In this revised and updated edition of the book that thousands of cooks have turned to when they have a question, the science authority Howard Hillman provides the latest findings about everything from cooking methods, equipment, and food storage to nutrition and health concerns.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Howard Hillman is the author of more than twenty-five books on food and wine. He has contributed articles to the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Food & Wine as well as other distinguished publications.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Are quality knives a bargain?
Yes, because quality knives should last you a lifetime. Inexpensive ones
normally need to be replaced every five years or so. That"s why it is more
cost-effective in the long run to invest in a few quality knives than to
a broader assortment of less expensive and inferior implements. As a
your cutting, chopping, and slicing tasks will be quicker and easier. Our
recommended five-knife starter set performs a wide variety of tasks. It
comprises a 3- to 4-inch (blade length) paring knife, a 6-inch utility knife, an
inch serrated slicing knife, an 8-inch chef "s (chopping) knife, and a 10-inch
nonserrated slicing (carving) knife. You also need a 10-inch butcher steel for
Are dull knives more dangerous than sharp ones?
Without question. The sharper the knife, the less likely the cook is to cut
himself. This may sound like dull-witted reasoning, but the point is valid for
two pragmatic reasons. First, people tend to be more careful when using
sharper knives because the potential harm is more vivid in their minds.
Second, a duller knife is more apt to slip when cutting because it requires
more downward pressure to do the job.
There are more benefits from a sharp knife than just safety. It
makes cutting quicker and more efficient and minimizes ripping and tearing
How do the four basic knife-blade alloys differ?
Virtually all kitchen knives have blades of steel, an alloy consisting mainly
iron mixed with carbon and a smaller portion of other elements. The critical
difference between carbon and stainless steel alloys is that the first has a
higher carbon content, whereas the other amalgamation contains more
chromium, and often nickel.
The high-carbon stainless knife is betwixt and between the two—
its carbon, chromium, and nickel proportions lie somewhere in between
of the standard carbon and stainless steel varieties. Yet another variation of
the theme is the superstainless knife, the one with the scintillating silvery
look. Its alloy—at least its plating alloy—is impregnated with relatively large
quantities of chromium and nickel.
An alloy"s precise makeup determines to a considerable extent a
knife"s advantages and disadvantages for a cook.
What are the pros and cons of each knife-blade alloy?
A carbon steel blade is unequaled in its ability to take an extremely sharp
edge, and therefore it is preferred by most serious chefs. The major
of carbon steel is that unless the blade is promptly wiped dry after each
it will rust. The alloy is also vulnerable to attack by the acid in foods like
citrus fruits, tomatoes, and onions. If the knife is not washed soon after
contact with these ingredients, the acid will react chemically with the metal,
blemishing the blade"s surface with blackish stains. Moreover, that
discoloration and its attendant off-odor can be transferred to the foods you
Superstainless steel is the least efficient of the four basic knife
alloys. It is all but impossible for a cook to restore the sharpness once the
knife loses its original well-honed edge (if the manufacturer gave it one in
first place). Kitchenware demonstrators speak hokum when they claim that
superstainless steel knives never need to be sharpened. What they should
tell you is that their product can"t be sharpened.
Stainless steel, like its super cousin, resists rust, stains, and
corrosion caused by water and acid. Though it takes a sharper edge than a
superstainless one, a stainless steel blade will still be annoyingly dull in the
hands of a busy cook.
A high-carbon stainless steel knife—by far the most expensive of
the four types—will neither rust nor stain. Consequently, it is the answer for
cook who lives by the sea or in a humid climate, because salt can corrode
and moisture can oxidize (rust) nonstainless steel. High-carbon stainless
steel is also recommended for cooks who do not want to be bothered with
having to wash the knife and wipe it dry promptly after each use—or who do
not want the knife blade to become tarnished because the chore was
Although a blade made from high-carbon stainless steel can be
honed to a fairly sharp edge, do not believe the food writers and salespeople
who tell you that its sharpness will match that of a knife made with carbon
steel. As our kitchen tests verify, this is physically impossible.
What else should I look for when buying a knife?
Selecting the right blade alloy is not enough. You should buy only a knife
produced by a quality manufacturer because fine knife making requires
skilled workmanship involving a myriad of precision tasks, such as
the steel. In fact, unless you can buy superb carbon steel knives (they are
becoming difficult to find in America nowadays), we recommend that you
purchase the top-of-the-line, high-carbon stainless steel knives of a quality
manufacturer, such as Wüsthof (Trident trademark) or Henckels.
