If I say the word ‘ceramic’, chances are you’d think of something delicate and pretty: blue-and-white china saucers, perhaps, or a vintage flower-sprigged teapot. You wouldn’t necessarily imagine brutal hardness and vicious sharpness. Unless, that is, you have tried one of the new breed of ceramic knives.
For 2,000 years the last word in knife technology has been steel in one form or another, whether old-fashioned carbon steel or the newer stainless-steel composites. The idea of making a knife from ceramic instead seems perverse. For ages I resisted ceramic blades because they look implausible, like toy knives for children.
But when you pick one up and actually use it, there’s nothing childish about the cutting edge. These things are ferocious. They show no mercy on a cucumber or an onion. I’ve been experimenting with a white ceramic Santoku knife (£45) made by Kyocera, the leading Japanese brand. In the evening as I prep the vegetables for supper, I am startled by the ease with which it reduces carrots to thin batons, red pepper to slivers and celery to fine dice. The blade doesn’t look like a real blade, but the evidence is there on the chopping-board.
Roger Morgan-Grenville, who distributes these knives in Britain, says he has found that ‘consumers instinctively don’t believe that something so light’ could handle ‘heavyweight cutting’. At food exhibitions, he does a ‘ripe tomato test’, letting people try to cut as many pieces from a tomato as possible. Ceramic is certainly great for cutting juicy tomatoes into salami-thin slices, and it’s a bonus that – unlike carbon steel, which leaves a nasty rusty taste on lemons and tomatoes – it is as non-corrosive as a pottery mug.
The ceramic used for knives is not the same as china, however. The key ingredient is a rare mineral, mined in Australia, called zircon. After the zircon blade is fired, the ceramic becomes 50 per cent harder than steel. What’s more, it holds a sharp edge about 10 times longer, meaning these knives hardly ever have to be sharpened.
What’s the catch? Read it here.
There are four main steps in making a great coffee: the grind, the pour/extraction, texturing/heating the milk, and then pouring the milk.
The grind is the first step a lot of people fall over. Many have the grind level set by the coffee company or service man, then never adjust it.
The grind needs to be set every day, since the weather (e.g. humidity) can have an effect on the grind. A good barista will check the grind each morning by making a few coffees before the store opens and adjusting the grinder accordingly. Throughout the day, the barista will continue to make minor adjustments. I will go into more detail soon.
Now the pour partly depends on the grind and the “tamp.” Most machines are automatic these days, so the size of the shot of coffee should be already set and therefore will not be a variable at this stage. Now you want to end up with a beautiful golden even-looking crema, the golden-brownish foam that covers a freshly-brewed cup of espresso, created by the high pressure of the water being forced through the coffee grounds. If your coffee does not have this golden crema on top, you need to start again, as your coffee will not be nice at all—it will be either bitter or weak. Again we will go into more detail in the next section.
The milk needs to be smooth, silky, and not too hot. Like the grind, this is a step that many people fall over. They end up with a airy bubbly mess of boiling-hot tasteless milk that ruins the coffee.
Each of these steps is just as important as the other, and all need to be perfected to make a truly great coffee: the kind of coffee that you will come back time and time again to experience.
Now before we get into cooking the really impressive stuff, we need to make sure you’re properly equipped. I love browsing kitchen stores and looking at all the cool gadgets, but honestly, most of the cool new kitchen things are completely unnecessary. In my opinion, things like burger presses, egg slicers, and pans with nonstick pockets made specifically for pancakes don’t provide enough value to justify their purchase, as well as the space they would take up in your cupboards. Observe this graph.
I think this is a good way to evaluate the use of a kitchen tool before buying it (also factor in cost, space it will take up, etc). For items that have one use, and that use is something easy like slicing an egg or forming a burger patty, just skip it. For things in the blue boxes, where they have one use that saves you a lot of hassle, or a lot of uses that save you a little hassle each, you’re the one who has to determine their usefulness. Things in green are necessities that everyone should have (imo). I’m going to share a few things that fall into the green box, but also some blue items as well that I, personally, would not want to live without.
1. A Good Knife.
2. Locking Metal Tongs.
3. Pizza Stone.
4. Garlic Press.
5. Meat Thermometer.
6. A Large Plastic Cutting Board.
7. Magnetic Knife Bar.
8. Grill pan.
9. The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs.