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Decrypting Sabatier

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 

Folks -


It's been certainly an entertaining few days reading along and catching up on all the knife discussions here. I haven't been seriously shopping for a knife in about five years, so I'm finding that I'm relearning some things, and this has been invaluble.


Aside from having a decently stocked knife drawer (does the trick for me, at least), I've decided that I want to try my hand with a carbon steel, French profile chef's knife. I'd like to learn to sharpen my own knives, after taking a rather dull Henckel to a good pro and thinking, "Hm. I could do that." And I'd like to see how carbon steel feels - everything else I use is high carbon stainless.


Why French and not Japanese? Better price points on the Sabs I've looked at, and an irrational disposition towards French culinary tradition.


Why an 8" chef's? It's what I'm used to, and fits the cutting boards I have well. I have a 10" Forschner that I really like, but it's just a bit big for the space I have to work with. This is something of a debate at home, between my desire for large working spaces and thick heavy wooden cutting boards vs. my wife's desire for uncluttered counters and plastic cutting boards that can be stored out of sight.


(I'm trying to head off the questions I might get from BDL, by the way. :) )


Can I sharpen? No. Will I learn? Yes. On what? Depends on what stones I decide give me the best starting bang for the buck - 1000 and 6000 waterstone, or medium and fine Arkansas, but I really haven't read enough yet on the stones to fully appreciate what that means. (I'm doing well to keep up with the knives.)


Am I organized in prep? Yes, and trying to be more so. Will I care for the carbon steel? Definitely. I'm pretty good with caring for the knives I have now, but investing in a good carbon steel knife will force me to learn better/more obsessive habits.


What do I cut with now? An 8" Global and an 8" Henckel chef (two man, four star, first good knife I ever bought ten years ago), and a 4" Henckel paring (pro-s, for those keeping score) are the main workhorses. Add in a 10" Forschner and a 6" Henckel (pro-s) santoku, and that's about all I reach for.


So, after all that, the question!


What do we collectively think about Mexeur et Cie Sabatier? I think BDL included it once "for completeness" but preferred the edge on K-Sab and TI slightly, but that's about all I could find. The advantage is, if I read the websites correctly, I can walk into a Sur La Table here in Houston and get hands-on with the M&C Sab, whereas I'd be purchasing the others online sight-unseen (and paying S&H). The prices are all comparable, and I haven't been able to find a blasted knife store in town here that sells other Sabs, so I figured I'd check in with the experts before going to the store and playing.



post #2 of 7



There doesn't seem to be much I can add to your reasoning regarding French vs Japanese, or going with a shorter knife other than confusion -- so allow me to ratify your thoughts and otherwise leave the subjects alone.


Mexeur et Cie:


Mexeur et Cie carbon is pretty much in the same league as Thiers Issard carbon and K-Sabatier au carbone. 


I've seen, used and sharpened quite a few examples of all three brands and my impression is that Mexeur et Cie is un petit peu less hard than the other two brands/lines.  For what it's worth, that's my reason for my typical recommendation of T-I and K-Sab.  But, not only is the impression subjective and not based on actual Rockwell "C" hardness measurements, Rockwell hardness is very difficult to measure under the best of circumstances. 


The Mexeur et Cie label is owned and manufactured by the Thiers "Sabatier" manufacturer Therias et L'Economie, which also makes L'Unique Sabatier.  Mexeur et Cie is their top line.  Mexeur's quality control has always been very good -- good enough that Fantes and Epicurian Edge sell them; and if the knife is coming through SLT, it's even more likely that F&F will be a non-issue.


However, as with nearly all knives and all French carbons, it is very unlikely that the knife will be properly sharpened OOTB (out of the box). 


Other than adding that Mexeur's have very nice POM handles there's not much more to say. 


Bottom line:  Pull the trigger.




French carbons will sharpen very well on oilstones.  And while you can get a slightly better edge with waterstones, they aren't necessary.  Considering that you have quite a few Euro stainless in your set -- and because the alloys are so tough they sharpen better on oilstones -- it makes more sense for you to put together a good set of oilstones.


While it's true that if you want to put the maximum usable polish on the Sab, you'll have to add at least a couple of waterstones to your kit -- but as a practical matter that doesn't make a lot of sense.   For one thing, the finer the stone the more practice it takes to actually polish without dulling.  That's far enough in the future that there's no need to worry about it now.


