The range of blade design is very wide and this is just a selection of the more widely-used blades designs and their use.
Chef’s/Cook’s knife – The basic kitchen knife for doing a wide range of cutting and chopping jobs. It has a pointed blade and comes in a wide range of blade sizes.
Turning knife – A short-bladed knife with a downward-pointed hooked end which makes for easy turning of vegetables in the classic French style.
Scalloped edge – A long thin knife with a scalloped edge. The scallops allows air to pass around the blade as it cuts very thin slices making this blade style suitable for cutting cold meats or smoked salmon.
Serrated edge – The feature of serrated blades is that they tear as well as cut. Narrow serrated blades are suitable for soft foods such as tomatoes or cucumbers. Wide serrated blades are used for cutting hot meats (carvery) and bread.
Fish filleting knife – This needs to be a thin slender and slightly flexible blade to allow for filleting of flatfish such as turbot and working around the skeletal frame of round fish such as cod.
Rocker Choppers (Hachoirs or Mezzalunas) – These are curved blades, usually double bladed, but can be treble bladed, with a handle at either end. They are the traditional way of finely chopping herbs, vegetables and meat. They can come with a specially curved wood bowl to fit the cutter or just rocked under pressure on a chopping board. The quality of the steel has to be very good to maintain the edge for chopping herbs such as parsley. However, their use is not so widespread now since food processors have become popular.
I think that a hachoir properly cuts herbs and meats while a food processor pulverises them. Sharpening them is not easy due to the closeness of the blades, another reason to buy quality steel.
Colour coded knives are a way of reducing the risk of cross contamination and is widely practised, especially where there is a high risk of cross contamination (for peace of mind I would recommend them for most pubs, especially where you are leaving kitchen staff to work unsupervised).
It all comes down to the level of training, professionalism and competence that you place in your staff when you choose knives but my rule of thumb is that old adage of “better safe, than sorry”.
Whilst there are no legal guidelines on which foods should be cut with which colour knives, the accepted coding system in the UK (and the system preferred by the majority of Environmental Health Officers) is this:
Yellow – Cooked meats
Red – Uncooked meats
White – Bread and dairy products such as cheese
Blue – Raw fish
Green – Salad and fruit
Brown – Raw vegetables, definitely those grown within the soil.
Whether you are starting out, or planning on upgrading you knife collection, here are some tips on what to look for.
Start with a basic set of preparation knives:
The following six knives are the ones I use all the time; a 4″ utility/paring knife, a small 6″ chef’s knife, a medium 8” chef’s knife, a large 10″ chef’s knife, a 10” serrated bread knife and a 14-16” scallop edged carving knife.
Add additional knives if you need them:
You can add to your basic collection as necessary. Additional options may include a palette knife, citrus zester, melon baller, pizza cutter and carving fork and thin bladed boning knife. These knives are used for specialty purposes and I use them less frequently than my general food preparation knives.
Top Tips on choosing the right knives for you
Buy knives that fit your hand and feel comfortable in your hand
You will get a lot of suggestions to buy this brand or that. Colleagues and friends may recommend certain brands or knives but it really doesn’t matter if they have a knife that they like, if you aren’t comfortable with it.
Go to a cook shop or the kitchen department in your local department store and actually hold and test all the knives in stock, even the expensive ones. If the knife doesn’t feel balanced in your hand, or the handle is shaped funny for you, or you just don’t like it for some unknown reason, don’t buy it. (In any case a commercial catering equipment supplier will be much less expensive than a retail store). You are going to use these things a lot, so make sure that you buy ones that you can live with for a long time.