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 handy little paring knife is one of those essential tools every cook should own.
With a blade measuring only 2 ½ to 4 inches long, the paring knife is 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 segmenting citrus, hulling strawberries, deveining shrimp and more.
If you haven’t experienced the power of this handy little knife yet, then read on for its many, many uses and why it’s sure to become one of your favorite kitchen tools.
Using a Paring Knife for Slicing, Chopping and Mincing
While a chef’s knife is the perfect tool for mincing ingredients like onions and bell peppers, it’s much more cumbersome to use for dainty items like shallots, garlic cloves, radishes and small bunches of herbs. This is where the paring knife comes in.
For these small tasks, you’ll use the paring knife much like you would its larger counterpart. Place the ingredient on a cutting board (preferably a wooden one, like our Acacia wood cutting board, available in large and small) and be sure to hold the knife like you would a chef’s knife, using the “pinch grip” with your thumb and forefinger pinching the blade and the rest of your fingers wrapped around the handle. Also be sure to keep the fingers of your off-hand curled into the "claw" position as you hold your ingredient to slice or mince.
A sharp paring knife is just the right tool for stripping the peel off an apple, potato or tomato in one long, curly strip. Since this is most easily accomplished while holding the ingredient 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 handle with the blade facing your thumb. Your thumb needs to stay free to help guide the cut, so make sure you have a comfortable and controlled grip without having to force the blade.
A sharp paring knife makes all the difference when you’re peeling, allowing you to skim away the skin without taking too 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.
Another cool thing about peeling veggies with a paring knife is you can get super creative with your garnishes! For example, if your recipe calls for peeling tomatoes for a sauce, then try turning the removed peels into a pretty tomato rose! Check out this F.N. Sharp recipe for antipasto crostinis topped with a pretty rose garnish made from a tomato peel!
Need to see how to peel tomatoes and create these pretty little rose garnishes in action? Check out this video, brought to you be a seriously sharp chef and the F.N. Sharp Paring knife:
Using a Paring Knife for Segmenting
If you’re not a fan of bitter orange pith, or your recipe calls for cleanly cut, gleaming segments of citrus for a salad or a garnish, then break out your paring knife and practice segmenting!
Also called “supreming”, segmenting is the process of removing the peel and pith of citrus fruits, 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 segment fruit, slice the stem and blossom ends off to provide a flat surface. Then, set the fruit on a cutting board and slice downward to remove the peel and pith in long strips. Next you’ll use the tip of your paring knife to trace out each segment individually to remove them and voila! You’ve got perfectly segmented citrus.
In the below video, Chef Justin Grimm shows us how to segment citrus using the F.N. Sharp Utility Knife, but you’ll get the same result with the paring knife:
Using a Paring Knife for Trimming, Hulling & Cleaning
There are a multitude of little kitchen tasks that require fine detail, like hulling strawberries, trimming the ribs from peppers and the fat from meats, or deveining shrimp. A paring knife is perfectly suited to all of these.
When it comes to hulling strawberries, use the same knife grip used for peeling to neatly snip off the leafy caps in one slice. Or you can preserve their shape by using the tip of the knife to cut a cone-shaped core from the top of the berry to remove both the leaves and the tougher flesh at the stem end. Use the same technique to core tomatoes without getting juice everywhere.
Check out the video below to see how to hull strawberries using the F.N. Sharp paring knife:
When it comes to preparing shrimp, the pointed tip of the paring knife comes in handy for removing the vein. To do this, make a shallow slice down the back of the shrimp to expose the vein, then use the tip of the knife to carefully lift it out. This can be done with both peeled and unpeeled shrimp.
In the below video, Chef Justin Grimm shows us how to devein shrimp using the F.N. Sharp Utility Knife, but the paring knife also comes in handy for this task:
You can use your paring knife for other cleaning tasks, such as trimming away the stems and lower leaves of Brussels sprouts and artichokes, coring fennel, removing the ribs and membranes from peppers, and even trimming extra fat and/or skin from meats like pork, beef and chicken.
When it comes to removing fat and/or skin from meats, simply use the tip of your paring knife to release part of the extra fat from the meat, then use your off-hand to pull it away from the breast as you continue trimming. This technique allows you to trim off extra skin and fat easily and quickly without removing any of the meat along with it – and without using a knife that is simply too big for such a small job.
Using a Paring Knife for Scoring
Scoring is the process of making many thin slices into the surface of items like breads, pies, meats and veggies. For baking bread, scoring the top of the dough allows it to rise and expand as it bakes. To do this, simply cut a series of shallow slashes into the top of the dough. Three slices are usually enough for a standard sized loaf, though long loaves like baguettes may need more.
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 to help release some of the fat as it cooks, while also allowing the meat to absorb the flavors from any herbs or spices you’ve applied.
Other Uses for a Paring Knife
The paring knife also comes in handy for those quick meal prep tasks where using a larger knife just won’t do. Need to slice hard boiled eggs in half to make deviled eggs, or cleanly slice them up to top off a salad? Reach for that paring knife!
Need to slice up some butter for a recipe? Sure, a butter knife may be made for the job, but a sharp paring knife can do it better! Rather than using a sawing motion to cut through butter like you would with the knife intended for that purpose, use your paring knife to make clean slices and ensure you’re using the exact amount your recipe calls for. It’s like a hot knife slicing through butter, except the knife doesn’t have to be hot, just (F.N.) sharp!
Check out the video below to see how to use a paring knife to pit and chop dates, plus extra tips for working with this super sticky ingredient:
How to Care for 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, rust and discoloring to dulling the sharp edge.
Keep your knives clean and in perfect condition by hand washing with warm, soapy water. Also be sure to wipe them dry before placing them 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 also 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!