How to Use Every Japanese Knife | Method Mastery

Posted by Steven Tuckey on

A decent knife should serve you a lifetime. It's essential to maintain your knives like they're your best companion. These are the primary tools for knife care, a knife holster, whetting stones, and a wood cover.

It's great to sharpen your knives by yourself. Make sure you moisten the stones in water and not in oil. Japanese knives are particularly sharpened with whetstones. Using any type of sharpening wheel or equipment takes off too much wear. When you are finished smoothing your knife, clean the blade and ensure it's dry. If you store away your knife with moisture on it, it will rust. Rub a little oil to safeguard the knife from rusting and oxidising.

The Basics

Gyuto

For a budding chef or a cooking enthusiast, the Gyuto is the first knife to buy. An 8-inch Gyuto chef's knife is the place to begin. It's a multipurpose knife used in the kitchen and eateries. When preparing onions, begin by snipping the ends off and a small part of the butt. Scrape the onion first by utilising the knife’s bolster, which makes it simpler than using your hands. The blade is thin, lightweight, and offers convenience. It is easy to handle, compared to a knife that's too big and weighty on the hands. A Gyuto makes it a lot easier to chop paper-thin onions and diced onions at a quicker pace.

Santoku

Santoku translates as “three virtues.” The knife is capable of cutting fish, meat, and vegetables. It is an all-purpose knife for tasks such as julienning and preparing carrots. The bolster is a little taller, making it easier to do an up and down motion rather than a rocking motion like on the Gyuto. Another excellent carrot cut is the 'rangiri,' which involves turning and cutting down to create three formed twist cuts. If you don't have a lot of experience with knives, this is a good place to start. It is far more solid and works well in the house, particularly if you have a small worktop.

Kiritsuke

This knife is reserved for the executive chef as a status symbol. It is the pinnacle of Japanese knife-making craftsmanship and arises from the samurai sword-making heritage. The sharp tip of the Kiritsuke's blade is agile but delicate, and the flat profile lends itself well to slicing and push cutting. The single-sided beveled knife is ideal for slicing tomatoes because it cuts through them with ease. The pieces fall off the blade's beveled side. Kiritsuke is a multipurpose knife that can cut meat, prepare veggies, and a piece of salmon for you.

Bunka

It's an all-purpose knife that's also quite delicate. Its thin and light form makes it easy to cut through Japanese eggplant. Because the Bunka has a sloped tip, you'll sometimes pick it instead of a Nakiri. Cut the eggplant in half and score with the tip to draw up cross-hatch marks to help it prepare faster. Similar techniques apply with king oyster mushrooms to create stunning designs when cooked and served on a platter. The Bunka is a very nimble knife, and it's great to be able to work your way in with it.

VEGETABLES

Petty

In French, petty means petite. Petties are five to six inches long and are ideal for cutting tinier vegetables, ingredients, small fruits, and any other detailed work. For instance, it's awesome for peeling garlic by removing the skin. The heel gets between the skin and the garlic, and we've got our nice clean pieces of garlic.  Because of its small and light size, it's ideal for slicing garlic and then mincing it. If you want to make thin slices of nice brunoise shallots, this is the knife to use.

Paring Knife

The tiniest knife available and a handcrafted Japanese knife. It has a wood handle made of pretty tough Japanese steel. Ideal for cleaning and preparing small vegetables, such as radishes. Using a paring knife reduces waste because you can clean off the tails and tops without actually chipping off any skin.

Scrubbing removes any soil from your radishes, allowing you to use the entire vegetable with minimal waste. Cleaning mushrooms, such as chanterelles from Canada, is another excellent use for a paring knife. Begin by removing the butt, and then scrape a fine layer of chanterelle off.

Nakiri

A Nakiri is a square vegetable cleaver used for cutting open squash, potatoes, and other root vegetables. It has hand-hammered indentations on the blade called 'tsuchime'. Their purpose is not only decorative, but prevents hard vegetables from getting stuck on the blade when cutting. The weight balance of the blade makes it simple to cut these tougher skin vegetables. It's a great knife if you're going to make potato fries because you cut right through the potato. Then use the knife to make simple knife cuts from your potato pieces.

