In my humble opinion, you really only need 3 knives. These 3 would be able to cover almost all of the cutting jobs you will ever do in your home kitchen.
|From Top to Bottom: 1. Chef's Knife. 2. Paring Knife. 3. Bread Knife.|
Looking around the retail places for kitchenware, I estimate a good decent chef's knife would cost anything from S$40 to S$180. However, being in the middle income group, I am of the opinion that anything above S$180 is highly extravagant, and not really necessary.
Next up, the paring knife. A knife with a small blade for all the really small jobs like small fruit. Great for peeling onions and shallots as well as de-veining shrimp. The blade is usually about 2-3 inches in length. These were used to peel potatoes before vegetable peelers were invented.
Lastly, the bread knife. A long bladed knife with a serrated cutting edge. Works very much like a saw. Ideal for cutting crusty loafs of bread, or even slicing bagels across. Its also great for carving large pieces of cooked meats.(think "sioh bak" crackling on top or roasted pork knuckle.)
Start with these 3 and you will be able to get through the cutting jobs for almost all if not most recipes.
There are those who are concerned about cross contamination with raw meats. (especially raw chicken meat) It's a valid concern, but also easily overcome with good kitchen discipline. That being said, if you can afford separate knives, one each for veg and meats, by all means go ahead. I guess that would be the 4th blade. (starting to sound like some "Wu Xia" story here). Its a good to have, but not a need IMHO.
Get a honing steel to keep your knives sharp. A blunt blade much more dangerous than a sharp one. Very simple logic, a blunt blade requires you to exert more force or strength than necessary, rather than letting the knife do the work. Exerting more force would then give you less control. Which means higher probability of missing your intended cut and cutting yourself instead, not to mention a lot more potential damage if you do miss. Also, there is the risk of a blunt blade skidding off whatever you are cutting and causing injury.
If you are on a budget, get better knives instead of more knives, with the majority of your budget going to the chef's knife. Paying more does not necessarily mean getting better quality. Certain brands just charge a premium just by better marketing and hype. Quite often a trendy brand charges more but it does not really mean you are getting something built to last.
German and Japanese blades are harder and hold their edge longer. But also more difficult to sharpen. Softer steel like the French made blades are easier to sharpen but lose their sharp edge relatively quicker.
It can be rather tempting to get one of those knife block sets. They will give you all the knives you need and look great in the kitchen sure, but that relationship you develop with a chefs knife that serves you well, far outweighs a kitchen decoration.
"Better to be a poorly equipped doer than an over-equipped poser." Gordon Ramsay
Do post comments or questions below.