Knife Skills Illustrated: A User's Manual by Peter Hertzmann

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Knife Skills Illustrated: A User's Manual by Peter Hertzmann

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Category: Cookery
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: All you ever needed to know about how to use a knife for food preparation whether you are a right- or a left-hander. You'll have to translate some American words but you'll hold and use a knife properly, safely and eliminate a lot of waste. Recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: September 2007
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Co
ISBN: 978-0393061789

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Last weekend I had one of the most fun afternoons in the kitchen that I've had in a long time. Despite the fact that I've been cooking for well over four decades I've only just found out how to hold a knife correctly and how to use it to prepare food properly. It didn't take long to discover that it was easier to do it the right way and a good deal safer - I'm renowned in these parts for my ability to cut my hands.

Peter Hertzmann runs knife skills classes and in the course of a three hour class his students rapidly realise that there are better ways of doing things than their own. There was one snag though - after the class they had nowhere to turn with all the odd queries that arose - and Knife Skills Illustrated: A User's Manual came about as a result. For those who have attended his classes it will be a useful reminder but for the rest of us it's going to change the way that you hold and use a knife. You might decide to buy new knives, but it's more likely that you'll decide that you only need a couple of the ones that you already have.

Before you even get to hold a knife you're going to take a careful look at all the different parts - and there are many more than 'the part you hold and the part you don't', as a student once said to Hertzmann. Study this part carefully because if you are going to buy new knives the knowledge could save you from making expensive mistakes. A knife with a bolster - that's the thicker part at the hand-end of the blade - cannot be sharpened for the full length of the blade, for instance. You'll also learn about the different types of blades and you can assess how useful they're going to be for you.

There's advice as to which knives you really need - and which are going to be rarely used. You know how you cook and you'll know if the knives that he recommends are going to be the ones that suit you. For most people they will be. He recommends a chef's knife and a paring knife. I've added a long knife with a flexible blade as I do quite a bit of fish preparation and a serrated bread knife - but I certainly don't need any more than that. You really should avoid knives that are sold in sets as many of the knives are likely to be a waste of money.

The revelation to me was how I should be holding the knife. The correct method is what's called the 'pinch grip' where the forefinger and thumb hold the blade of the knife. I'd been using the forefinger on the spine of the knife in the mistaken belief that this would increase the pressure that I could apply. It doesn't. It just means that the knife isn't safe or steady in my hand. The changeover was remarkably easy because it simply felt right.

The section on caring for knives is mainly common sense but followed carefully knives will last you a lifetime. You're also less likely to have a silly accident. Knives need to be kept sharp. After putting in a little work on my knives this weekend I discovered what a real pleasure it is to use a knife that is really sharp. Hertzmann isn't precious about how it's done. He recommends a steel but says that if the V-shaped devices sold as knife sharpeners work for you, then great!

Most of the book is devoted to how to tackle different foodstuffs correctly. For each food you get a series of line drawing which illustrate exactly what you should be doing at each stage and you're taken through the preparation step by step. This is first done for a right-hander and then for a left-hander. Unless you're ambidextrous or sharing the book with someone who uses the opposite hand you might feel as though you've paid full price for half a book, but even if you only use one set of instructions you will get good value from this book. It could well change the way that you handle food and will almost certainly eliminate a lot of waste.

The book isn't designed to be read from cover to cover as I did - but that's the bane of a reviewer. Some statements are repeated regularly and I found myself almost chanting them as I read. This won't be so noticeable if you simply look up how to prepare celery, for instance. Had you thought of using a potato peeler to remove the strings? I hadn't - but it works. The book is packed with tips like that. The drawings were perfect for fruit and vegetables but I would have liked clearer or larger drawings when it came to the preparation of meat and fish. I will now happily tackle any fruit or vegetable but if I want to joint a chicken I think I might go back to Delia Smith.

The one thing that did annoy me in this book is that it has obviously been prepared for the American market and UK readers might have to do some translation. In the UK we have aubergines rather than eggplants and courgettes rather than zucchini. That's me being picky though.

You might think that this book will really only be of use to the aspiring chef but I think there should be a copy in every home where people are serious about cooking. You will work more safely, more quickly and with less waste. It was also rather pleasurable to prepare a lot of vegetables at the weekend when I would have regarded it as something of a chore before I read this book.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending this book to The Bookbag.

Buy Knife Skills Illustrated: A User's Manual by Peter Hertzmann at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Knife Skills Illustrated: A User's Manual by Peter Hertzmann at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Knife Skills Illustrated: A User's Manual by Peter Hertzmann at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Knife Skills Illustrated: A User's Manual by Peter Hertzmann at Amazon.com.

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Magda said:

I have been wondering if the reason I never seem to use chef's knife is because I never had a decent one - I use paring knife and a shorter version (a vegetable knife??) a lot, and one which I don't know what it is - in the same size group as chef's knife, but a longer, thinner and bouncier.I am contemplating buying poultry scissors, though.

I have never removed strings from celery in my life....

...but I am still tempted by this(I was taught how to cut tomatoes and generally use "claw" grip when working in a sandwich bar, by my Italian-French boss & the proprietor).

Sue replied:

I wouldn't dream of taking the strings out of celery if I was chopping it, say for a Bolognese sauce, but if I'm serving it in larger pieces as a cooked vegetable in its own right then the strings can be a little off-putting. I remove them then.

Magda said:

I agree, it's very stringy, especially when cooked. In Poland it was almost unknown until recently - we used celeriac root instead in stock etc. Great for salad (much tastier raw, though not as freshly flavoured).