Mastering knives, made easy


“Knives Cooks Love: Selection. Care. Techniques. Recipes.”

By Sur La Table with Sarah Jay (Andrew McMeel Publishing; $25)

What it is: Everything you might ever want to know about choosing, using, storing, cleaning and maintaining cooking knives is likely contained in this knife bible’s 180 pages, part of Sur La Table’s cookbook series. Food writer Sarah Jay explains the difference between meat cleavers and vegetable cleavers, tomato knives and steak knives, knives meant for firm cheese versus soft cheese, and the six types of paring knives. The book also offers 20 appetizing recipes (spicy mussels with fennel and tomatoes; chard, mushroom and Swiss cheese frittata).

Praise and quibbles: Though exhaustive – and, at times, exhausting – the book is clear, user-friendly and easy to navigate for the beginner or veteran cook seeking practical tips. Savvy shoppers are advised to study the blade’s weight, flexibility and balance, as well as the knife’s bolster, spine and tang. Anyone who has ever been stumped by how to cut a mango, bone a chicken or fillet a fish will find step-by-step instructions.

Why we think you’ll like it: Once you’ve gotten through the book, you should know how to decode a knife’s function from the shape of its blade, how to properly grip a knife, how to sharpen and hone, and how to dice, mince, chop, julienne and chiffonade. Just as the deluge of knife details begins to feel daunting, you come across a short guide to building a 12-piece knife set, starting with the three essentials (“a trio of excellent knives is a better value than a mediocre twenty-one-piece set with a ‘bonus’ cutting board,” Jay writes). Once you have your 8-inch chef’s knife, 3 1/2-inch paring knife and 9-inch bread knife, you are master of your kitchen.