If you have ever dined in a fancy and authentic Japanese sushi restaurant with an open sushi bar, you have probably noticed the chef wielding and drawing a long, narrow and graceful blade with a sharp pointed tip. The knife’s handle is most probably octagonal in shape and wooden. Chances are that they will be using either a sujihiki or a yanagiba knife.
Depending on their specialty, every chef will have their favourite kitchen knife which they can effortlessly use to glide through their produce. For the sushi chef, this would most likely be a sujihiki or yanagiba kitchen knife, two prized Japanese slicers that will smoothly glide through the meat or fish in one, long and graceful drawing motion.
Both of these knives look somewhat similar and many chefs will find them a little intriguing. You can use them to achieve a clean and concise cut on your boneless meat and fish. Clean cuts are particularly crucial for the delicate proteins such as bluefin tuna or beef tenderloin. For such cuts, you need a sharp and narrower knife that not only achieves a clean and efficient cut but one that will also preserve the food flavor, texture and prevent the needless waste of food. A slicer such as the sujihiki or the yanagiba can deliver excellent slicing performance, enabling you to make the gentle cuts that will preserve both the texture and the flavor of the food. Texture and flavor retention are particularly important in the dishes that are served raw.
Which of these meat slicers would be the most ideal for you?
First, when shopping for a slicer, you have to forget about taller knives such as the gyuto or santoku as they present a large surface area that will add to the friction that the food comes into contact with, thereby ruining the flavour and texture of the food. Slicing is a delicate cut and you will need a knife that will be in contact with the food for only a brief moment and over a relatively small surface area. That is why the ideal slicer must be thin, ultra-sharp and long enough to enable you to slice in a single drawing motion without having to saw off the slices of the food. A petty knife might be a good slicer but it is obviously not long enough for most of your kitchen slicing needs.
The knife choice for laser-sharp slicing jobs will often boil down to picking between a sujihiki kitchen knife and a yanagiba kitchen knife. How do these two slicers compare and what are some of the most optimal uses of both kitchen knives?
The Quintessential Japanese Slicers
The yanagiba and the sujihiki are Japanese kitchen knives that look eerily similar to the untrained eye. They also have largely similar functions. They are both bad-ass slicers. The build is what you’d expect from a typical Japanese kitchen knife: they are of premium quality, have ultra-sharp edges and stunning-looking designs.
Both the sujihiki and yanagiba kitchen knives have long, thin and graceful blades with pointed tips. This profile not only makes for a great slicer but it also offers you pinpoint accuracy when slicing your food, including when making very thin slices.
If you cook sushi or sashimi or simply need a reliable slicer for your boneless steak, you will need one of these two Japanese slicers. Both the sujihiki and yanagiba kitchen knives are best in class knives to use for your favourite Japanese fish cuisine. The thin and long blade profile minimizes the surface area that will be in contact with the food being sliced and reduces the tear and drag on the produce. The profile of the knife also freely releases the food once it has been cut so you won’t have to grapple with the slices of fish sticking on the blade after slicing. This is particularly true for the yanagiba knife.
The kind of Japanese slicer that you opt for, whether yanagiba or sujihiki, will depend on the type of dish you are planning to cook. The yanagiba lends itself more easily to fish slicing while the sujihiki is a more multipurpose slicer.
Sujihiki in Japanese literally translates to “flesh slicer” and is a thin and long knife that is suited for finely slicing thin and straight slices of both boneless fish and boneless meat. The sujihiki profile is needle-esque which is perfect for taking it under to slice or trim away the fat or connective tissues in the larger cuts of pork loin or ribeye.
It is generally a long knife with lengths ranging from 210mm to 360mm. The longer sujihiki knife can smoothly glide through any cut of meat, including the larger cuts to slice off very thin pieces in one long drawing motion from the heel to the tip of the sujihiki knife.
Long, sharp and thin, the sujihiki can slice off thin pieces of fish from a very delicate fish. Some sujihiki blades have fluted grooves that allow air to get between the blade of the knife and the fish for very clean nonstick slices.
The narrow profile of the sujihiki blade along with its acute edge angles will significantly reduce the effort you need to apply to slice through the ingredients.
Because you get the best cuts with the sujihiki when you use it in one long drawing motion, it is generally recommended that you go for a long sujihiki blade, as long as your budget or workspace can permit.
