My kitchen, like much of my small apartment, gets cluttered. I recently took stock, overwhelmed by the effects of neglect, and here’s what I found: a cupboard full of snacks I’ll never eat, a fridge of bad beer I’ll never drink (leftovers from a potluck), and a tool drawer so packed that it didn’t quite close right. Over the years, things add up, like apple peelers, bamboo salad claws or a spiral cutter that makes “noodles” out of vegetables — the kinds of gadgets Alton Brown calls “unitaskers.” I had all these things, and used them once, maybe twice, so I threw them in a bin and planned to take them to Goodwill.
When it came to my knives, however, I took pause. I found a long, flexible slicer, which I bought that one time I got drunk in college and ordered a whole leg of Serrano ham on the internet. And my boning knife, which was a gift that I hadn’t bothered to use ever. Then there was my cleaver, a hodgepodge of random steak knives, and a lone clam knife too, the origins of which might forever remain a mystery. Like my unitaskers, I didn’t use these knives. But they were pretty, prettier than clunky plastic gadgets, and I generally like pretty things. Also, maybe I’d need them in the future, I told myself. Then again, maybe not. So I emailed Matthew Rudofker, executive chef at Momofuku Ssäm Bar in New York City, and asked his advice.
“I think that the most important knife to an individual depends on what the knife is being used for,” he replied. “If you are a fishmonger, then a fish filet knife or a boning knife is likely your most important knife. That said, if you’re looking to do all-purpose knife work, I would say a chef’s knife is most important. For your home, you will want knives that are going to be able to handle a variety of tasks. I would say that having an eight-to-nine-inch chef’s knife, a two-to-four-inch paring knife, and six-to-eight-inch bread knife will keep you well equipped to handle most kitchen work.”
So when I dropped off that bin at Goodwill, it had both gadgets and my surplus knives. Sure, blades are pretty, I thought. But so is a tidy kitchen.