A paring knife is a very small knife, but one of the few that a home cook will probably need. This knife is a specialty knife, meaning it is meant for very specific tasks. Many chefs consider it the second most important knife to own besides the chef’s knife, although not everyone agrees.
What is Paring?
The paring knife gets its name from its role. Paring basically means to cut away the outer surface or to remove the ends from a fruit or vegetable. This knife, then, is used to remove the outer peels or layers from fruits or vegetables, and to further trim and prepare them.
Although of course, you can peel many fruits and vegetables with a peeler, imagine trying to peel, for example, a tomato, orange, or even a grape with one. Paring knives can be used to remove the cores from fruits, to hull strawberries, or cut citrus fruit into supremes. The difficult task of removing the outer peel of an onion without wasting too much is easier with a paring knife, as well.
The typical paring knife has a short, sturdy blade, from 2 to 4 inches in length, which a straight or curved cutting edge. They are light-weight and easy to hold in the hand while working with delicate fruits. If you have just a little trimming to do on chicken or meat, a paring knife will work for this, too.
Sometimes the chef’s knife is too big to do delicate jobs with precision. A lightweight knife you can hold in your hand can make all the difference. Take, for instance, cutting around the core of a peach or avocado. You are less likely to cut yourself if you use a paring knife as opposed to a large bulky and heavy knife.
Other Paring Knife Uses
Besides the above tasks, paring knives come in handy for the following jobs:
- deveining shrimp
- removing seeds and membranes from chiles
- slicing cheese or cured sausages like salami or pepperoni
- cutting corn kernels off a cob
- removing the eyes from a potato without removing too much skin
- scraping out vanilla beans (if you can ever afford vanilla beans, I’m just a poor writer)
Types of Paring Knives
Paring knives tend to come in two different sizes, a 3 to 4 inch blade and a 2 to 3 inch blade. The shorter bladed models have a curved blade and are sometimes call a “bird’s beak” paring knife. Owning both is ideal, but if you have to choose just one, go with a longer curved blade in case you also want to be able to use the knife on a cutting board, as with trimming little pieces of fat from poultry or meat, or just for cutting vegetables, etc., should you choose to do so. Avoid an overly rounded blade, however and a tip that is turned up at a sharp angle, as this will make using the point of the knife difficult for coring or hulling. Although it is possible to get paring knives with blades as long as 5 inches, most will probably prefer a blade in the 3 to 3.5 inch range.
A straight blade can actually be better for certain hand-held tasks an as long as the blade is perfectly straight you can use them on a cutting board, as you will probably never use a curved paring knife in a rocking motion like you might with a chef’s knife. Besides the classic styles recommended above, which have blades that are not overly rounded, there are many choices in straight-blades such as Santoku styles, hollow edge blades and different tip like the so-called bird’s beak or sheep’s foots, both suitable for specific carving tasks. Few home cooks will need to over-think the paring knife, however, and one of the modern classics, recommended above and suitable for all-around use will suit most of us just fine. If you need a less expensive knife that will still hold-up well, a popular choice is the Forschner 3.25″ Paring Knife by Victorinix.
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