Minimalistic Kitchen Basics: Knives

I had plenty of kitchen tools in my life. But when I moved to Seattle, I decided to learn how to do more with less. I live alone in a tiny studio, so it’s the perfect opportunity to challenge what my tools can do.

I’m beginning this series of posts with every chef’s pride and joy: Knives. And more importantly, why my journey led me to Japanese Knives. Choosing knives is very personal, and I don’t intend to cover the why’s and how’s of knife choosing. Instead, I chose a few very informational youtube videos that will help you think about your knives.

The first video is from Epicurious, a comprehensive description of every Japanese knife. You don’t have to watch it now, but I recommend it; I love that channel. It’s an excellent resource for home cooks that want to bring their cooking game to the next level.

Also, one prevalent misconception is that you ought to buy the most expensive tools out there. While I typically recommend spending your hard-earned dough on knives more than anything else, there are excellent budget Japanese like the Komachi’s. I found this “Worth it” episode about knives that might help you think about your budget.

We are now ready to review my selection of knives. As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, I own many more knives, but I have used almost exclusively this minimal set, and I’m considering getting rid of the rest.

My minimal set of knives is:

  • One German pairing knife. It is a Wüsthof classic, and it’s been an excellent knife. If I didn’t have one, I would have gotten a Japanese one, but I don’t have absolutely any reason to change it.
  • One Japanese petty knife. I got it from a Japanese knife maker in Berkeley, California, and I don’t know the brand. I got it with a European-style handle because it felt more comfortable in my hand than the Asian-style counterpart.
  • One Japanese nakiri knife. I got it from the same make as my petty knife. This knife is possibly the one I use the most.
  • One German bread knife. It’s a Wüsthof classic from the time I loved that brand, but still excellent, and I don’t have any reason to change it.

That’s it! With them, I managed to accomplish any task that an omnivorous, plant-forward person might perform in the kitchen.

This is my trusty set of knives.

As you can see, not all of them are Japanese, but if any of my germans broke or gone missing, I would not hesitate to get their Japanese counterparts. Why? Simple, their unique shape and the technique to use them allow for precise cuts. Also, they’re extra sharp and comfortable. If you don’t mind the additional maintenance, you can even get them on carbon steel for extra sharpness.

Let me now walk you through some of the uses I give to each knife.

  • Pairing knife:
    • Peel and prep fruits and small vegetables.
    • Butcher or debone whole chickens and other animal proteins.
    • I don’t have steak knives, so I use this guy on the table as a steak knife.
  • Petty knife:
    • Prep smaller and medium-sized vegetables and fruits, where sharpness matters.
    • Mince almost everything.
    • Score fish, duck breasts, eggplants, etc.
    • Sashimi fish.
  • Nakiri knife:
    • Prep almost every medium or large vegetable and protein.
    • Smash garlic.
    • Mince meats and crush bones with the spine.
    • Transfer ingredients to the pan.
    • I use it to slice sushi or kimbap rolls.
  • Bread knife:
    • Slice bread (I do that a lot)
    • Prep tomatoes, chiles, peppers.
    • Carve bigger cuts of meat and roasts.

Every kitchen tool will require maintenance, and so does knives. Knives require constant honing and sharpening to cut optimally. Therefore, every chef out there recommends learning how to sharpen knives yourself. To do so, you need two things: one knife steel and a wet sharpening stone. I hone my knives before every use. It truly makes a difference. However, some of my knives I don’t dare to sharpen myself yet.

In sum, keeping a minimalistic kitchen poses some challenges. However, I believe it’s possible to prepare every recipe with the four knives I have in my kitchen. The choice depends on the size of your household and your eating style. Now I would like to know from you, what are your favorite knives? Please add your comments in the section below.

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