Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to sharpen or steel your knives.
I have a recent renewed appreciation for sharp knives. If you’ve been following along, you know that for the past five months, I’ve been living with my in-laws while waiting for The House to come along (and we’ve just moved in, hooray!). There were many, many items that I had to cut out from my kitchen and place in storage during that time. I tried to only bring the things I’d really, really need (like this). photo source
Of course I brought a few of my favorite knives, but I let the knife sharpener go. I figured that either my mother-in-law would have one or I could survive with less-than-perfect knives. Of all the sacrifices we made, that seemed minor.
But I’m telling you, I opened the box with my recipe cards and knives in it, and I gazed in and said, “It’s so good to see you!” (Out loud.) And, according to my mother who walked in, proceeded to do a little happy dance. I don’t remember that part; I was pretty giddy!
I had been saying for about a month as my knives got noticeably duller and duller, “I can’t wait to get my knife sharpener back.”
I sliced an apple for Leah’s snack, and oh! What a joy! My little paring knife – how I missed her so! – slid right through the apple with no effort whatsoever.
Who knew it would be such a lovely experience to chop onions for soup later that day? I used the same old knife I took to the in-laws’, but I had unpacked and gleefully used my sharpener on it.
What a difference.
I’m telling you, if you’re not in the habit of sharpening your knives regularly, and you do cook a lot from scratch, you will save time with this simple, simple step. It’s the perfect Monday Mission for December when we’re all really too busy to do anything major.
Sharp Knives Won’t Make you Cry
For two reasons, your sharp knives will reduce your tears.
First, using properly sharpened knives is actually safer. You will get fewer accidental cuts using good knives, because you don’t have to push and wiggle and force the knife through your food. The knife slides right through, so as long as you keep your fingers out of the way, they’ll be safe.
Sharp knives also reduce the tearing up effect from onions, so you won’t be crying so much then. I was practically dying near the end of our time at the in-laws’ because dull knives mush the onions, releasing juices that equal tears, rather than effectively slicing through them.
I thought I had purchased a particularly potent bag of onions, but not so. Jodi Michelle told me on Twitter that dull knives can be the culprit (and Donielle shared an important tip: put onions in the fridge for 5 minutes before cutting to reduce tears, too. But sharpen your knives first!).
Sharpening vs. Steeling
I thought this post would be about finished by now, but I happened to mention on Facebook about knives and this mission, and I learned something new: apparently a step before sharpening (which might not even be technically what I do with my knife sharpener) is called steeling. That process, also called honing, entails using a rod on a handle and brandishing it on your knife back and forth a few times. It’s a more appropriate maintenance step than actual “sharpening.”
Most people steel their knives daily or every time they use the knife. The purpose, according to Dyno-mom Melissa Nasko, is to align the edge after it flattens and bends a bit during use. Another reader, Tonya, describes it as taking “any small burrs off your blade’s edge & keep[ing] it straight & narrow, thereby maintaining the edge (sharpness).” She recommends a Wusthof knife, which is what I asked for at Christmastime last year and truly enjoy.
Heather Kofke-Egger describes sharpening: it “is apparently more involved [than steeling] and uses a tool such as a whetstone to actually remove some steel from the knife’s edge and put a new edge on it.” She also shared helpful links on honing and sharpening knives.
Do you need expensive knives to get them nice and sharp? Not necessarily (but it helps).
As long as your knife is enough quality, meaning forged steel and the kind that goes down inside the handle (what is that called? I’m losing the word right now…), you should be good. If the handle is completely separate from the knife, it’s just not going to last very long. Tonya also recommends looking for “restaurant knives” like the Montana brand at Cosco, very affordable.
You do NOT need a fancy knife sharpener to make a difference. Mine is shown right here and sells for under $10 at Amazon. Simple, but effective. Put one on your Christmas stocking stuffer list if you don’t own a knife sharpener of any kind. You’ll thank me in January!
UPDATE: The amazing Melissa at Dyno-Mom shares this tip from Cook’s Illustrated: “Use the unglazed bottom of a mug to hone a knife. Hold knife at a 45 degree angle and drag across.” How cool! Free knife honing!
So good Kitchen Stewards: take a simple baby step today. Sharpen your knives and try to get in the habit of doing it every few times you use them. You will notice a difference!
But first, you might want to make…
St. Nick Cookies
Time got away from me this December and I almost forgot to share this recipe from last year with you: St. Nicholas German Spice Cookies. It’s kind of a traditional recipe that I adapted for whole grains and real fats (and even sprouted flour).
See my full disclosure statement here.