A paring knife is named for the action it does best, to pare or strip away an outer material such as peel. Paring knives are usually 3-4”, and are essentially a short blade with a sharp tip that has a razor-sharp edge for doing small precise kitchen tasks. The importance of having a paring knife in the kitchen comes down to the utility of having such a small blade to tackle tasks related to equally small ingredients that are awkward or would be completed with less precision if a chef’s knife or santoku is used.
Definition of a Paring Knife
Curious how a paring knife compares with other options in the knife block? The biggest difference is blade length. The short size of the paring knife’s blade comes with a smaller handle to match. A petty knife or utility knife is the most similar to a paring knife but is 2-3 inches longer. Although they can be used for similar functions, a paring knife can’t be beat as an extension of your hand for cleaning and trimming fruits vegetables and small proteins like seafood.
Uses of a Paring Knife
The paring knife is the kitchen knife to reach for when other knifes seems too big for the level of detail the ingredient requires.
Peeling and Trimming
A paring knife can be used in place of a vegetable peeler for peeling and trimming fruits and vegetables. To do this, wrap your fingers around the handle with the cutting edge facing towards you. Using your dominant hand, and a firm grip, while keeping your index finger out of the path of the blade, grip the ingredient with your non dominant hand. You can use a cutting board for support if needed for ingredients such as carrots.
While applying light pressure, push the blade in the direction towards yourself while planting your thumb on the ingredient to stabilize it. Once you start peeling the skin it will glide easily through the item. Keep working in a direction towards your body, rotating the item as needed to come in contact with all the peel.
Paring knives are great options when coring or peeling fruits like apples and citrus. They also help to remove the peel on garlic and onions, trimming the long roots on radishes or cleaning radish stems. Use the tip of the knife to remove the outer layer on mushrooms and asparagus stems. Paring knife’s small size makes a perfect choice for hulling strawberries or removing strings and ends from fresh beans. If you often cook with veggies, a classic paring knife is an essential kitchen tool to have in your knife set.
Slicing and Dicing
Obviously a paring knife won’t replace a carving knife, fillet knife or boning knife, but a high quality blade can offer great versatility with slicing, dicing and mincing ingredients like shallots and garlic cloves. Although we don’t recommend twisting the blade, a small paring knife’s straight blade is great for breaking up hard cheeses like parmesan. A high quality Japanese paring knife is great for cutting garnishes like citrus fruits and removing the zest and also for segmenting citrus for supremes.
De-veining Shrimp and Other Seafood
Paring knives are great for cleaning seafood. Use the pointed tip to slide under the vein and without perforating it, slide it out from under the shrimp’s shell. A small blade is useful for cleaning and portioning scallops, clams, oysters and other shellfish.
A paring knife can also be used for preparing herbs. It’s a great tool to remove leaves from woody stems for herbs like thyme or rosemary. Or simply to remove the leafy portions on tarragon, basil and parsley.
How to Choose the Right Paring Knife
Other factors that usually apply when choosing a knife, such as blade angle, knife length, weight, steel type and hardness, handle type and price are not that relevant with paring knives since they are general 50/50 balanced with little length and handle variation.
Some shape variations include the bird’s beak paring knife with it’s curved blade that is the perfect tool to turn mushrooms and potatoes for traditional french preparations.
You can find all of our paring knives and mini petties here.
The first question to consider when choosing a type of steel is — do you want a carbon steel knife blade, which can get incredibly sharp, but might be subject to oxidation or rust, or a high-quality stainless or semi-stainless steel, which when made in Japan will typically have a very sharp edge that stays that way for a long time.
There is not a lot of variation on blade length when shopping for paring knives, but if you find you want something longer than 4 inches, choose a petty.