I read a certain food magazine that has a monthly column that is, in essence, a conversation with a chef. One of the questions they ask everyone is, “Besides your knives, what piece of kitchen equipment is most essential to you?” It got me thinking, how many people hate cooking because of all of the chopping involved? How many people relish the thought of spending some time just chopping, using it as a meditation of sorts?
I recently read this article in the LA Times about a connoisseur of Japanese knives who has a shop located in Venice, CA. Just a short trip up the 405 from Long Beach – although short is relative when it comes to LA traffic. After reading the article, I had to meet this guy. I know from experience the difference between a good knife and a bad one is like the difference between a great bottle of bordeaux and a wine cooler, and I was over wine coolers in high school.
What exactly makes a good knife good? The most important thing to me is how sharp it is. I can always tell when my knife is getting dull. It takes preparing a meal from relaxing and meditative directly to the seventh circle of hell. OK, maybe I exaggerate, but it is definitely not fun to have to saw at your onions and garlic with a dull knife. I don’t strive to be a lumberjack.
In the past, I’ve been a fan of German steel, but thought I would give Japanese knives a try. The difference between these two types of blades is similar to the difference between a macaron and a macaroon. They are both cookies and both good to eat, but they are nothing alike. I had an idea of this going in so I knew that it would be a learning experience. And really, who doesn’t love to play with swords?
When we arrived at Japanese Knife Imports, Jon was busy sharpening what looked like a cleaver on a stone. As he was sharpening, he spent a lot of time with me telling me the difference between Eastern & Western knives. His information came at me like blows from a ninja, quick and agile. He spoke about the thickness of the blade, the hardness and the brittleness of the steel used. I was so mesmerized by watching him turn the chipped old cleaver new again that I almost couldn’t concentrate on what he was saying. I got the gist, and knew I had to try one. Jon gave me an impromptu cutting lesson with some strawberries that I’m sure were supposed to be his lunch but made for good teaching aides.
Immediately, I noticed the difference in the motion used with a Japanese knife. The cut comes from the kinetic movement of the knife instead of the shear downward force. It was not entirely comfortable at first, but I could see how it could be beneficial when chopping lots of items at once. There is more of a finesse to it, and less of a muscling of your food. After my lesson, I decided on a knife to take home – a 240 MM Gesshin, made of stainless steel.
Once home, I wanted to take my new knife for a spin, or a chop if you will. I decided to make something that would test my ability to wield this knife and it’s ability to cut everything. (Well almost everything. Jon did warn me that I shouldn’t stab anyone with it, or cut metal.) Salsa it was! Not only would my experiment have me chopping soft tomatoes, thick skinned peppers, small cloves of garlic, and hard onions, but it would be tasty at the end of the day. Win-win!
The recipe below is more of a guide than an actual recipe. Salsa is all about individual taste and palate. I like mine very spicy and tangy with tons of cilantro. Not everyone’s into that, although I can’t figure out why.
I set out to breaking in the new knife and turned this:
- 3-4 medium sized tomatoes, chopped
- 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 - 1/2 red onion, diced
- 1/2 - 1 serrano pepper, diced
- 1/4-1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
- zest of 1-2 limes
- juice of 1-2 limes
- salt & pepper to taste
- Combine all ingredients, taste, tweak, and repeat until it suits your taste. Enjoy with chips, on chicken, in a salad or any where else you like salsa!