CoolTools.qxd 7/25/06 4:29 PM Page 55 COOL TOOLS Rachel Albert-Matesz Honing in on Truly Sharp Cutlery Q uality cutlery allows you to cut food more efficiently, attractively and safely. But no matter what quality of cutlery you use, allowing knives to become dull makes kitchen prep more difficult and potentially dangerous. Before you rush out to buy a knife sharpe n e r, you need to understand the diff e rence between sharpening and honing. Although you need to do both re g u l a r l y, these two tasks req u i re diff e rent tools. STAY SHARP For best results, have your knives professionally sharpened once every six to 12 months, depending upon how often you use them. A knifesharpening expert can do this for you, using machinery too large and costly to keep in your home. Check the yellow pages in your area for a shop that sells knives and offers this service. Call gourmet kitchen and c u t l e r y shops in your area; if they don’t sharpen knives, they can re f e r you to a skilled machinist who does. Sharpening fees often cost appro ximately $1 per knife. In between professional sharpenings, you’ll need to hone your knives at least once a week. The more chopping and cooking you do, the more often you’ll need to hone the blades you use most fre q u e n t l y. HANDY HONING sharpened knife once it has “turned” due to daily use. Most professional chefs use sharpening steels to maintain their knife edges. The steel should be at least two inches longer than your longest knife blade and you must hold the knife at a constant 15- to 25d e g ree angle, depending on the type of knife, as you move it from one side to the other across the steel in an arching motion. This re q u i res skill, and many home cooks have difficulty getting the angle right. As a result, they may dull or damage their knives, or fail to create a consistently sharp edge. For ease and simplicity, you can buy a simple device that holds your knife at the precise angle, honing the blade in half the time re q u i red by conventional steeling. These easyto-use tools re q u i re no special skills. They eliminate the uncertainty and inconsistency of using an unguided steel. They take up very little space and allow you to fine-tune knife blades within minutes. A good one will set you back less than $45. HOW DO HONING DEVICES WORK? stroke the knife across tensionmounted miniature steel rods mounted in the device’s frame. TOOLS OF THE TRADE Honing maintains the edge of a Styles and designs vary among manufacturers, but most tools contain precision guides that hold your knife at the perfect angle while you C h e f’s Choice Steel Pro #470. This is not a knife sharpener; it’s a knife maintenance tool. Like a conventional sharpening steel, it maintains a razor-sharp edge on straightedged knives. Fully hard e n e d , nonabrasive high carbon steeling rods are mounted in a 3-inch-high case with a 23⁄4- by 3-inch base and a 43⁄4-inch-long handle. The rods control and align the face of the knife as you run the blade through two slots, aligning the left side and then the right side of your knife. This easy-to-operate device is designed to last a lifetime with normal household use. You can run your knife through it thousands of times January 2006 The Herb Companion 55 CoolTools.qxd 7/25/06 4:30 PM Page 56 before the wear re q u i res you to adjust one of the device’s 55 pairs of “steeling” surfaces. The base has small rubber feet to securely hold it to any dry, flat surface. A hook on the end of the handle allows you to conveniently hang this honing tool on the wall. It works on all fine-edge knives, re g a rdless of brand, and comes with a detailed instru c t i o n manual. It may not be the most beautiful kitchen gadget you own, but it works. The Steel Pro sharpens only straight-edged knives. Look for it in kitchen stores everywhere for $39.99 or from EdgeCraft Corporation, 825 Southwood Road, Avondale, PA 19311; (800) 342-3255; w w w. C h e f s Choice.com. C h a n t r y Knife Sharpener. A lthough the label calls this a “Knife Sharpener,” the Chantry does not a ctually sharpen; it maintains the edge p roduced by your knife’s manufact u rer and kept up by regular professional sharpening. Like the Steel P ro, it re p roduces the action of a butcher’s steel, but with a higher deg ree of accuracy because it automatically holds the knife at the correct angle. Unlike the Steel Pro, the Chantry hones both sides of the blade at the same time. In contrast to electric knife sharpeners, the Chantr y does not wear away the blade. To use it, you draw your knife between the steels as if slicing bread, using only enough pressure to engage the steels. You may need to apply more pressure for extre m e l y dull knives. For best results, the m a n u f a c t u rer recommends you run your knife through the device with each use. This prevents premature dulling. The Chantr y quickly and easily sharpens both straight and serrated edges. It boasts a sturdy metal construction, measures 5 inches acro s s , 4 1⁄2 inches high and 1 1⁄2 inches wide, and comes in eight attractive colors and two designs. It looks pre t t y 56 www.HerbCompanion.com enough to sit out on your kitchen counter. It sells for $42.98 in fine kitchen shops or from Messermeister Cutl e r y, 418 Br yant Circle, Ste. A, Ojai, CA 93023; (800) 426-5134; www.messermeister.com. AccuSharp Knife and Tool Sharpener. The smallest and least expensive of the lot, this compact plastic “sharpener” measures 5 1⁄2 i n c h e s long, 2 1⁄2 inches high and 2⁄3 i n c h wide; it fits in the palm of your hand. What it lacks in size and looks it makes up for in versatility. It adds a razor-sharp edge to knives (both straight and serrated) as well as cleavers, axes, machetes and other common cutting tools, within 10 seconds. Its compact constru c t i o n makes it ideal for camping, traveling or tossing into a toolbox. To use it, you slip the plastic guard over your knuckles and grip the ergonomic handle. (Imagine plastic brass knuckles.) Place your knife blade-side up on a flat work s u rface, then pull the knife blade along the tungsten carbide sharpe n e r. It perf o rms equally well for right- and left-handed users. Wa s h it with soap and water or in the dishwasher; it won’t rust. Available for $10.99 from hardw a re stores or from AccuSharp, 205 Hickor y Creek Road, Marble Falls, TX, 78654-3357; (830) 693-6111; www.AccuSharp.com. HONING TIP B e f o re using any honing tool, wipe the knife blade with a damp cloth to keep the machine clean. After honing, rinse and dry the blade to remove any rough particles. Rachel Albert-Matesz is a Phoenix-based food and health writer and co-author of The Garden of Eating: A ProduceDominated Diet & Cookbook ( P l a ne t a r y Press, 2004). For inform a t i o n about her book, classes and services, visit www.TheGardenOfEatingDiet.com.