By some estimates, up to 70% of your kitchen chores will entail the use of a chef’s knife. This anecdotal statistic highlights the central role that the chef’s knives, particularly Japanese chef’s knives, play in our kitchens. As they say, this is where the action is. Without a good chef’s knife in your arsenal, you are making your work needlessly difficult.
A good quality and versatile chef’s knife can be your kitchen workhorse. It is a multipurpose kitchen knife that handles everything ranging from slicing fruits and spices to cutting meat, fish and vegetables. The chef’s knife is useful for almost every task in the kitchen.
If you are an Australian home cook or professional chef shopping for the best Japanese chef’s knife for your kitchen, there is usually a good variety to pick from. Japanese blades are particularly prized for their variety and specialization. They also feature distinctive and task-specific designs so you can somewhat ‘personalize’ your blade choice and lay your hands on the most suitable Japanese kitchen knife that will handle any distinct or general tasks in the kitchen be it carving meat, dicing garlic and onions, boning, deboning or cutting fish.
When it comes to chef’s knives, you are usually shopping for a multipurpose kitchen knife that can handle a little bit of everything. There is a large spectrum of Japanese chef’s knives to choose from including the Gyuto, Santoku and the Yanagi knives. Let us have a look at some of the best Japanese chef’s knives that you can purchase for your Australian kitchen.
Gyuto in Japanese simply translates to “cow sword” and is one of the most ubiquitous of the Japanese chef’s knives. The Gyuto kitchen knife is a Japanese rendition of the classic Western Chef’s knife. This is a general-purpose chef’s knife that you can use it for a multiplicity of tasks in your kitchen.
In Japan, the Gyuto kitchen knife was traditionally used to cut and break down beef, from which it derived its name “cow sword.” The modern Gyuto is a lot more versatile and can be used to chop, slice, mince or dice just about anything in your Australian kitchen.
Gyuto knives are available in various handles ranging from the classic Western handles to Australian handles and even the traditional Japanese-style handles with octagonal shapes, D-shape or elliptical shapes. The blade finishes also vary widely and range from mirror finishes to the detailed Damascus patterning.
Some Western chefs might find the flat and rectangular blades of the Nakiri knives a tad intimidating. They look like Western-style cleavers but they are a lot thinner and cannot cut through the animal bone. Instead, the Nakiri knives are commonly used to chop vegetables.
The large, rectangular and ultra-thin blades can make very fine cuts of your vegetables with the knife being used in a “guillotine” or pull-cutting motion. You can also use the Nakiri knife in a push-cutting motion. Their flat edges don’t lend themselves easily to rock-cutting or rocking motions.
The Nakiri knife is ultra-efficient in chopping up vegetables. It has long flat edges that touch the cutting board simultaneously thus ensuring the knife doesn’t make an ‘accordion’ of your vegetables. That is, you won’t worry about cut vegetables that are still connected to one another like a paper doll.
Nakiri knives are also slightly heavy which adds to the cutting efficiency. On top of your thrust, it falls on the food with its own momentum and easily glides through the vegetables as you chop, enabling this vegetable knife to do most of the chopping work for you. Nakiri knives are available in a variety of sizes. The taller Nakiri knives are better suited for professional chefs or home cooks with larger hands.
Like all Japanese kitchen knives, Nakiri knives are available in a variety of handles made from different materials ranging from rosewood to blackwood and Japanese magnolia. Some Nakiri knives, particularly those sold in the West, may be kitted with Western-style knife handles.
All Japanese kitchen knives have unique and easily recognizable blade designs. None more so than the Santoku knife. With its sheepsfoot blade profile, this is one of the most recognizable Japanese chef’s knives. The Santoku kitchen knife is widely popular in both Japanese and Western kitchens.
The name ‘Santoku’ itself translates to ‘three virtues’ which refers to the multipurpose utility of this Japanese chef’s knives. You can use it to cut meat, fish and vegetables. You can also use this ‘three virtues’ Japanese chef’s knife to slice, chop and dice.
Unlike other niche Japanese kitchen knives, the Santoku has made a lot of headway in many Western kitchens thanks to its versatility.
Its blunt tips may not give you much in terms of nimbleness but it doesn’t break easily. The Santoku is just as versatile as the Gyuto kitchen knife or the classic chef’s knife. It is shorter in length than the Gyuto and its edges are also straighter but curve down towards its blunt tip. Santoku knives are something of a sensation in Australia and are used as general-purpose kitchen knives as well as for precision cutting.
