One of my favorite games is Desert Island, where someone picks a category — books, CDs, wines — and you name the one you’d pack if you were banished to a desert island. I get to spend time in the kitchen with a lot of great cooks as part of my job, and at some point, I usually ask what their Desert Island kitchen tools are. You’d think the answer might vary depending on the cook, but the response is always the same: “My knives.”
This is the true workhorse of the kitchen. With a 6- to 12-inch blade that’s at least 1-1/2 inches deep at the widest point, the chef’s knife can take on all kinds of slicing, dicing, chopping and mincing. Properly sharpened, it can also handle breaking downa and boning large cuts of meat (though if you do it a lot, you may prefer a cleaver and a boning knife for those tasks). And the side of the blade is great for crushing garlic cloves, ginger, and lemongrass.
The blade of a paring knife ranges from 3 to 4 inches long, and is usually about 3/4 inch deep at the widest point. Its small size makes it really feel like an extension of your hand, and it’s perfect for peeling and paring fruit and vegetables, coring tomatoes and fruits, trimming chicken, scoring doughs, and any other exacting task where the heft and long blade of a chef’s knife would get in the way.
For bagels, baguettes, and any other crusty bread you’ve got to have a good, sharp serrated bread knife. Look for one 9 inches or longer–enough to span a big loaf. A serrated knife also comes in handy for cutting through tomatoes or other soft, fleshy produce, as well as slicing cake layers cleanly and evenly.