I'm going to recommend the same set I've used forever:  Norton 8" coarse and fine India (seperate or as a combination stone); 8x2x1 Hall's Proedge soft Arkansas; and 8x2x1 Hall's Proedge surgical black Arkansas.  A Norton 8" sharpening station (IM-50) makes things a lot easier.    


Carbon Sabs, just like the rest of your knives, are very wear resistant and don't need frequent sharpening -- but they are very susceptible to being dinged out of true.  Frequent steeling, properly done on an appropriate steel, will help keep your knives off the stones and very sharp for a long time.  I like the Idahone fine for most people.  Since your go-to knives are 8" you can get along with a 10" hone -- about $25. 




I understand your wife's position, and fully sympathize.  But this is the one area where she's mistaken. 


Plastic boards will ruin your knives, and as a practical matter are neither more nor less safe than wood.  The whole color coded thing is simply nuts.  If you want to prevent "cross-contamination" simply clean the board.  No biggie. 


Small boards are fine for someone who thinks cooking is cutting half an onion into ragged chunks with a steak knife.  But if you're oriented towards "prep," "mise en place," and high end they just won't work for you. 


In order to keep your knives in good condition you need to use a hardwood board (but not bamboo).  It doesn't have to be huge but it does have to be large enough for you and your wife to manage prep effectively.  I'd say something close to 200 sq in is pretty much minimum. 


Hope this helps,


post #3 of 7
Thread Starter 

That's genius, thanks - and lines up with what I expected.


About length - maybe it's my technique, but while I like my 10" chef's for a lot of tasks, I'm much more dexterous and capable with the 8" blade. Chalk that up to more practice with the smaller knife, even. I will say that with the longer knife, having the pivot point farther away when doing a rocking/slicing motion means I'm not lifting the knife to such an angle. I'm open to other ideas - at this point, it's purely personal preference, and I'm sticking to the "there's no right answer other than what feels right" mantra.


About boards - You'll have me out with a ruler to my workhorse board in a moment. I have a few larger wood ones that come out for serious tasks (prepping more than a weeknight family dinner, for instance). There's so much noise online about the foodborne illness and safety of plastic vs. wood that I've chucked that concern out the window and declared them equally safe. Aside from wanting to contain and isolate raw meats, it's like you say, keeping a clean board is king.


I'm curious also about board material, but that may be for another thread (or already out there). Set aside that hardwood is best and never cut on marble, glass, &c.. Why do plastics do such a number on knives? Not all plastics are equal, fine, but are they that bad?


(Update - it's 11x14, or 154 sq in. Works for doing one thing at a time, so onions waiting to be chopped go in a bowl at the left and just-chopped onions go in a bowl at the right. It's the smallest of the boards I use, but it fits much of what I want to do.)

post #4 of 7



About length - maybe it's my technique, but while I like my 10" chef's for a lot of tasks, I'm much more dexterous and capable with the 8" blade. Chalk that up to more practice with the smaller knife, even. I will say that with the longer knife, having the pivot point farther away when doing a rocking/slicing motion means I'm not lifting the knife to such an angle. I'm open to other ideas - at this point, it's purely personal preference, and I'm sticking to the "there's no right answer other than what feels right" mantra.


Well, since you brought it up...  Most likely it's a matter of grip and posture.  If you hold the knife with a pinch in such a way that your wrist is straight, the food is square to the edge of the board, and the tip is in line with your elbow and forearm.  When you get it right, it's as easy to place the tip of a 10" knife as a shorter blade. 


Yes, it does require practice for good grip and posture to become second nature, but a little bit of teaching so you learn them in the first place wouldn't hurt.   The techniques aren't instinctive, a little training can be very beneficial. 


As to the chopping action itself, that's not only more natural but the arc of the knife dictates quite a bit of it.  No matter how precisely you've learned the action, the knife's shape will dictate.  You've probably already noticed that going back and forth from your Global (French profile) to your other knives (German profile).  The French shape has a lot less belly (arc on the blade) than the German. 


If you want me to walk you through these techniques -- no problem.



post #5 of 7
Thread Starter 

Okay, let's play. I'd kill to have a technique lesson or ten.