The tang (the part of the metal enclosed by the handle) should run
the full length of the handle and should be well secured with at least three
rivets. Otherwise, the handle and the metal part of the knife may separate
within a matter of years. The full tang also contributes weight and balance,
two essential qualities that inexpensive knives usually lack.
A knife"s handle should be easy to grasp and feel comfortable in
your hand. Its material should be durable and nonslippery. Nearly all
hardwood and many modern plastic-and-wood composite grips fit the bill;
plastic hilts do not.
What is the best tool for sharpening knives?
Honing a knife on one of those extremely coarse grinding wheels or belts
are commonly used by peregrinating peddlers or key makers is one of the
most unsatisfactory methods. Repeated sharpenings on these instruments
wear away your blade within a few years.
Almost as bad are those small pairs of steel rotating disk-
cylinders that are supposed to be attached to a kitchen door or cabinet. Not
only do these gadgets devour the metal of the blade faster than need be,
tend to scratch the blade too much and throw it out of alignment. Electric
knife sharpeners perform better, though they are not recommended for high-
quality carbon or high-carbon steel knives. These countertop appliances
permanently alter the angular shape of the knife"s cutting edge given by the
The best day-to-day sharpening implement is the butcher"s steel,
a rough-surfaced, hard metal rod equipped with a handle. However, unless
you use the steel frequently to sharpen the knife, as a butcher is wont to
the edge of your knife may dull beyond the restorative powers of the honing
rod. In that case, you will need to sharpen the knife periodically with a
whetstone, a small, abrasive, bluish-black block made of the exceptionally
hard silicon carbide Carborundum (available in most hardware stores).
Sometimes the abrasive material is a thin coating of minuscule diamonds.
What is the ideal honing angle?
Some say that 15° is the correct honing angle, whereas other estimates
place the number at 25° or even 30°.We experimented and found that
approximately 20° produces the best all-around results. A good way to
whether you are honing at or near a 20° angle is to refer to the
graphic as you practice with an actual knife and butcher steel.
Where should sharp knives be stored?
Certainly not intermingled in a drawer with other knives and utensils. Every
time you open and close the drawer, knives jostle about, damaging their
cutting edges. One of the best storage solutions is a wood knife block
also makes knives very accessible). Buy one with horizontal slots. With
vertical slots, you drag a knife"s cutting edge along the wood each time you
insert and remove the utensil.
Can I slice food with a chef "s knife?
Not if you want thin, attractive slices. A chef "s knife is designed to chop,
slice. As the accompanying illustration shows, there is a notable
for reasons of function—between the cross-sectional blade of the slicing
and the chef "s knife. Because the slicing knife blade is relatively thin,
and food crushing is minimized as the knife slides through the food. Just as
important, the thinner design allows the carver to cut narrower and more
uniform slices because the blade stays reasonably parallel to the face of
What about doing the opposite, chopping firm food with a slicing
knife? The chef "s knife does a much better job because its wedge shape is
broader on the top of its cross-section than the slicing knife. That extra
weight gives the blade extra momentum and therefore more power to help
cook chop through firm foods like garlic and carrots.
Should I buy a wood or polyethylene cutting board?
The harder a cutting surface, the more quickly a knife dulls. Hard surfaces
include metal, marble, china, crockery, enamel, glass, and most kitchen
countertops. The softest, and therefore the most desirable of the popular
cutting surfaces, is wood. Though softwood does less harm to the knife"s
edge, hardwood is used most often because it absorbs less moisture and
Polyethylene boards are not as hard as, say, metal and glass,
they are harder than wood. Consequently, a knife becomes duller faster on
polyethylene boards than on wood ones. Even though polyethylene is
to clean, most good cooks insist on wood cutting boards because keeping
knife sharp is crucial.
Hard cutting surfaces are not the only anathema to a sharp knife
blade. A blade that nicks too many bones or scrapes hard kitchenware in a
dishwasher or on a drying rack also may not cut the mustard.
Are hardwood spoons worth their higher price?
Hardwood spoons cost more than softwood spoons because they are made
of more expensive material and are more difficult to carve. They absorb less
bacteria and cooking flavors because their wood is less porous. They are
less likely to scorch, stain, crack, or warp. They dry faster, are more
attractive, and last more than twice as long as softwood spoons.
Why is good heat distribution a virtue for a stove-top pan?
Unless heat can quickly spread through the entire bottom of a pan, "hot"
and "cold" spots will develop. The hot spots will be directly over the places
where the heat source comes in contact with the pan. Thus, if the gas
is starfish-shaped, or if the configuration of the electric coil is a spiral, the
spots will follow those patterns.
