Just like an artist uses different brushes to create beautiful works of art, a chef uses different knives to create culinary masterpieces. From the chef’s knife to the boning knife, different knives have different jobs in the kitchen, making them all essential tools to have on hand – and the paring knife is one of those essential tools every cook should own.
What is a Paring Knife and What is it Used For?
Compared to most other kitchen knives, the paring knife is the baby of the family. With a blade measuring only 2 ½ to 4 inches long, it’s shaped like a chef’s knife in miniature with a curved blade and pointed tip; however, its small size makes it the perfect choice for ingredients that require detailed handwork, from peeling fruits and vegetables to scoring meats and deveining shrimp.
Top Uses for a Paring Knife
The uses for a paring knife are almost limitless; it’s the perfect tool for delicate work, including peeling, hulling, slicing, mincing, trimming, segmenting and scoring.
How to Use a Paring Knife for Slicing and Mincing
While a chef’s knife is the perfect tool for mincing an onion or a bell pepper, it’s much more cumbersome to use for dainty items like shallots, garlic cloves, herbs or even pitting and chopping dates. Instead, use a paring knife to slice or mince these smaller foods.
For these tasks, you’ll use the knife much like you would its larger counterpart. Place the food on a cutting board and hold the knife with your fingers wrapped around the handle, thumb pinched against the handle, or the flat of the blade near the handle. Keep the fingers of your off-hand curled under as you hold the food to slice or mince.
How to Use a Paring Knife for Peeling
A sharp paring knife is just the right tool for stripping the peel off an apple or a potato in one long, curly strip. Since this is most easily accomplished while holding the food in your hand, rather than setting it on a cutting board, you’ll need to slightly adjust your knife grip.
To hold the paring knife for detailed handwork, wrap your fingers around the hilt with the blade facing your thumb. Your thumb stays free to help guide the food, so make sure you have a comfortable and controlled grip, and don’t force the blade. A sharp paring knife makes all the difference when you’re peeling, allowing you to skim away the skin without taking much of the flesh below. Use this technique for thin-skinned fruits and vegetables that are easily held in your hand. For larger items, or thick-skinned fruits like citrus, set the food on a cutting board and remove the skin by slicing downward.
How to Use a Paring Knife for Segmenting
If you’re not a fan of bitter orange pith, or want clean, gleaming segments of citrus for a salad or a garnish, break out your paring knife and practice segmenting. Also called “supreming”, this is the process of removing the peel and pith of citrus fruits, and then removing each segment cleanly from the surrounding membranes.
If you’ve ever had canned mandarin oranges, completely free of tough membrane and bitter pith, that’s essentially the end result of careful segmenting. To do this, slice the stem and blossom ends off your citrus to provide a flat surface. Set the fruit on a cutting board and slice downward to remove the peel and pith in long strips. Then use the tip of your paring knife to trace out each segment individually and remove them. Voila! Perfectly segmented citrus.
How to Use a Paring Knife for Trimming, Hulling & Cleaning
There are a multitude of little kitchen tasks that require fine detail, like trimming the ribs from peppers, hulling strawberries, or deveining shrimp. A paring knife is perfectly suited to all of these. Use the same knife grip as for peeling to neatly snip the leafy caps off strawberries in one slice, or preserve their shape by using the tip of the knife to cut a cone-shaped core from the top of the berry, removing both the leaves and the tougher flesh at the stem end. Use the same technique to core tomatoes without getting juice everywhere.
The pointed tip of the knife also comes in handy when deveining shrimp. Make a shallow slice down the back of the shrimp to expose the vein, and use the tip of the knife to carefully lift it out. This can be done with both peeled and unpeeled shrimp.
How to Use a Paring Knife for Scoring
Scoring is the process of putting many thin slices into the surface of a food to allow for the expansion of rising foods like bread, or to easily infuse flavor when seasoning meats.
In baking, score the top of bread loaves to allow them to expand as they rise and bake. Simply cut a series of shallow slashes—three is usually enough for a standard sized loaf, though long loaves like baguettes may need more—and allow the bread to rise and expand.
For two-crust pies, whether sweet or savory, score the top crust to allow steam to escape and prevent the sealed edges from leaking. In this case, you can use the precision of a paring knife to express your creativity as well as your culinary skills. Cut simple straight lines or decorative shapes into the pastry—whatever suits your fancy!
When it comes to meats, you can use your paring knife to score through thick layers of fat. This helps release some of the fat as it cooks and helps the meat absorb the flavors of any herbs or spices you’ve applied.
How to Care for and Sharpen a Paring Knife
If you take good care of your knives, they’ll take good care of you. Keeping your knives clean and well maintained ensures they’re always ready for the next job. While this little knife may fit perfectly in the utensil basket, you should never wash your knives in the dishwasher. This is a very harsh environment for these strong, yet delicate tools. Putting your knives in the dishwasher puts them at risk for damage to the blade, from chips and scratches to rust and discoloring to a dull blade.
Keep your knives clean and in perfect condition by hand washing with warm, soapy water and be sure to wipe them dry before placing back in your knife block – another kitchen essential. Just like hand washing, storing your knives in a knife block (like this beauty from F.N. Sharp) is an important part of caring for your knives.
When it comes to sharpening your paring knife, there are a few different sharpening tools available, but the best thing you can do is leave it up to the professionals. This may seem like a waste for such a tiny blade, but that’s exactly why it’s important. Using home sharpeners seems easy enough, but they can easily chip or destroy the edge of your blade – and with such a small blade, the last thing you want to do is take too much off or completely destroy its edge.
If you’re in the market for upgrading your kitchen, then start with the most important tools – your kitchen knives, of course! Investing in quality knives means more quality time with the family and less time doing chores (like sharpening your knives). If you need some tips for finding quality knives, then check out our guide to buying kitchen knives – or just head on over to F.N. Sharp to get the sharpest kitchen tools around!