Anyone proficient in any kind of food preparation, be they a chef, butcher, fishmonger should have at least the basics of knife skills drilled. Even at home, it is well worth learning at least how to know which knives are to be used for what and also, no less important, how to maintain them in good working condition. If you want to be able to cook the perfect meal then you’re going to need to know how to prepare things properly and safely.
Firstly, and perhaps counter-intuitively, a sharp knife is infinitely safer than a blunt one. The reason for this is fairly simple. A sharp knife will move through most objects without to much force being exerted on it to do so. A blunt blade on the other hand might encourage the user to use force to push the knife. It’s usually at this stage that people hurt themselves as this force can result in a slippage of some sort. At best this can end up with a small cut to the finger, or worse, a trip to the hospital. For this reason alone one should always start cooking (or butchering/whatever) with a super sharp tool and maintain it’s condition throughout use. To give you some idea of how to do this I usually sharpen any blade I am going to be using on my steel before I make any cutting at all, regardless of how sharp the knife looks or weather I sharpened it yesterday etc. A few firm strokes usually does this. I’m not looking to ‘sharpen’ it per se, just realign the blade and make sure it’s in perfect condition. As I work throughout the day I may find that I feel my knife start to ‘deaden’ every 15-20 mins or so (more if I’m working against bones when butchering). Again, I use brush my blade down the side of my steel a few times until I’m happy with the feel of it (this is difficult to define without doing it for yourself several times a day). Lastly, before I put my knives away for the day I give them a quick brush on the steel and then repeat the next time I work.
There are some people who prefer just to use wet-stones on there knives once a week or so. Personally, if you look after your knives on a daily basis, I don’t feel there’s much need for wet-stones and also feel that they can be over used to the point where ones knife eventually wears down to a needle!
For those not sure how to use a steel, below is a short description of the ideal way to use one;
Place your steel in your non-cutting hand pointing across your body, the actual ‘steel’ part merging from the base of your palm. Place the steel part down on a flat surface onto something which will be difficult to move around and that can withstand a sharp knife hitting it. This can be just the chopping board, a tea towel or, my favourite which is a rubber trivet mat which can also be used for putting hot trays and pots on.
Starting from the base of the blade, angle the knife downwards at around ten degrees to the vertical steel. Now move the blade down the steel with a medium force while simultaneously pulling the knife backwards to the tip. Repeat this on the other side of the blade (often a bit trickier). Now repeat the whole process around 5-8 times and you should have a well-heeled blade with which to work.