Japanese Chef Knives

Usuba | Cutting Knife

Overview:

Usuba or thin blade knife. In Japanese 'usui' means thin and 'ha', as in hamono, means blade. In Japan you're more likely to see an usuba in the hands of a professional chef. Along with the deba and yanagiba this knife is one of the three main knives used in a Japanese commercial kitchen.  The Usuba is the thinnest of the three general knife shapes. Flat edge profile and square tip. Used for push cutting, rotary cutting thin sheets and cutting thin strips from those sheets. 

Usuba is the traditional vegetable knife for the professional Japanese chef. This Vegetable knife with thin & straight blade for clean cutting paper-thin slices are no problem, even with ripe tomatoes. 

Like other Japanese professional knives, usuba are chisel ground, and have a bevel on the front side, and have a hollow ground on the back side. Usuba knives characteristically have a flat edge, with little or no curve, and are tall, to allow knuckle clearance when chopping on a cutting board.

Usuba literally means thin blade indicating its relative thinness compared to other knives, required for cutting through firm vegetables without cracking them. Due to the knifes height and straight edge, usuba are also used for specialized cuts such as shaving a vegetable cylinder into a thin sheet. 

While the nakiri bōchō's cutting blade is sharpened from both sides, the usuba bōchō's blade is sharpened only from one side. This style edge gives better cuts and allows for the cutting of thinner slices than the style used for nakiri knives, but requires more skill to use. 

The usuba knife is heavier than a nakiri knife, although still much lighter than a Hon-Deba.

Sushikiri | Sushi slicer

 

Sushikiri means sushi slicer in Japanese. The long symmetrically curved blade is designed to slice sushi rolls and battera sushi in one rolling slice without crushing them. These knives are particular popular in the Kansai (Osaka and Kyoto) regions.

Some types of sushi are made in long pressed bars (“oshisushi”) or  thick rolls (futomaki) and cut, just before serving, into smaller portions. Cutting though the fish ingredients should also ays be done in a single stroke and any nori seaweed should remain dry and brittle, so it is tough to cut with anything but the sharpest blade. 

The main rice body has a rather sticky texture that quickly builds up on the blade, which therefor requires constant wiping with a wet cloth. Both the yanagiba as well as the sushikiri can do the job and have evolved for the purpose of cutting rolls or bars of sushi for this elegant presentation.

Takohiki | Octopus Slicer

Overview:

The Takohiki or octopus slicer is used in exactly the same way as the yanagiba with the only exception that the blade edge is straighter. In Japanese “tako” means octopus while “hiki” means to pull. They are common in the east of Japan and around Tokyo while the yanagiba is traditionally found in the west of Japan and around Osaka. 

The slicing action is a long pull and there are few circumstances in which you would want to use the sharp tip because it would be very difficult to control in such a long blade. The squared-off tip of the knife is also useful for lifting and transferring sliced fish the cutting board to the serving plate. 

The story goes that the Takohiki was developed because, unlike the chefs of the Kansai (Osaka) region of Japan where the Yanagiba originated, the sushi chefs of the Kanto (Tokyo) region sat down whilst cutting. This had the effect of increasing the height of their cutting boards relative to their arms, and consequently the almost straight edge profile of the Takohiki was more suitable for their seated position than the curved edge profile of the Yanagiba.

Yanagiba | Sushi Knife

 

Overview:  Yanagiba (in Japanese meaning “willow blade”) is the most popular knife for slicing raw fish and fillets , also known as hobu-bocho (sashimi knife).

This Japanese knife style is used to skin and sometimes scale and de-bone certain fish (for instance salmon).There is a clear difference between using an ordinary knife and a sushi knife during preparation; when you use a normal knife, especially one with a thick and short blade, you will find yourself with uneven fish slices and roughly chopped vegetables. Also when you work with a conventional knife, the rice tends to stick to the edge of the blade and this can be quite annoying while you are preparing your  seaweed rolls.

Traditional Japanese knives are different from western knives in that many types are honed only on one side, the right side. This single side honing allows one to have a much lower inclusive angle when sharpening, so the knife seems sharper and cuts easier.. These chefs knives are sharpened so that only one side holds the cutting edge and the other side remains flat. The flat edge is there so that food doesn’t stick to the knife.The Yanagiba knife is long, very thin and single beveled. The reason for this is that with a longer blade, the cut can be made with a single motion.

