That’s how you know your knife is sharp enough.
The old maxim stating it’s the dull knife that cuts is true. Dull knives tend to slip away from their target and find a finger. They also tear your food rather than slice it evenly. You cannot have too sharp a knife. Knives should be kept as sharp as possible either by having them regularly professionally sharpened, using an electric or manual sharpening tool, or learn to use the time-honored, whetstone method, a painstaking but atom-splittingly effective craft. I use an electric grinding tool. I can get a good enough edge to pass the paper cutting test: hold a sheet of paper vertically and bring the knife down on the top edge. You should be able to cleanly cut through the paper without using any back and forth motion. Between sharpenings use a steel to straighten the edge every time you use the knife and sometimes several times during the cutting or carving job. Steels, even the diamond impregnated ones, do not sharpen the blade. If you were to look down the business edge of a knife under a microscope you would see that after even brief use the edge begins to curl or become wavy – the steel straightens that edge.
I have many knives in my collection but there are three that are my favorites shown above, in order: an 8″ chef’s knife, a 6″ boning knife, a small paring knife and a sharpening steel. I have an assortment of specialty knives such as bread knives, carving knives, a cleaver and so on, but I prefer to use my three favorites if they are available. A knife should feel good in your hand, it should feel balanced when you hold it and you should feel that you have good control of it. Good knives are not cheap. Hold your nose, grit your teeth and buy the very best you can afford because you will have them for years and years. The sky is the limit on the prices of fancy, artisanal knives. They are true works of art but few can afford them and only the most accomplished chefs can put them to good use. I am especially fond of the more reasonably priced Wustoff Classic line, they feel steady in my hand, they hold a good edge and they are dishwasher safe. The folks at Cook’s Illustrated.Com recommend the bargain priced Victorinox 8″ Swiss Army Fibrox Chef’s Knife, Model 47520 and if you watch their America’s Test Kitchen program on PBS you will see them using it.
Good knives can be purchased in any number of places locally and on the web. Watch for sales. You will probably do better if you buy them individually. Knives purchased in sets almost always include one or more knives that are slow selling, less popular items and you will likely not find them useful. By all means store your knives in some type of storage device that protects the blades and nearby fingers, and is within reach on the counter. Wooden knife blocks and magnetic, wall mounted strips are popular knife storage methods. Do not store knives in a drawer where the edges rub against one another and you risk a cut while fishing for the right one. A professional chef told me that knives should be placed in separate compartments in the dishwasher too.
When you place your knife on the counter make sure the blade is turned away from you so that if you brush against it you won’t cut yourself. Placing your knife on a neatly folded kitchen towel next to your cutting surface is a good way to cushion the knife and prevent it from spinning around and becoming dangerous. When slicing foods on a cutting board, place a slightly dampened kitchen towel under the cutting board so that it wont rock or slide. Don’t have a stack of kitchen towels at the ready? Try Chef’s Catalog.Com or Williams-Sonoma.Com.
Knives are my most frequently used tools in the kitchen. I’ve learned most knife skills by watching the experts. I will never be able to chop an onion or slice a cucumber with the lightning fast precision that the professionals do but I know enough to get the job done. Most importantly, I don’t use dull knives. Your work in the kitchen will be so much more fun and efficient if you use properly prepared tools.