Bars and kitchens sometimes have all manner of arcane tools and implements, but a channel knife is a must for any self-respecting bartender or chef. A basic tool used for making garnishes, a channel knife is indispensable for creating simple but elegant flairs for cocktails and other dishes.
Basic Design of Channel Knives
A channel knife is a simple tool. It has a handle the size and shape of a small knife or vegetable peeler. At the end of the handle is a metal part with a sharp, V-shaped metal projection extending downward from a small surrounding frame. Viewed directly from above, it looks like a rectangle with a "V" extending from one side of the rectangle toward the center, and the interior of the "V" may or may not be hollow. From the side, the "V"-shaped metal extends downward 1/8 to 1/4 inch. The edges of the "V" are sharp, but generally only on the top side. Channel knives may be designed with the "V" pointing towards the handle or perpendicular to the handle.
Making Citrus Twists
Channel knives are used mainly for cutting strips of citrus fruit rind for cocktail garnishes. The knife is drawn over the surface of a lemon, lime, orange or grapefruit and the V-shaped blade cuts a strip about 1/4 inch wide and 1/4 inch deep, removing only the rind and leaving behind the white pith underneath. This technique of cutting a channel-shaped section from a fruit or vegetable gives the utensil its name. Drawing the knife around the surface forms the spiral shape for the twist. Different knives may cut thicker or thinner channels, or wider or narrower channels, depending on the design.
Other Channel Knife Uses
Channel knives may also be used for other decorative work, like cutting strips in cucumbers or carrots before slicing to create design, such as a flower shape. They are sometimes used for carving melons for intricate displays, pumpkins, squash or gourds for craft projects, or making curls from blocks of frozen or chilled butter.
Channel Knife Materials
Older channel knives were sometimes made with steel, which corroded or stained after contact with water or acidic materials. The handles were entirely made of wood. After the advent of inexpensive stainless steel, almost all channel knives were made from it. Stainless steel will not corrode, is durable, and can hold a sharp edge. The handles are made from wood, plastic, nylon, synthetic composites or metal.
Choosing a Channel Knife
If you mix the occasional cocktail at a home cocktail or holiday party, will not need an expensive, high-end channel knife. A basic model will serve most purposes. Better home ware stores will carry one or more models of channel knife, and you can find many more online. You can also buy them at restaurant supply stores.