What are the three knives you use all the time?
As you can imagine, I have a fair number of knives on the racks in the kitchen so there’s always an appropriate one in reach. Some favourites change over time so, at the moment I’m using a little curved Henkels ‘turning’ knife a lot. Because I’m on a bit of a post-Christmas health kick I’m also using a Benriner Japanese mandoline to process veg for salads or quick pickles. The main knife though, is a quietly gorgeous Damascus santuko made by Hiro Tenmi-Jyuraku. It was bought for me as a gift by my best man, so it’s getting a little long in the tooth now but I’ve lavished it with my best attentions and it’s still the best I own by a thousand miles.
Is there one that you can't live without in the kitchen?
The lovely thing about knives is how they adapt to us and we to them. I potentially could live without my santoku, I’m just not sure it would be much of a pleasure.
Hand sharpening or gadget? How do you keep your knives in good working order?
I have a good selection of stones and there’s nothing so wonderfully contemplative as sitting down at the bench with some music, a big glass of wine and a few knives to look after. I realise this might seem a little monkish to many so I can cheerfully recommend a ‘Shinkansen’ waterstone sharpener to anyone who wants sharp knives and perhaps has more of a life.
What's the best way to store a set of knives?
In the kitchen, magnetic strip wall racks are the thing. You always know where your knives are - an important safety consideration, they are always in easy reach, the edges are protected and you get to show off your knives to admiring friends. I cover my magnetic strips in strips of chamois leather to stop them scratching the blades.
Can you give us your top tips for buying a carving knife?
A carving knife doesn’t get used that often, it’s not really part of the kitchen kit and should be used mainly at the table. In fact it’s essentially a ritual object - brought out at family occasions. If you haven’t inherited one yet, ask your parents if they have one tucked away somewhere and sharpen it back to life. If they haven’t got one, chose a knife you’ll be pleased to hand on to your own kids. We have few good rituals in modern family life. I think it’s worth preserving them where we can
What's the most common error people make when carving and do you have any tips to avoid it?
Probably the most common error is not letting the meat rest long enough. Resting makes everything easier to cut accurately.
People also tend to fork the joint with one hand and then cut towards it with the knife. This means you can’t really avoid the awful moment when the blade edge grinds against the tines of the fork. The easiest way to avoid the problem is to always cut parallel to the tines.
Do you have a go-to recipe that best shows off your knife skills?
I can teach you the basic ‘knife skills’ in about 10 minutes - that’s about as much ’training' as most professionals got from their first chef - and after that it’s a matter of getting better through daily practice. Even when I’m knocking up a spag bol for my daughter’s tea, I’ll micro-brunoise the onions, celery and carrots by hand because…. well just because.
Tim’s top tips for carving a chicken
Rest the meat before carving.
Check that your knife is sharp.
Carve the kind of slices you are comfortable carving and that you enjoy eating. In my case that’s thick and juicy.
Use a carving fork.
Remove the wishbone first when carving birds. It gives a straight, uninterrupted slice through the breast.
With chicken and turkeys, it’s also worth locating the hip joints from inside the cavity and nicking through the tendons with a sharp knife before cooking.
Take off both legs with vertical cuts through the hip joint. Remove the breasts whole, though try if you can, to leave a healthy chunk of meat at the base of the wing. This makes the wing a good serving by itself. The breast can be cut into slices across the grain. Use the heel of the knife to go through the ‘knee’. Take it carefully and just let the knife find it’s own way through the joint. The drumstick is a single serving, the thigh meat can be cut away from the bone in long slices.
[Biog] Tim Hayward is a writer, broadcaster and restaurateur. His latest book Knife (available to buy here) examines the culture, craft and cult of the cook’s knife. He’s currently busy researching a history of the modern kitchen.