Posts Tagged ‘why’

Many readers will know that much of my earlier life was spent working in the catering industry. I have worked in hospitals, hotels, and restaurants. I have been self-employed as a function/event caterer and I taught professional chefs for many years. During all of that time one thing has puzzled me. Fish knives – why?

I believe that Bill Bryson agreed with my point of view in a Daily Mail article last year: “Curiously, one of the few survivors […] is one that is most difficult to understand: the fish knife. No one has ever identified a single advantage conferred by its odd scalloped shape or worked out the original thinking behind it. From: http://bit.ly/pZSf5c

It is indeed an odd shape and unlike a knife’s usual Raison d’être – blunt!

I sort of ‘get’ why it is that particular shape and so blunt, because on the traditional ‘French’ menus enjoyed by Victorian gentry, the fish would have been served separately and often on the bone. The flesh of fish (myomeres – http://bit.ly/qscLe9) is always very soft and flaky and as such doesn’t need the full-on power of a real knife. Someone then, back in the mists of time must have thought it was more gentile, possibly more sensible (given all the alcohol flowing during that period) and probably more extravagant; to have a blunt knife, shaped something like the larger fish-slice-knife used by professional waiters of the time.

Fair enough. But, why then, do we persist in using them in modern dining situations?

If you sit down to a traditional meal with over five courses (often more than ten), and one of them is a tiny bit of gently poached fish (Sole Veronique springs to mind) – I concede – the knife is fit for purpose. However when the entrée; the main course, is fish (let’s say a piece of wild scotch salmon, pan fried and served with caramelised shallots, minted new potatoes and verdantly al dente broccoli) the knife loses all sense of purpose. Minted new potatoes fly across the table and shallots are tipped off the plate as Madame tries valiantly to use her fish knife to cut through the more than al dente stem of broccoli.

There’s no need for this implement on the modern table.

Let us teach students about fish knives and about when to use them – but more importantly, when not to use them?

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