When you combine a good cutting technique with the sharp edges and the acute blade angle of the sujihiki knife, you can achieve very clean and elegant cuts with very little cellular damage. This cutting performance will be highly beneficial in dishes where the fish must be served and eaten raw as the smooth and flawless slicing preserves the original texture and flavor of the fish.
Use the sujihiki kitchen knife for all your slicing needs including in fish preparation tasks for boneless fish such as when trimming, filleting and finely slicing your fish. You can also use the sujihiki for slicing boneless meat or carving your roast.
The sujihiki slicer can be used for both boneless meat and fish but if you are making sushi and sashimi almost exclusively in your kitchen, then you will need the yanagiba knife or the yanagi.
Unlike the double bevel sujihiki, the yanagi is a single-bevel Japanese kitchen knife so it will come with a handedness to its use that adds some layer of complexity.
The yanagi has been exclusively made for slicing sushi and sashimi so if you prepare these and need a specialised knife that will make quick work of the task, this is the right knife to go for.
Being a traditional single-bevel Japanese kitchen knife, the yanagiba is not as easy to hold and wield as the sujihiki.
You will also notice that the yanagiba kitchen knife is a bit heavier than the sujihiki knife as it is built with a thicker spine. In spite of this heavier build, it still sports the ultra-thin edges that you would expect in Japanese kitchen knives.
However, you have to factor in these small differences in construction when using either the yanagiba or the sujihiki knives.
With yanagiba, the weight of the spine and the gravity and momentum it carries in a downward motion carries the knife and allows the yanagiba to do the work for you when slicing your fish. This gravity not only ensures you don’t get tired easily but it also reduces the friction and tearing when you are using the yanagiba to slice delicate fish.
The inside of the yanagiba knife features a concave shape that gives this knife a non-stick property when slicing delicate fish. The slices will simply fall off the knife’s blade. We have noted that some sujihiki knives are built with fluted grooves that imbues them with a non-stick property but most sujihikis won’t have these. So the yanagiba has an edge when it comes to a non-stick slicing performance thanks to their concave blades.
Most yanagi have been fashioned from carbon steel so the blades will have excellent edge retention.
When using the yanagiba knife, it is important to remember that this is a “handed” kitchen knife and will not cut straight. You should therefore be sure to purchase a yanagiba knife with the right edge depending on whether you are right-handed or left-handed.
The yanagiba knife that are right-handed will tend to pull to the left when you are slicing while those that are left-handed will tend to pull to the right when you are slicing. If you are new to single-beveled knives, this “handedness” factor will require some getting used to. However, once you have grasped a handle of it, you will certainly appreciate the power of this Japanese slicer.
You will primarily use the yanagiba knife for slicing boneless fish fillets for the preparation of sushi and sashimi. You can also use these single-bevel slicers to fillet small or medium-sized fish as well as to skin your fish.
Outside its single-bevel edge, thick spine and the handedness factor, the yanagiba knife is quite similar to the sujihiki knife.
Like with the sujihiki knives, the long and graceful blades of the yanagiba allow you to slice your fish in a single long drawing motion. The cutting technique along with the build of the knife with its sharp blades and acute angles allow you to slice your fish with very little cellular damage that helps in preserving the texture and flavor of the fish.
Like with other traditional Japanese kitchen knives, the yanagiba knives come in a number of task-specific variations. The yanagiba knives are available in sizes ranging from 210mm to 360mm. They are typically long knives and the most common sizes are the 270mm, 300mm and the 330mm blades.
Main Differences Between the Yanagiba and the Sujihiki Knife
- While the sujihiki is a double-bevel kitchen knife, the yanagiba is a single-bevel or one-sided kitchen knife and its usage therefore comes with a ‘handedness’.
- Yanagiba knives have a thicker spine than the sujihiki knives and therefore pack more weight that adds to the momentum when slicing.
- Sujihiki knives can be used by just about anyone while the yanagiba knives require a higher skill level.
- The yanagiba has a finer cutting performance than the sujihiki.
- The yanagiba is a specialty fish slicing knife while the sujihiki is a more versatile general-purpose slicing knife that you can also use to slice boneless meat, fish or for carving your roast.
- The yanagiba is a more heavy-duty kitchen knife compared to the sujihiki.
- The yanagiba surface is slightly curved that creates a non-stick blade surface so the sliced food will effortlessly slide off the blade. Some sujihiki knives have punched grooves that allow for a non-stick performance.