A One-Knife Workhorse

(James M. Thresher - For The Washington Post)
Wednesday, June 3, 2009

When we were married four years ago, my husband and I received a lovely J.A. Henckels International six-knife set. Ever since, I've ignored it in favor of the cheap serrated steak knives in my flatware drawer. Need to chop a carrot? Grab a steak knife. Need to dice a celery stalk? Grab a steak knife. Need to cut open a plastic bag filled with lettuce? Grab a steak knife.

Need to cut the steak on my plate? Grab a steak knife.

I feel guilty about it. We had requested the Henckels knives for our wedding registry, and they are beautiful, sharp and comfortable to hold. But the first time I took several of them from their sleek block, I couldn't decide which to use, because the knives have such different sizes and shapes. Should I use the cook's knife? The paring knife? The utility knife? The tomato knife? Which is which, anyway? I had to dig out the box from my basement and read the shape-decoder label on the side to find out.

Once, I mulled three knife possibilities for cutting an eggplant, but frankly, I just didn't have the patience to narrow it to one. Too many choices.

I tried two Henckels knives with broccoli. They worked fine, but still I wasn't satisfied. Guess what I found myself reaching for the next time? The unglamorous steak knife with the plastic handle, the one with a serrated edge sharp enough for seemingly any task yet not so sharp that I fear accidentally lopping off a finger with it. The serrated edge seems to grip whatever is being sliced, which slows the slicing a tad long enough to give a sense of stability. A straight-edge or partially serrated knife can whip through a vegetable or fruit so fast that I can't catch my breath sometimes. And the steak knife is so lightweight that using it makes me feel positively nimble.

I can use the knife's five-inch, stainless-steel blade to cut anything from a garlic clove (using the tip) to a two-pound pork roast. And with five steak knives in the drawer, there always seems to be a clean one available.

Where did they come from? My husband brought the steak knives into my life after they had been left unused for years in his apartment kitchen drawer. A non-cook, he says he has no idea how he obtained them.

The Henckels set came with a bonus set of six steak knives. Maybe someday, if my husband's old knives ever wear out, I'll finally have a reason to turn to the Henckels. At least that part of the set looks just about right.

-- Sarah Mark, Metro copy editor

Plastic-handled steak knives, $5 a dozen, at http://www.ablekitchen.com.

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