Dear Claire, I recently heard I have to sharpen my knives. Is that true? If so, how often, and where would I get that done? Or can I do it myself at home with my little steel rod?
A: Forget about expensive fancy appliances and nifty gadgets: a sharp knife is the single best tool you can have in the kitchen. With a sharp knife you will be a faster, better and happier cook. Start with half-decent knives (and you only need two – a chef’s knife and a paring knife). If they are dull to begin with, take them to a professional to get them sharpened. Call your favourite butcher or good kitchenware store for a local recommendation (your butcher might even do them for you himself).
Next you’ll want a simple honing tool to use every other day or so. I like to think of knives like guitar strings: you should give them a quick tune-up every time you use them. That little steel rod you have (aka a sharpening steel) is simple and good, but you’ll need to check YouTube for a quick how-to. Or look for a simple guided sharpener. These devices hold your knife at just the right angle while you pass the blade over the sharpener. These tools shouldn’t cost much more than $30 each.
Then before you prep a meal, give your knife 4 to 5 passes over the steel or through the sharpener. Wipe the blade with a damp cloth and you’re good to go. And don’t worry – sharp knives actually prevent cuts. You’re far more likely to cut yourself with a dull knife (which slips around when you’re trying to cut an onion) than with a sharp one!
Dear Claire, Last weekend I made the Chatelaine Chili-lime butter recipe for a friend’s barbecue. The recipe calls for 2 tbsps of lime zest which I got – with much difficulty. I used a peeler and could only get off a little, bit by bit. Do you have a technique for peeling zest more easily?
A: No worries, this is a simple fix. You need a rasp, a long skinny tool that’s covered with tiny blades for removing the zest from citrus fruit. I’m the last person who would ever tell you to buy a new kitchen gadget, but a rasp is in my top 5 kitchen necessities. It’s just the most perfect tool for the job. And it’s not terribly expensive – you can get a simple one for about $15 (fancier ones run closer to $30). A rasp will change the way you prep ingredients, because not only is it the ideal way to zest a lime, it’s also the best way to grate fresh ginger, shave a whole nutmeg, finely grate chocolate and turn Parmesan into gossamer-fine shavings. So treat yourself to a new kitchen gadget (and when it comes time to think of stocking stuffers, remember the rasp!)
Dear Claire, I have recently begun to be more ambitious with my cooking and some of the recipes I’m trying require Kosher salt. Do I really need to have a salt selection in my kitchen? Can’t I just use table salt instead? Salt is salt, right?
A: At its most basic level, yes: salt is salt. But as with many ingredients, you can then specialize. Kosher salt (so named because it is used in koshering meats) is a coarse-grained flaky salt. It’s a favourite with chefs because it’s easy to pinch and handle, and because it has no additives (like iodine or anti-caking agents). The preferred brand is Diamond Crystal, which dissolves easily and isn’t too expensive. If you’re keen, try a box. Though you’ll need to keep your kosher salt in a pinch bowl because the tiny perforations in a salt shaker are too small for kosher salt.
But remember that ordinary table salt has a much much finer grain, so in recipes that call for plain salt you will need a bit extra when using kosher. In the Chatelaine Kitchen we use table salt as a rule, and specially call for kosher salt if that’s what we used in testing. In my own kitchen I have a little jar of table salt for baking and a big dish of kosher salt for everyday use.
A general rule for salt is to be shy with it at first and taste your dish before you’re going to serve it. Salt is the single best way to improve flavour in any dish, but you are the best judge of what’s right for your table.
If you have a question for Claire, please leave it in the comment space below or you can email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org