Editor’s note: All images courtesy of the participating companies.
Look up paring—as in paring knife—in the Merriam-Webster dictionary and ol’ Mr. Webster says it’s “the act of cutting away an edge or surface.”
This raises a question.
If the paring knife was originally designed as a peeling knife, does it still matter? Or is it relegated to the back of the flatware drawer, consigned to a future of rust and dust?
Chef Timothy Hollingsworth, who wears the double hat of chef and owner at the California restaurants with the respective names of Otium and Barrel and Ashes, said the scrappy paring knife—with a blade less than 4 inches designed for food prep—still holds its own against $5 peelers and glinting chef’s knives. Not only is a paring knife designed to peel, it can be called on to prepare pearl onions, scrape mushrooms and cut intricate designs to give food extra pizzazz.
“For the home cook,” Hollingsworth said, “paring knives are great because you’re able to hold the vegetables or fruit in your hand while cutting, whether that’s cutting potatoes into smaller chunks, or peeling an apple and cutting it into bite-sized pieces.”
Mother’s Day is around the corner, a time that seeks to honor the women whose varied accomplishment include making many a home-cooked meal, often with paring knife in hand. From contemporary to traditional, here are four designs that represent the latest in one of Mom’s go-to tools.
Kai Luna Paring Knife
It was about 10 years ago that Scott Zahm, director of sales for the housewares division of Kai USA Ltd., and other of his compatriots at Kai noticed people used paring knives as small utility blades, chopping a handful of parsley on a cutting board, for example.
“Many home cooks prefer a smaller knife that’s less intimidating and easier to control,” he said. Kai took to the drawing board with its Pure Komachi 2 and the resulting blade shape was wider than a traditional paring knife, with a deeper belly. The shape helped users navigate a cutting board with more agility.
This issue’s cover knife (page 7), the newer Luna Paring Knife, features the same profile. “We made the Kai Luna series for the adventurous cook on a budget,” Zahm said. The knife features a tsuchime, or hammered finish, and the edge is honed to a 16-degree angle on each side.
“All of the knives in the Luna series offer the performance good cooks demand at a price that even aspiring cooks can afford,” Zahm said. “With Luna’s tsuchime finish and contemporary styling, it’s an exciting and eye-catching addition to any kitchen.”
With a modified blade shape, does the paring knife usurp a chef’s knife in utility? Not really, Zahm said. Chef’s and paring knives work with each other, handling different-sized cutting jobs. Both are essential in the cook’s workspace.
Spyderco K09 Mini Paring Knife
Spyderco “thought small” when it redesigned the K09 Mini Paring Knife. The company still offers utility knives 4 and 6 inches long. However, Spyderco’s Joyce Laituri compared the K09 to a scalpel, giving users options from peeling fruit to removing small bones from meat.
“I use mine every year at Halloween to start the pumpkin carving process,” Laituri said. “We draw the face on a pumpkin and the K09 goes through gourd like a laser. It is easily controlled letting you create intricate and even lacy designs.”
Three years ago, Spyderco reintroduced the K09 with a new handle material. The Japanese-made knife features a polypropylene grip with ridges to enhance purchase with wet hands.
The K09’s 2.25-inch blade of MBS-26 stainless steel is thinly ground. The result is a blade that keeps its edge and has a slight spring to it, Laituri observed. When it comes to how often people should reach for a paring knife, Laituri said it depends on the cook. She often uses Spyderco’s 6-inch serrated utility knife. Her husband, on the other hand, barbecues and rarely uses a paring knife.
Fällkniven CMT Zulu
“I believe the paring knife is one of the most used knives in the kitchen and also the knife with the lowest reputation,” said Peter Hjortberger, founder of Fällkniven AB. “Usually a paring knife is made for being cheap, a knife you don’t need to care much about, just a [semi] sharp edge for daily tasks.”
Fällkniven went in the opposite direction, making the 3-inch blade of the CMT Zulu of laminated COS steel, the core consisting of a stainless steel that contains a high percentage of cobalt. Hjortberger called it “technically, a very advanced steel.”
“So, instead of searching for the cheapest steel, we go for the best steel, understanding that this knife will last a hundred years or more,” Hjortberger said. “To me, this is climate smart to make high-quality knives which will last during several generations instead of uttering out crap.”
The knife is full tang and handled with Micarta. The CMT Zulu features an old-world design ground with a convex edge common on knives before the Industrial Revolution. It is made in Japan with Swedish materials and quality control.
Often, the paring knife is the most-reached-for kitchen tool, not just for cooking but also for common household chores. Paring knives are non-frightening, Hjortberger said, and women might like the more manageable design.
Case Paring Knife
According to Case’s Fred Feightner, paring knives have homes in restaurants offering nearly every type of cuisine. In 2012, Case resurrected its paring knife offering, giving home cooks the option of a handle of black synthetic or walnut. With the walnut handles, brass rivets gleam from the wood. Case offers four paring knives in its Household Cutlery collection.
“We knew people would want their household set to be complemented by a paring knife or two,” Feightner opined. “Case paring knives have been a part of the American kitchen’s tool set for many years.”
Case manufactures paring knives with either a clip-point blade, where the clip drops to the gently curving edge, and the spear-point, where the spine and edge meet in an acute tip. Both are made from Case Tru-Sharp™ surgical steel, the company’s equivalent of 420HC stainless.
Paring Knife Maintenance Tips
After use, a few moments of care can extend the life of a paring knife. While convenient for pots and pans, etc., the dishwasher is notorious for destroying knives.
“Dishwashers are never kind to household knives,” Feightner said, “because the blade edges can be dulled by the movement of the knives during cleaning, and the detergents made for automatic dishwashers will tend to stain and pit the blades. Our wooden-handled knives have natural oils and pigments within them that can be compromised by the high temperatures employed by the dishwasher. As a result, fading and splitting of the wooden handles can occur.
“We recommend hand washing, using a mild-strength detergent, followed by a prompt water rinsing and hand drying with a clean towel. Cleaning products that include chlorine and/or bleach in them can cause the stainless-steel blades to discolor and pit.”
Knives stored loosely in a drawer can rattle against each other, chipping edges and posing cutting hazards to anyone rummaging for a blade. Once their knives are clean, professional chefs store them in a knife bag, roll or case. At home, a knife block, a magnetic strip or in a drawer as long as they are in sheaths, work equally as well to preserve the life of kitchen knives. After all, from feats of culinary artistry to cutting string, the paring knife will rest in kitchens for decades to come.
Mom, or Anyone, Will Like This, too
The official knife of BLADE Show 2018 is this special edition CRKT Caligo.
- Only 150 made
- Serialized number
- BLADE Show logo on blade
- Designer TJ Schwarz’s signature on the blade