The problem of frying or braising in a pan that has hot and cold
spots is that you cannot cook the food properly—unless you do nothing
but constantly and thoroughly stir the contents (and when braising, you
not do that even if you so desired). The food over the hot spots will
Or, if you lower the heat to prevent scorching, the food will take longer to
cook or there will probably be insufficient heat to cook the other portions of
If you discover that your pots have hot spots and you do not wish
to replace the equipment, you can minimize the defect by using a heat
diffuser or by using a low heat setting.
When cooking food in a generous quantity of boiling or simmering
water, you need not worry so much about the negative effects of hot and
spots on the bottom of your pan. By the time the heat reaches the food, the
cooking medium (water) will have more or less equalized the two
extremes. The same principle holds true for steaming.
The speed at which heat can travel through a pan"s bottom is a
function of how well it conducts heat (see "How is heat transferred to food?"
in chapter 2, pp. 28–29). Conductivity varies mainly according to the type of
metal as well as the thickness and finish of the metal.
Of the popular pan materials, which are the fastest heat conductors and
which the slowest?
The fastest guns in town are silver, tin, and copper. Aluminum is quick on
Middling-speed substances include cast iron and carbon (rolled)
steel, the type of sheet metal that is used to fashion traditional woks and
crepe pans. Stainless steel ranks even lower in heat-flow efficiency.
Even poorer conductors are glass, porcelain, earthenware, and
pottery in general. The sluggish attributes of these materials, however, can
be a plus in serving dishes. Providing that such a vessel is covered and its
walls are thick enough, it absorbs and gives up heat so languidly that it
should keep your food warm for a long time.
Factors other than the type of metal also determine how evenly a
pot heats food. The thicker its gauge, the more uniformly a pot will
heat throughout its interior surface. However, though a thicker gauge will
compensate for the mediocre heat-conducting properties of iron, the weight
the extra metal usually makes the pot unwieldy. A metal"s finish also
Are copper pots worth the money?
We do not recommend purchasing mass-produced pseudo-copper
pots and pans—the lightweight, stamped stainless steel type with copper-
coated bottoms. The buyer gets the headache of the genuine copper
equipment (keeping the metal polished) without enjoying the heat
advantage. The copper coating that is used to produce this lower-priced
equipment is typically less than 1/50 of an inch thick—too thin to distribute
heat uniformly. Even the stainless steel is deplorably thin.
Authentic copper pots and pans, which are quite dear, are
excellent because the thick copper metal distributes the heat evenly
throughout the base and the lower sides of the cooking utensil. However, if
the copper base becomes mottled with black carbon deposits, the even
distribution is greatly impaired and hot spots develop, turning a positive into
negative. This is why we never recommend copper cooking equipment to
anyone who doesn"t have the time and inclination to keep it clean and
polished—and it is a chore, to be sure.
Another drawback of authentic copper pots is that they must be
periodically relined with tin, an expensive process. The pan must be relined
once the tin starts to wear away appreciably because ...
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Book Description HOUGHTON MIFFLIN, United States, 2003. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Revised and Updated ed.. 208 x 140 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****. A revised and updated cooking handbook answers questions about cooking utensils, equipment, and techniques, the taste of foods, and the chemistry involved in cooking and preserving foods, from why heirloom fruits and vegetables taste better than supermarket varieties to how weather affects outdoor grilling times and why dry rubs give more flavor to meat than marinades. Original. Bookseller Inventory # APC9780618249633
Book Description HOUGHTON MIFFLIN, United States, 2003. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Revised and Updated ed.. 208 x 140 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****.A revised and updated cooking handbook answers questions about cooking utensils, equipment, and techniques, the taste of foods, and the chemistry involved in cooking and preserving foods, from why heirloom fruits and vegetables taste better than supermarket varieties to how weather affects outdoor grilling times and why dry rubs give more flavor to meat than marinades. Original. Bookseller Inventory # APC9780618249633
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Book Description Mariner Books. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Paperback. 336 pages. Dimensions: 8.2in. x 5.5in. x 0.9in.In this revised and updated edition of the book that thousands of cooks have turned to when they have a question, the science authority Howard Hillman provides the latest findings about everything from cooking methods, equipment, and food storage to nutrition and health concerns. This item ships from multiple locations. Your book may arrive from Roseburg,OR, La Vergne,TN. Paperback. Bookseller Inventory # 9780618249633
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