Monday, December 15, 2014
Beautiful. And terrible.
A week and a half ago, I fleshed out my collection of Shun Classic knives with the bread knife (verdict: makes my old bread knife look like a bat with nails in it), and promised myself I would get Shun's Blue line kiritsuke. I was so pleased with my purchase that I decided to poke around the internet and see what reviews of the knife were like - someone must have tried the Shun Blue, after all.
I wound up at cheftalk.com, which, as it turns out, are forums for people who are as crazy about cooking gear as we are about video games. These people know their shit, and the consensus at those forums is Shun knives aren't worth the price. There are tons of better options for slightly more money.
The first bone of contention I stumbled across was that Shun knives are measured in inches - not millimetres - which, these folks advise, instantly denote them as mass-produced products tailored to mainstream American sensibilities, and not purely designed as articles of Japanese craft. Sure they're beautiful, but they're also kinda' terrible.
And it was like...
This news struck me like a thousand pointy arrows, and I desperately went through the forums for something I could understand - something that explained why the knives were shit without using terms like "profile." I don't know what the fuck that means. It must be like what people feel like when they stumble across Penny Arcade and see us throwing terms like "mechanics," "pacing" and "expression" around without any context.
The ultimate point of these learned gentlemen and women was that Shun knives aren't bad, they're just painted up like some sort of silly knife-clown with their gorgeous Damascus cladding and for a hundred or two hundred dollars more, you could get a Formula 1 instead of a Challenger Hellcat.
I paid $200 for my Shun Classic chef's knife. I could have paid $350 for the 240 millimetre Mizuno Hontanren Blue #2 Gyuto, which was literally hand-crafted, hand-forged, hand-hammered by members of the ancient Mizuno family.
These are real knives. These are the Formula 1s. And my Shuns..?
They're just the sports cars from a mainstream brand. They roll off assembly lines - and sure, they're hand-sharpened, but... they're not art.
Are they art?
I don't even know, man.
I stopped looking for reviews of their Blue kiritsuke and started drooling over knife porn for like three days, pouring over thousand-dollar hand-crafted Japanese knives. But what's the point? I'm not paying $1000.00 for a fucking knife. For $400 I could get an Xbox One, and I don't even want an Xbox One, but that seems like a more valuable investment.
Whatever. Fuck it, man. Fuck it. Y'know what, cheftalk.com?
After the last post, I brought it up in conversation with Kayla - had I really never made my lasagna for her? Turns out, no, I hadn't.
So I procured a bunch of ricotta and some fresh mozzarella and some large noodles and set to work creating a layered masterpiece. I like the sauce to be really thick in my lasagna, so it's not just a big wet mess, and the beginning of that is a really hearty mirepoix. I used my ten-inch chef to halve the carrots and switched to my seven-inch beveled santoku for the finer work, and in no time flat I had a nice stock of finely diced veggies, ready for the pot.
I deglazed the pot I'd browned my burger in with some wine, scraped up the brown bits and once that had reduced I added some oil and the mirepoix, and in my head, I was mulling over how sub-par these knives were supposed to be.
They're doing a pretty damned good job, for the record - and the cheftalk folks say what knife you use doesn't matter - what matters is what you're able to produce with them.
Apparently I'm supposed to hone them "once a week with regular use." Well, I don't cook that much, so I don't hone them all that often, but it's been a few months since I got the santoku, so I decided to tease its edge back to perfect.
Being careful of the angle, I thwipped it down the honer - three times on this side, three times on that, then two, then two, then one, then one. And that's one sharp motherfucker.
Then, I decided to knock up my mirepoix a bit with some garlic. It had cooked down a bit - was getting nice and mellow-gold - so now would be a good time to add garlic without burning it. I smashed the garlic, removed the skins and took to chop chop chopping and sheared off a big dragonscale-shaped chunk of the nail of my middle finger on my left hand.
I didn't even feel it, at first. There was no resistance. It had gone through my nail and flesh like it was butter. No blood, even. The cut was too perfect.
I held up my finger and the blood slowly began to seep up through where the nail had protected it. I picked the nail and the sliver of tissue that clung to it off the cutting board, went upstairs to find a first aid kit, wrapped it up and finished my lasagna.
The lasagna turned out very well, for the record. Though Kayla has confessed she's not very fond of lasagna.
On the bright side, this throws in to stark relief the fact that if I had a real top-of-the-line knife I'd probably mutilate myself beyond repair or comedy. The Shuns are infinitely better than the crap knives my parents own - the crap knives I grew up using - or the knives you'll find in any department store.
So what if the cooking crazies think they're less than spectacular? I'm less than spectacular, and I get a lot done.
They're better than any high-end German knife you'll find, and the important part is they make creating awesome food for my loved ones a bit more pleasant, a bit more beautiful - and if I disrespect them for a moment, they will take pieces of me. Beautiful, and terrible as the dawn - like that elf chick in Lord of the Rings.
For God's sake, I'm not on Iron Chef. I just want to make something delicious for the ones I love - and I can certainly do that with a set of Shuns.