Sunday, November 18, 2007

East V. West

Can Shun and Global Take the Title From Wusthof?

Kitchen knives are a lot like underwear: basic, necessary, and extremely personal. But, unlike your tried and true Fruit of the Looms, trying a new style can be an expensive and daunting decision. But the Asian knife houses of Shun and Global are begging for a chance to win you over. Below, some factors to consider when upgrading your collection--be it with Asian knives or more of what you've always used.

Beware the...
  • Partial Tang: Insist on a full tang knife--the blade is one piece of metal that extends through the length of the handle. Improves balance and maneuverability.
  • Stamped blade: Insist on a forged blade--the metal is poured into a mold instead of bashed into the shape of a knife.
I'll take these two features as givens for the rest of the discussion.

Now, to attack the onslaught of options. First of all, the way a knife feels in your hand surpasses any manufacturing specs anyone could ever offer. Sure, you might follow a learning curve and adapt to a knife you at first disliked. But you might not. This makes much of knife talk highly subjective.

FEEL: The top brands, and even lines within the same brand, all feel much different. Global is the lightest, and the one people feel the strongest about, either for or against, as it is much different. These differences come down to matters of preference--weight and shape in one's hand. Go try them out.

STEEL/BLADE: More objective are the differences in the steel and blade. The Asians are made of significantly harder metal-- Shun at Rockwell 61, Global at Rockwell 58 and Wusthof Rockwell 55. This supports a more acute cutting angle. Sources vary on specifics, but
generally agree Wusthof and Henckels cutting angles are 18-22 degrees, Shun and Global 15 -16 degrees ... a razor blade is 4 degrees.

SHARPNESS: When people say they want "sharp" they usually mean "requires less cutting force." Cutting force is a product of the profile of the edge of the knife, i.e. concave or convex or flat, the edge angle in degrees and the coeficient of dynamic friction between the side of the knfe and what it is cutting. Global knives stay "sharp" so long partially due to the fact that they sharpen the edge without a bevel and instead employ a straight V shape--check it out at a Williams-Sonoma.

MAINTENANCE: For all knives, match the brand of honing steel with the brand of knife and get them sharpened once a year or so. I use different brands of knives, and I hate honing, so I just get mine sharpened every six months. Asian knives hold their edge longer, but are more difficult to revive. Solution is to not let them go too long, and the very hard, very thin blade will be very good to you.

GLOBAL: I appreciate the light weight because it's more nimble, and so sharp that it doesnt REQUIRE heft like my Wuthof does. (I used to love a good heavy Wusthof...) Specifically, the shape of the Asian Chef's knife by Global is delightful--its the third knife down pictured in
that link above, its a hybrid of a santoku and chef's knife. I suspect anyone would love these, if they can get used to the handle.

SHUN: Shun is great, too, with its own special steel production technique that I could spend more paragraphs on, but they cost 2 to 3 times more than a Wusthof Classic, while Global is only slightly more than Wusthof. With my huge discount, price was of no concern to me, and among chefs that came in the store all the time, Global was the most common for them to brag about, purchase, and generally adore. My parents love their set of Shuns, but I still prefer Global.

Bottomline, Asian knives are equipped to surpass European in popularity among gourmets. They are sharper, and no harder to maintain, just different to use. I suggest you try one out,
Williams-Sonoma has a VERY lax return policy if you find it unadapatable.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

You Are How You Eat

Yesterday at 4:00 pm I stoppped by a random, non-descript Indian bakery and cafe. The establishment was shady at best, but when I compared it to some of the places I ate in Malaysian, it seemed immaculately clean, so I gave it a shot. Despite the dingy yellow walls, dirty everything, and employees' struggle with English, I ordered some flat bread that I remembered was amazing, and a few other things off the menu.

As I waited, for about 10 or 15 minutes, I started to think about what had compelled me to trust this place. Nothing came to mind, because, I realized, I didn't really trust it. I was just willing to take the risk of gross dirtiness for the however small chance of amazing authentic ethnic food.

