A chef's knife (also known as French Knife) is an indispensable tool to a chef. One can call it: an evolved butcher's knife. Originally, this knife was used by butchers who used to slice thick meats (like beef). But with years, it has become an integral part of a kitchen closet for slicing, mincing, chopping, disjointing, etc., with finesse. However, there is another knife that gives a tough competition to the chef's knife and that is the Japanese santoku (also known as Buncha bocho). It is a general purpose kitchen knife which prominently evolved in Japan. With its excellent cutting ability to slice meats and chop vegetables, it is gaining undisputed popularity in the West.
It is usually 6-14 inches long with the blade part, about 8 inches long and 1½ inches wide. It can be further differentiated as French knives and German knives, of which the latter is slimmer in appearance and the former is broad.
This knife, in literal sense means "three good things" or "three virtues" and hence is considered by the Japanese as a well-balanced knife. Santoku is shorter and is about 5-7 inches long. Its unique appearance is defined by its wider blade (sheep foot shaped) and a straight edge that doesn't curve at its tip. Also these knives are made from harder steel. It is often nicknamed as the "Almighty knife".
Making the Choice
Santoku knives operate in a unique fashion with their blades moving in a vertical motion while cutting. Although they are quite sharp and light, people who are accustomed to using chef's knife find it cumbersome to use santoku initially. When using it, the motion of the blade is directed up ad down on every cut, which is not precisely the case with the chef's knife. However, being an all purpose kitchen knife, it finds a laudable place in almost all culinary related activities like chopping, slicing, and mincing meat or vegetables. On a chopping board, it is rather fun to use as it works better in scrapping the foods off for sautéing purposes. However, a chef's knife is no less. Slicing and shredding are done with ease, using it. There is one popular kind of shredding, in which the leafy green vegetables are rolled up, the leaves are cut perpendicular to the roll and the knife cuts the vegetables into extremely small pieces. This kind of shredding technique is also known as "chiffonade". A chef's knife can cleanly slice out the meat from the bone without much effort.
However, when it comes to knife care, santoku needs some extra attention. These knives must be hand washed, after you are done with cutting and chopping. Also, due to their thin build, these knives should not be used against hard cutting surfaces (like marble). To keep them sharp, one can use a stone or regular knife sharpening tools. Also you can take your santoku to a professional knife sharpener to get better results.
Both the knives are interchangeable, depending on the kind of job. Usage of these knives depends on various factors as listed below:
- What is your cooking history?
- What is the size of your hands?
- Do you move the blade in chopping motion or rocking motion?
- Do you finger the blade of your knife?
Apart from the above listed questions, your diet lifestyle also factors your choice. A home cook may prefer a chef's knife, pertaining to the maintenance factor attached with the other (like sharpening it from time to time). Santoku, originally made in Japan, was designed for foods that mainly constitute vegetables and fish. This is also a reason as to why it is best for cutting vegetables and fish. However, due to their thin and sharp blade, they can get chipped easily, if not maintained properly. Whereas in the Western countries, red meat and poultry constitute major diet. And hence, chef's knife is a better alternative!