The Importance of Knives
by Vernon Summerlin
Best Chef and Fillet Knives
Epicurious.com is a food resource for the home cook with daily kitchen tips, cooking videos, recipes and test kitchen. I recently found this article about chef’s knives. I’ve been slicing, dicing and whacking fish and game for more than a half-century. I’ve used only two knives most of that time; a Rapala fillet knife for fish and small game and a Buck 119 for deer and large fish like salmon.
The chef’s knife is probably a cook’s most important tool. And given the amount of time it spends in your hand, it’s definitely worth making sure you have a good one. The best knives are forged from a single piece of steel that runs the entire length of the knife. But knives vary and can be daunting to shop for plus they raise a lot of questions such as: Do you want a full tang and what’s that?, Do you want a western-style or Japanese-style knife? Do you want a thick blade or a thin one?, A heavy blade or a light one? And how much do they cost? To add to your frustration of the last question, highly rated products range from fewer that $10 to more than $3,000.
Epicurious.com tested 17 eight-inch blades from leading brands that cost between $6 and $175 to find the best chef’s knives for home cooks at the best prices. Three ended up a cut above the rest (pun intended ;>). The 2021 winners were (drum roll please!)…
- Best overall: Mac Professional Hollow Edge Chef’s Knife
- Runner-up: Global Classic Chef’s Knife
- Best budget: Victorinox Fibrox Pro Chef’s Knife
For more in-depth information of the three blades and others, see epicucurious.com.
At thespruceeats.com, the Victorinox was their first choice. The best knives are forged, not stamped, from a single piece of steel that runs the entire length of the knife, a full-tang, and are made of high-carbon stainless steel that is very hard and keeps an edge a long time and won’t discolor or rust like ordinary carbon steel. In addition to providing strength, a full tang gives your blade better balance, making your knife easier to use. “Partial-tang or half-tang knives are barely worth talking about, let alone buying” says thespruceeats.com. More details are available at their web site.
There are a few things to pay attention before you purchase a fillet blade. Most of all you want a quality knife that will last a long time. That knife will be cheaper in the long run. There are a number of factors concerning the filleting knife’s blade. Always look for a fillet knife blade that’s thin yet durable, holds a sharp edge, and is the right length for the fish you’re cleaning. The right amount of flex is also important. Not all fillet knives are created equal, however. There are literally countless options available in size, raw materials, design and quality. It’s important to choose with care because the wrong knife can waste meat, make fish-cleaning duties a slow and frustrating process, and increase your risk of cutting yourself while transitioning your catch from the lake to the plate.
Your first decision when selecting a fillet knife is whether to choose a traditional, handheld knife or an electric-powered knife. Traditional fillet knives allow precise cuts and excel at extracting the maximum amount of meat from a variety of game fish, including crappie, trout, pan fish, catfish and walleyes. They’re also great choices for removing the dreaded Y-bones from northern pike.
Electric fillet knives tend to be faster and require less effort than traditional options but they are also larger, heavier and often considerably more expensive than traditional knives. Plus, electric knives require a practiced hand to operate efficiently and, of course, they also need a power source – either AC or battery-operated models. Many people swear by them, but I’ve tried several brands and they’ve all ended up in a drawer I don’t open. I can see their advantage over a manually operated one when filleting a large number of fish.
Thanks to its location at the business end of a fillet knife, the blade is one of the most critical considerations in your selection process.
Flex is especially important for making delicate cuts such as when following contours while skinning the fish or trimming around bones and fins. A modest amount of flex (the blade flexes about an inch or so each way when you press the tip against a solid surface) is desirable on short, thin blades used for smaller fish and making precision cuts. Larger knives with thicker blades may have less flex but the ability to bend is still important.
Choose an ergonomic handle that comfortably fits your hand and allows you to control the blade while maintaining a firm grip even when your hand or knife handle becomes covered in water, blood or fish slime. A comfortable handle reduces strain and fatigue during lengthy cleaning sessions while a secure grip is paramount for safety.
Sweet Beer Battered Fillets
4 – 6 crappie fillets
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
1/2 cup beer (room temperature)
Oil for deep frying
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 cup smooth Dijon mustard
In a bowl, combine flour, salt, pepper, baking powder, dry mustard and cayenne pepper. Add room temperature beer and whisk. Cold beer requires you let the batter sit for an hour after mixing. Heat the oil to 360 degrees. Test the oil by sprinkling a few drops of batter into it. The batter droplets should sizzle and immediately rise to the top of the oil. Dip and thoroughly coat fillets in the batter. Fry until crispy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove fish and drain on paper towels. Blend maple syrup and Dijon mustard for your dipping sauce.