Pinch grip, knife in line with forearm - check. Food square with the edge of the board? Erm. More of an X shape in front of me - look down at your arms when you're typing to get a sense of it. Doing this keeps the cutting squarely in front of me, and I can look down on the knife. Squaring the food and knife with the board puts the cutting over by my right shoulder (right-handed) instead of square in front of me, and one of two things happens - I have to lean over to see the other side of the knife, watch for even width on slices, etc., or I end up turning my feet and no longer standing squared with the board. To bring the knife in front of me and still be square with the board means either bending my wrist backwards and breaking that line, or anchoring my elbow about in the middle of my gut, equally uncomfortable.


If none of this makes sense, I'll manage to take some quick photos tomorrow to demonstrate.


Chopping Action

I wondered if the Global was more of a French profile. I tend to do more rock and chop with the Henckel, and more slice-forward with the Global. Question - in doing that slice forward, I think I lift the knife more. With the Henckel, it's pivoting on the tip (or along the belly, to be more precise), whereas with the Global, I often lift the whole knife and keep the blade flat across the board, slicing down and forward. Again, this makes more sense if it's seen, but I imagine it's similar to the action I would use if I were doing fine slicing with a cleaver.



I'll try to keep things square on the board more tomorrow and report back.

post #6 of 7

You don't want your feet square to the baseboard.  Let your left foot go forward a little and that will square everything up.  It will feel unnatural for awhile, but stay with it.


As to your pinch grip, try keeping the back fingers as relaxed. Your grip should be as soft as possible, just as firm enough so the knife doesn't fly out of your hand.  The sharper the knife, the less pressure you need from your grip.  And that's a good thing.


I'm not sure what you're doing with your offhand, whether or not you use it as a claw.  If you do (and we all hope that you do), use your knuckles to adjust the thickeness of the cut.  The more you do by feel, and the less you do by sight, the smoother and more instinctive you'll be.  Smooth = precision and safety.


Hope this helps,


post #7 of 7
Thread Starter 

An update, for anybody interested:


* I haven't bought the knife or sharpening stones yet. Remember the TV commercial from a few years ago, where the blue collar worker is talking about saving money, and how he'd like to buy a boat, but the money should go to a new dishwasher instead? (Killing me that I can't remember who that was for, or find it on YouTube.) Anyway, yeah. Life got in the way a bit. However, I did come up with a new end-grain cutting board (Exklusivt, from Ikea of all places) which has been fantastic.


* Big fan of the claw. In the middle of cutting an onion a couple of weeks ago, caught my thumb un-clawing, and thought " (chop) Hey, dumbass, (chop) move your thumb before you (chop) Ow." Just a wee bit off the end, which has healed well. Always stick to the claw, kids.


* I make an effort to keep my left foot forward and square the knife and food to the board. It's becoming more natural. Bonus - it's now easier to see parallel lines and cut more evenly since I have the board as a reference.


* Still fighting food crawling up the knife and over to the left to get double-cut. From some of the other threads on the forum, I just need to stop more often and move the cut pieces away.


* Also fighting something with the claw, where food on either side wants to creep away. How to describe this? Hm. Consider dicing an onion. Trim the top of the onion, trim the hairy bit off the tail (but leave the root intact; this just helps keep the board clean, curious if others do it). Cut the onion in half, peel layers. Working with half an onion, root end facing away, cut vertical cuts across the onion (root to tip) in desired size. Rotate the onion 90 degrees, so root faces left and tip faces right (for right handed cutting), and make cuts parallel to the board in the same size. (Side note - this is difficult to hold the onion still while cutting, and has a tendency to push out the very ends of the onion, the last two cuts of the fan on either side.) Then, vertical cuts across the onion, starting at the tip end, to dice. Repeat with the other half.

As I go across the onion, the ends of the fan (the side of the onion closest or farthest from me) wants to fan out instead of cut, so I'm left with awkward pieces at best or a big chunk of uncut onion at the end.


Similar thing happens when cutting, say, batonnets of carrot or julienned celery - the end pieces want to skip away and stay out of the pile. Instinct is to grip them closer to the cut with the pinky and thumb, but that takes both of those digits definitely out of the claw, so I figure I'm not doing something right.




Honestly, my knife skills aren't bad, I'm just focused on minutae. I think, anyway.

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