for skinning and filleting fish. Its flexible, supple blade allows you to really get into the fish and work around all the bones and is sharp enough to easily slice through the flesh. Watch Jamie show you how to fillet salmon or trout yourself at home. Once you’ve mastered the technique, try whipping up some delicious sesame seared salmon or a gravadlax with horseradish sauce.
Lay out on your table when serving steaks, chops and roasts. The serrated edge helps to create a smooth sawing action so you can effortlessly slice through juicy steak and other meat.
A favourite among the Jamie Oliver food team, the santoku knife is great for slicing, dicing and chopping. Japanese in origin, the flat edge and sheepsfoot blade not only looks beautiful, but is super efficient, too.
One of Jamie’s favourites for creating a retro edge on fruit and veg. Use the crinkled blade for apples, potatoes, carrots and peppers that look great to both kids and adults!
Now that you know your knives, it’s time to get your chopping techniques mastered!
These are the three most commonly used methods that will come in handy in the kitchen – just remember to keep your fingers away from the blade at all times and you’ll be chopping like a pro in no time.
1. Cross chop: This simple method is great for finely chopping lots of herbs, garlic or vegetables. It’s easy and safe – holding the knife firmly in one hand, place the tip of the knife on a board at an angle of 20º, then keeping the fingers of your other hand rigid on the lower half of the blunt-side of the blade, raise and lower the handle of the knife, keeping the tip of the knife on the board. Sweep your ingredients back into the middle with the blade as you go.
2. Tap chop: Only use this method on veg with flat, stable edges. Place your fingers over the top of your veg, tucking in your fingertips so they’re out of the way, then anchor your thumb at the back. As you chop down with the knife, move your tucked fingers back along the veg towards your thumb. The joint of your finger should guide the blade and control its position, keeping your fingertips safe
3. Rock chop: Great for chopping thicker-skinned peppers, chillies and tomatoes. The trick is to create a controlled rocking motion with the blade, from the tip down to the heel of the knife. As with tap chopping, position your fingers on top of the veg, making sure the tips of your fingers are tucked in and out of the way.
Watch Jamie demonstrate:
KNIFE SHARPENING AND MAINTENANCE
To make sure you’re getting the most out of your knives, keep them in tip-top condition by maintaining them with a steel sharpener after every use.
If your knives are really blunt, using a steel alone probably won’t be enough. In this case, you might need to use a clamped sharpener – this shaves a fine layer of metal from the blade to get it super sharp again.
Check out Jamie’s knife-sharpening technique:
KNIFE TIPS AND ADVICE
- Always use sharp knives. A blunt knife is actually more dangerous than a sharp one, as you’ll need to put more pressure down on the blade, meaning you’re more likely to slip.
- If your knives are really blunt and you don’t have a clamped sharpener of your own, ask your local butcher if they offer a knife sharpening service – often they have mechanical grinders on site.
- Storing your knives in a knife block eliminates the risk of cutting yourself on a rogue blade when you reach into a drawer.
- It’s best to stick to wooden chopping boards when using your knives. These are more hygienic than plastic boards, which are likely to harbour bacteria in cuts.
- Unless your chopping board has rubber feet, it’s a good idea to place a damp cloth underneath it when in use – this will help stop it from slipping around.