#17: When all else fails, sharpen knives
You may think the title of this post is metaphorical. Well, it isn’t. I felt like crud all day today (potentially from something “new” and organic that I purchased from the farmer’s market yesterday). It was getting late by the time I felt well enough to do anything. I was desperate for something, anything new. So I learned how to sharpen knives. And then I cut grapes in half with them.
Before writing this post, I went searching for a quote about knives, to make me seem more clever than I actually am. And here’s what I came up with, perhaps you’ve heard it before:
The rule of carving holds good as to criticism; never cut with a knife what you can cut with a spoon.” (Charles Buxton)
Now, here’s the rub: I completely and utterly disagree.
My kitchen knives are fancy—too fancy to be sure. In fact, my husband bought them on a greedy whim with wedding gift money. (And without my consent!) I was furious at how much he’d spent. Then he took them out of the box. They’re so stunning—sleek, black and steel, with a pleasing swoop of a handle—that I actually gasped. He put one in my hand . . . and it was love. The manufacturer will tell you that they feel so good because of “the precision weight and balance of a full metal tang.” J.A. Henckels is not messing around. (Just watch this video to get a sense of how neurotic the company is about quality or just to learn about how a knife is made; I had no idea how fascinating the process is.) But I didn’t care about the physics behind it, the knife just felt like, well, home.
And so my husband was forgiven and I’ve been on an odyssey of devotion to my knives ever since. My favorite happens to be the 7″ Santoku knife, a large knife with a broad and very sharp edge. I cut everything with it from massive, hearty butternut squash to delicate, juicy tomatoes. My husband prefers the 8″ Chef’s knife which, frankly, scares the pants off me. It isn’t just the size but the shape of it; it’s just terrifying. He also likes playing around with the bread knife, the carving knife, the serrated utility knife. I will admit to using the paring knife every now and then; using the Santoku to pit cherries just isn’t practical.
I use my Santoku so much that it has started to dull more quickly than the other knives. Or so I that’s the theory I’ve been living with for a few years now. But then it dawned on me: my husband sharpens the knives on a regular basis. But he only pays attention to the knives he likes to use and my poor Santoku isn’t on his list.
So, as I stood over the sink, preparing spinach and field greens for a dinner salad, I saw my two needs becoming one: I would learn something new and I’d get back a devastatingly sharp blade on my Santoku.
The lesson began with a sharpening stone, recently acquired by my husband from a coworker who was a butcher in a former life. I wet the stone under running water (overkill, probably, on the wetness) and, holding the knife at a steady angle, drew the blade across the stone. I did this several times, flipped the knife, and repeated the process. While it is perfectly acceptable to use such an implement to sharpen a kitchen knife, the grit seemed too large to me and I feared that I was doing more harm to my precious blade than good.
I switched to the chromium-plated sharpening steel that came with the set and felt good about my decision as soon as I drew the blade across the rod; the effect was much smoother and made a less worrying sound.
When the sharpening was done, I ran a test of my newly honed instrument . . . by cutting a handful of grapes in half for the salad. The blade sliced through the tiny round fruit as if they didn’t exist, as if they were merely figments of my imagination . . . and I fell in love all over again.
I will never choose a spoon over my Santoku, even if it seems superlative (as with the case of the grapes). Perhaps I will have to eat my words the next time I have ice cream, soup, or apple sauce?
Lesson learned: While cutting with a spoon may be more humane (and, in many instances, safer), using a Santoku is much more satisfying.