The Nakiris wide blade also makes moving vegetable cuts from the preparing board easier and faster.

Usuba

The word Usuba means "thin slice." It is a vegetable knife with a single edge used for high-level Japanese decorative knife work. For instance, preparing cucumber slices for sushi rolls. It's an excellent knife because of its single-edged blade and the fact that it extends to the heel. This lets you control the knife and turn through the cucumber by rolling and slicing until you reach the core. We finish the julienning and this time there is no rocking, but a direct down and up motion to get a nice even julienne.

SEAFOOD

Deba

It's a single bevel Japanese knife with a thick spine used for fish and meat butchery. It's heavy enough to crack through joining ligaments and bones. When preparing fish, for example, use kitchen scissors to snip through the fins. Next, use the Deba to cut the head off. The weight of the blade is critical here because you can simply cut all the way through. Having a Deba with a razor-sharp blade makes removing the fillets easy and smooth. Fish are very tender and can tear, so using an angle beveled and sharp blade will allow it to slide right down the spine of the fish. So, after hitting the backbone, we cut through the bones and have our fillet.

A six-and-a-half-inch Deba is handy for a small Branzino fish. They though come in various sizes, depending on the type and size of fish you're butchering.

Yanagi

Yanagi means "willow leaf" in Japanese. It's a long, thin, single-edged knife for slicing sashimi, crudos, smoked salmon, and other smoked fish. Because of the long and thin blade, you can make very long cuts and avoid tearing the fish. The Yanagi is available in various sizes, so the larger the fish and the more skilled you are, the longer Yanagi you will be able to handle. This razor-sharp single-edged knife will not rip the fish and will glide through the salmon belly. Keep wiping your knife clean in between slices to reduce friction and keep things neat.

Kakimuki

In Japanese, Kaki means oyster, and this is a Japanese oyster knife. The Japanese oyster knife has a sharper point than European oyster knives, and it is very smooth and simple to use. It has a wood handle, fits nicely in the hand, and has almost no curvature. The handle is a little thicker than the western and french style oyster knives, giving you a little more leverage and control over the knife. The sharp point of the knife gets into the hinge of the oyster and makes that popping sound that indicates you've successfully opened the oyster. Next, use the Kakimuki to cut the muscle and separate the oyster's bottom from the shell.

MEAT

Sujihiki

Sujihiki is Japanese for "pulling the muscle," so this is a meat slicer. The Sujihiki is sharpened at a steeper angle, resulting in extremely thin cuts. Its design is like the European style, but it is slimmer and harder, thus keeping its edge for a longer period. When slicing cooked meat, a sharp edge is essential because you don't want to tear the tasty steak you're about to eat.

Furthermore, the sharpness and length of the Sujihiki make it simple to slice the meat almost paper-thin in one long motion. You're not rocking back and forth like a sword through the meat, but rather making one straight motion.

When using this slicer for the first time, you'll want something shorter because you don't want a blade that's too long and difficult to control.

Honesuki

Honesuki is a boning knife from Japan. It is distinguishable from a European-style boning knife by the presence of a triangle close to the heel and a tip at the front. The knife has very little flex and is ideal for breaking down a chicken. The tip allows you to get into narrow spaces and penetrate the skin without tearing the meat. European style bony knives don’t have this triangular shape, nor have a heel to get through certain joints.

Using the weight of the knife and cutting through the joints, debone your chicken. You will get your clean parts such as wings, breasts, thighs, and drumsticks.

Hankotsu

Hankotsu is designed to take meat that is on the bone, whether from the entire animal or primal cuts. So, if you have hanging meat, you can easily cut the sections of the animal that you want out. What is distinctive about this knife is that there's no flex to it at all. Also, about the shape, there's no heel on this knife at all. This is great for cleaning membranes and fat off of the meat. This is the only Japanese knife that lacks a heel.

The tip of the Hankotsu guides you through the various types of muscles and around the large bones. The blade is thicker and heavier, so you won't have to worry about chipping or ruining the tip like you would with a petty knife, which is softer and more delicate.

Here is a great explainer video from Epicurious.

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