Knife Knowledge

At The Peppermill we sell lots of different knives — but you knew that.

What you may not know is why we carry a range of knives, from a basic knife for $6.99 to a seemingly extravagant long-bladed knife that sells for $150.

The differences between these knives are substantial. Manufacturing processes, quality of material, style and ease of sharpening all play a role in determining the final cost of a knife.

Let us explain.

Knife blades are either stamped or forged. A stamped blade is die-cut in a metal press that stamps out hundreds of mass-produced knives every hour. A stamped knife is light and inexpensive because of this production method. Its steel is relatively thin to keep production costs low. Some knives are even weighted to make them seem more substantial. However, a knife that is heavier at the handle than the blade requires more pressure to cut and a tighter grip to make up for its lack of strength.

The better choice is a forged knife that begins as a piece of steel that is heated to a high temperature, set into a mold and struck with a huge hammer to form the blade. This procedure causes the blade to become brittle, so a second heating and cooling treatment relaxes the metal and makes the blade more flexible. The knife blade is then sharpened multiple times, each time creating an edge that is just a bit finer than the previous one. This elaborate method of manufacturing results in a powerful knife that feels lighter in your hand than it looks. Of course, the benefit to the chef is that you get more precise slicing, dicing and chopping with less energy expended. The difference is evident in the perfect balance between the handle and the blade — neither is heavier than the other.

In years past, knives were all made by hand, of carbon steel. Carbon steel is easy to sharpen and holds a cutting edge well. Newer designs have plastic, dishwasher-safe handles, and are often manufactured with rust-free, stainless-steel blades. Stainless steel, however, cannot be sharpened and is usually used for mass-produced, stamped knives. New forged knives are manufactured from surgical-quality steel, with other elements to strengthen the steel and allow it to maintain its rust-free nature. The best part is that they feel light and comfortable in your hand. A well-designed knife does the work for you with ease. So while it may seem like a pricey purchase, a good knife will become your best friend in the kitchen and will serve you well for years to come.

A long straight-bladed knife is essential for slicing large cuts of meat or large melons. Your work will be cut in half if the blade is as long, or almost as long as item you are cutting. Some cooks are afraid of large knives, thinking that they are dangerous to have around households with children. That is easily remedied with proper storage. Always store knives in a block or protect the blade with an inexpensive blade guard and teach children that “this knife is for mommies only!” Keep in mind that a short-bladed knife will require lots of back-and-forth sawing motions to slice through a roast that is 10 inches wide.

Chef’s knives, with their curved blades, are ideal for slicing and dicing using a rocking motion that means that you never actually lift your knife from the cutting board. Rocking back and forth from the tip to the heel of the knife saves your hands and arms from fatigue. The most popular type of chef’s knife is undoubtedly the Santoku. Taking its design from Japanese knives, the Santoku combines the benefits of eastern and western cutlery.

Short paring knives have their purpose as well. Peeling onions, quartering apples and opening avocados would be extremely awkward with a long knife. These jobs require you to hold the handle of the knife right near the blade and are often done in the opposite hand. You would not want to cut an onion in your hand with the tip of an 8-inch chef’s knife pointing straight at your nose!

Medium-length knives, often referred to as utility knives, are good for small slicing jobs but as their blades are straight, they will not rock for ease of dicing.

Serrated knives will cut through soft foods and peels with ease, but will tear meat and poultry.

They are perfect for tomatoes and slicing cake or rolls.

The latest knife technology combines the best of both straight and serrated in a scalloped slicer. This type of knife will cut through just about anything from bread and cake to semi-frozen beef. Referred to as Super Slicers, these knives will hold an edge lots longer than other blades.

Couscous Salad with Chopped Vegetables

  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup uncooked couscous
  • 1 cup chopped yellow bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup finely-chopped zucchini
  • 1/2 cup chopped mushrooms
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped skinless chicken (leftover grilled chicken is perfect for this recipe)
  • 1/2 cup chopped carrots
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped scallions
  • 3 Tbsp. fresh parsley, checked and finely chopped
  • 1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

 For the dressing:

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp. honey
  • 1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar

Bring water, 1 teaspoon oil, and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan; gradually stir in couscous. Remove from heat; cover and let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Place in a large bowl; cool to room temperature.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add remaining oil to pan. Add the yellow pepper, zucchini, and mushrooms; sauté 4 minutes or until bell pepper is tender. Add bell pepper mixture, chicken, carrots, scallions, parsley, and black pepper to couscous; toss gently to combine.

To prepare dressing, combine mayonnaise and remaining ingredients, stirring with a whisk. Drizzle over couscous mixture, tossing gently to combine.


Readers may submit questions to the Culinary Connoisseur, c/o Hamodia, 207 Foster Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11230 or via e-mail to This weekly column has been brought to you by The Peppermill, the world’s first kosher kitchenware store, located at 5015 16th Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y. (718) 871-4022. You can also read a selection of previous columns in their comprehensive cookbook, The Culinary Connoisseur, available now at your local Judaica and kitchenware stores. Jam-packed with delicious recipes, insightful food information and helpful cooking tips, this book is certain to become your constant companion in the kitchen.