How do we decide what to eat? Do we only cook if we like to cook? Or is there some personality trait that would make one person choose Lean Cuisines 9 times a week, while another makes a salad or tuna sandwich? Sure, personal preferences inform our decisions of how to spend our time and meet our basic needs, but when I consider my friends and family, I can trace their habits back to aspects of their personality. I don't consider "liking cooking" as a personality trait. However, I think "liking cooking" is linked to other personality traits. For example, of all the extremely driven, assertive people in my life, none of them spend much time cooking.

Food for thought--how does how we eat reflect who we are? Any thoughts?

Friday, May 4, 2007

Shopping For Compliments

If Americans were taught that cooking was an innate ability found in all humans as the essential skill of aquiring sustenance, how would our culinary culture be different?

Would our grocery stores be full of "Easy Mac" and other "just add water and microwave" products? Would our country produce more frozen meals per capita than any other nation? Would Doritos and Gushers infiltrate such a large percentage of elementary school lunch bags?

In my travels through Europe, Asia, and South America, one of my favorite things to do was visit a grocery store. Whether a tiny corner market in Paris, or a mega-grocery in the suburbs of a Colombian city, I always find these trips to be shortcuts in exploring another culture. People let their anti-tourist guard down--they don't even notice you.

And in fact, your usually obvious, bumbling tourist ways are less noticable, because everyone--traveller and local alike--does the same thing in a grocery store. Doing the same thing as the locals do, on their home turf, is a sort of leveling process, and you feel a bit more Colombian, or Parisian, or Roman.

Studying global cuisine is a similar shortcut to explore another culture. Seeing the proliferation of brightly packaged fruit-flavored sodas, candies, cookies, drinks, and other treats, you can immediately grasp the Colombian dependency on sugary fruity flavors, born of their inherent tropical locale. European groceries are typically so tiny, that the amount of room devoted to an item--coffee, pasta, produce--indicates its importance to the culture. In SE Asia, ubiquitous tiny corner "markets" have just a few folding tables--or whatever can be afforded. The are packed with dusty packages of salty processed snacks that may have been delivered more than 5 years ago, but also always have a few exotic fruits no more than a day or two from having been on the tree.

After a few observant visits to international grocery stores, and allowing your observations to inform you of that culture, one cannot help but ask "What do American grocery stores say about us?"

Sunday, April 29, 2007


In the theatre that is the kitchen, it's important to remember the value of improvisation.

Tonight, I knew I wanted to cook salmon with dill, so I turned to the trustiest of all kitchen muses, The advanced recipe search feature is unbelievable--you can search for anything, and get hundreds of results, complete with posted advice from those who've made the recipe.

I found a basic dill mustard sauce recipe:
1/2 cup coarse-grained mustard
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup olive oil
4 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill, or to taste
Mix all igredients, refridgerate till serving on broiled salmon rubbed with soy sauce prior to broiling.

Pretty basic, right? Well, one cook posted that the sauce "tasted like it needed to be cooked." From her tip, and using only the ingredients I had on hand, this marvelous sauce arose:

1/3 c lowfat milk
1 tb chopped dill
1 tb good-quality dijon
splash of olive oil
1 tsp sugar
(All measurements are estimates--I knew I was only making one serving, so everything is roughly reduced by 4.)
Whisk all ingredients, add pepper to taste. Finely dice 1 shallot--sautee in a bit of olive oil. When shallot just starts to brown, add the sauce mixture. Simmer over low heat while grilling garlic and dill rubbed salmon filets in a grill pan.

This was one of the best salmon dishes I have ever had--sweet, tangy, well balanced, just right for summer! Swapping the cream for milk makes it creamy without being heavy. I paired this with a spinach salad with strawberries, almonds, mozzerella, and balsamic.

Salmon and spinach are both highly acclaimed super foods. Spinach is loaded with antioxidants, folate, and iron. Salmon is an outstanding source for omega-3 fatty acids, which aid in biological processes and help with keeping beautiful skin.

Having a recipe as a jumping off point is a great way to get you moving in a general direction, but improvising is the only way to really explore what you like and what you can do.