This knife is designed to be pulled in one direction in order to sever the cut in one motion beginning at the heel of the knife and finishing at the tip. Pushing is not recommended as this would possibly tear the surface. The knife is used to highlight diferent textures of fish in their techniques:  hirazukuri to pull cut vertically, usuzukuri to pull cut thin vertically, and sogizukuri to pull cut at an angle. The thinness of the blade allows the knife to be pulled with very little force.

With this knife you are able to make clean sashimi cuts and cut cleanly though any seaweed roll (“Maki”)

Another unique quality of the knives is the handle. Traditionally, the handle was shaped with a “D” cross section. This was to make using the knife for long periods of time more comfortable. The handles are made with various types of wood.

Honesuki | Boning Knife

 

Overview: 

A Honesuki (in Japanese meaning “bone lover”) is a Japanese boning knife with sharp point and narrow blade used in food preparation. The knifes pointed tip helps you ride the blade along bones, cartilage and joints to separate different cuts of meat. Generally, stiff boning knives are better suited to boning red meats, whereas flexible boning knives may be used to fillet fish.

The Honesuki triangular blade profile is thin and light, despite still possessing a tough and durable edge. The ‘reverse tanto tip’ / ‘clip point’ design of the Honesuki increases tip strength whilst still allowing it to easily pierce skin, and to also make precise cuts in tight spaces such as joints. It is also narrow enough to be able to turn quickly when cutting around and along the bone. The knife is also capable of trimming connective tissue and fat, particularly when using the sharp and precise tip area.

Honesuki knife is specifically designed for de-boning and breaking down poultry, but many people also use the knife to fillet fish and red meat, or carrying out many other tasks. Typically it has an asymmetrical edge although 50/50 versions not favouring right or left hand do exist. Because of the knifes height and shape it can also function as a utility knife.

In Japan, this triangular boning knife is used for boning chicken and red meats. It also makes an amazing general purpose utility knife! The shape provides finger clearance when working over a cutting board. A gentle rock to the blade makes it an optimal chopping knife. The thin, aggressive point makes it even capable of detail tasks where a paring knife would otherwise be used.

Hon Deba | Protein Knife

 

Overview:

The Japanese Hon-deba (in Japanese Hon means original or true), is traditionally used for filleting fish, but it is also commonly used for dressing poultry or even a vegetable cleaver. It is the thickest and heaviest of Japanese knives.
The weight of the Hon Deba is desirable because, with adequate care, the sturdy heel section of the knife can be used to cut or chop through the bones found in small and medium-sized fish and poultry.
The deba is single-ground so very sharp, able to pierce skin and scales and flat-backed to glide over rib bones. That extra weight is no longer an impediment to delicate work, it seems to actually steady the tip.
Single bevels knives have more acute angles on their edges that excel at cutting softer, thinner product like fish but in return require a different skill set to use and sharpen. There are some more Western Debas which are ground on both sides. These knives are designed to handle very heavy tasks like splitting chickens or gourds.
The Hon Deba knife looks, and in the beginning feels, like a heavy “chopper” style blade. It is thick at the spine and does not begin to narrow much until at least halfway down the blade. There is absolutely nothing in the design to minimize weight. Rather the heel end of the blade is used as a chopper when removing fish heads.
The chef takes a hammer like grip on the handle of this chefs knife and brings the very back end of the bade down hard on the bone - and normally goes through at a stroke.

Nakiri | Vegetable Cleaver

Overview:

The "Nakiri" is a Japanese knife used primarily for preparing vegetables. In Japanese 'na' means leaf, and 'kiri' refers to cutting and is intended to cut greens. This knife is a great knife to have in the home kitchen, especially when you love salads and vegetables and soups. A nakiri knife, also known as a nakiri bocho, is a Japanese-style knife used for chopping vegetables. Characterized by its straight blade edge and squared off tips, the nakiri knife allows you to cut all the way through to the cutting board without having to use a horizontal push or pull.

The nakiri knife is sharpened from both sides and are often ground thin to optimize performance and they benefit from a refined cutting edge. It is an incredibly light and delicate knife small and with a wonderful feeling of control and flexibility

The square tip makes the knife feel more robust and secure than the pointed santoku and gyuto, as well as allowing it to cut dense ingredients at the tip. This knife usually has a flat edge. Some varieties of a nakiri have a slight tilt to the blade profile toward the handle. This is to make the grip more comfortable which makes the hand tilt up slightly and uses the muscles under the forearm. 

The nakiri as well as the usuba have a similar flat blade profile, with neither having any belly. This flat profile lends itself to accurate push-cutting and chopping on the board and controlled fine cutting in the hand.