Grab a Sharp Knife for Better Flavor

 , The New York Times  |  Updated: September 24, 2014 13:07 IST

Grab a Sharp Knife for Better Flavor
A good sharp knife is a cook's best friend. It will help you to work with precision, and quickly. A dull knife conspires against you and slows you down. And here is another reason for keeping that knife sharp: It makes your food taste better (and look better, too).

Fresh herbs will release more of their aromatic oils beneath a knife's sharp blade. A tomato slice or wedge, instead of looking trod upon, will retain its luscious juices with elegance. Carefully hand-cut onions are easier to brown because they stay drier than onions that have been bludgeoned into slices. (A blunt instrument smashes cells, which causes moisture to accumulate, whereas a sharp blade glides through with ease.)

Steak tartare has superior texture and flavor if you use a sharp knife instead of a meat grinder. Instead of being sadly hacksawed, a roasted bird or loin of pork is a delight to carve. A good knife doesn't have to be expensive (and an expensive knife is useless if it isn't sharp). You really need only a few knives anyway: a paring knife, an all-purpose vegetable knife, a long so-called chef's knife. A proper serrated bread knife helps enormously, and not just for bread. And though it is not a knife per se, a sharp swivel-type vegetable peeler is essential.

The knife I find most useful is a vegetable knife, with a blade about 2 inches wide and 7 to 8 inches long. I prefer a square-edged Japanese-style, but a European style with a pointed end is fine too. This type of knife does everything: slice, dice, chop, mince. Keeping knives sharp should be a part of your process. There are electric and manual home sharpeners, which work well enough, though it never hurts to have them sharpened professionally occasionally, or learn to use a whetstone. On a daily basis, a few strokes on a chef's steel will help keep the edge.I remember the opening scene of an old Julia Child cooking show, in which, a huge French knife in hand, she gleefully powers through an enormous pile of onions. She is showing off a bit, but she is also making a point: If you know how to handle a knife, you can make a delicious meal easily. And if you are attuned to how the knife is performing, your cooking is bound to become more focused and mindful. That always improves the way food tastes, too.

Onion Confit
Time: 1 hour
Yield: 4 cups
3 pounds medium onions
6 tablespoons butter, duck fat or lard
2 teaspoons sugar
Salt and pepper
2 bay leaves
A few fresh thyme sprigs
Pinch of cayenne
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or red wine vinegar
1/2 cup dry white or red wine

1. Cut onions in half from top to bottom (not crosswise). With a paring knife, peel each onion half. Lay each onion half flat side down. Holding the knife at a slight angle, cut away and discard the hard root end. Using a sharp knife, cut into 1/4-inch half-moons.

2. Put a large heavy-bottomed pot, preferably enameled cast iron, over medium-high heat. Melt butter, then add all the sliced onions and stir to coat. Sprinkle with sugar and season generously with salt and pepper. Continue stirring until onions begin to wilt and soften, without browning, about 5 to 8 minutes.

3. Add bay leaves, thyme, cayenne, vinegar and wine. Reduce heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until onion mixture is quite soft and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning. Remove and discard bay leaves and thyme. Serve warm.

Comments© 2014 New York Times News Service

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