You most likely won’t need a Yanagi knife unless you make sushi or sashimi on a regular basis but this is still a cool knife to have in your Australian kitchen. The primary purpose of a Yanagi knife is slicing sashimi.
The Yanagi is a single-bevel knife so unless you have good experience with Japanese blades, it will need some mastering. However, once you have gotten a good handle of this fish slicer, you can easily use it to make precise and delicate cuts on your sushi or sashimi. Yanagi knives have a very fine edge that is terrifyingly sharp. It can be a dangerous knife for the novice and is best used by an experienced hand that has spent years mastering this knife.
The Yanagi knife is best used in slicing the boneless fish fillets to make sashimi or sushi toppings. It is easily recognizable by its long, narrow, thin and graceful blade that enables you to cut thin slices of fish in a single drawing stroke.
The long and graceful blade profile, thinness and ultra-sharpness enables you to make precision cuts on your boneless fish with very little pressure. You can use the Yanagi to make clean cuts without applying any stress or cell destruction that might ruin the flavor of the food.
You can use your Yanagi knife with different cutting techniques in order to preserve the flavor of fish and bring out the aesthetics in your presentation.
They are similar to some of the common carving knives so you can, in fact, put them to similar uses. They have the long, thin and narrow blades that effortlessly glide through any protein and slice it with relative ease without applying force or using a back-and-forth motion.
The Yanagi knife is quite intimidating for chefs who aren’t familiar with it so the Sujihiki is generally a safer and more approachable alternative for chefs who would have preferred to use a Yanagi, particularly on their sashimi.
Apart from the above uses, you can also use a Sujihiki knife to fillet or skin fish. Like the Yanagi, this slicer with its long blade, allows you to cut your fish or meat in one single drawing motion from the heel of the knife to its tip.
Like the Yanagi, the Sujihiki knife has a narrow, graceful blade with an acute angle which drastically reduces the effort needed to slice through your ingredients. To make the most of this profile, you should go for longer Sujihiki knives, as much as your budget can be permit, as the longer the blade, the higher the price. When looking for a suitable size for the Sujihiki knife, you should also factor in the size of your workspace. With a smaller workspace, it would be more prudent to go for a shorter or medium length Sujihiki slicer.
With the right technique, sharpness and an acute blade angle, you can realize very neat cuts with minimal cellular damage on the cut surface. This is an outcome you would want in cuisines where the fish is served raw as the clean cuts help retain the texture and flavor of the fish.
You will need the Sujihiki knife for varied slicing tasks in your Australian kitchen, be they finely slicing your boneless meat or fish, trimming or filleting fish. The knife will be perfect for any kitchen task where you need to make very fine and precise slicing.
However, if you will just be preparing fish such as sushi or sashimi, you’d be better off with the Yanagi knife, a traditional single-bevel Japanese kitchen knife that is designed specifically for this purpose.
From a casual glance, the Japanese petty knife looks like a miniaturized Gyuto knife. It is suited for the smaller and delicate tasks in the kitchen such as peeling your produce or making decorative cuts. It is the Japanese take on the paring knife but it is slightly bigger than the paring knife. The petty knife is lightweight and easy to control so you can maneuver it around some of the most delicate tasks in the kitchen.
If you work a lot with fish, then you would want to acquire the single-bevel Deba knife. This is a tough and sturdy knife that is primarily designed for working fish. It is heavy-duty and in Japan, it is primarily used by fishermen along with fishmongers to behead fish and also to scale the fish without causing damage to its flesh.
The Deba knife is strong enough to hack through the weak and thin bones in the fish. However, it is still too weak for the thicker bones so don’t use it on those as you may end up damaging your knife. For the bigger and thicker bones in your fish or to cut through shellfish, you should go for the stronger and sturdier Yo-deba knife.
The Usuba is a single-bevel knife which closely resembles the Nakiri knife. However, this knife is usually recommended for use by expert chefs who have taken their time to master it.
Being a single-bevel knife, there is sharpness on just one side of the blade so there is handedness to the use of this knife. There are Usuba knives for right-handed people and for the left-handed users.
The use of the Usuba knife requires a greater degree of precision than that of the Nakiri knife so users who are fairly inexperienced will need plenty of training, as without, they may end up injuring themselves with this difficult single-bevel knife.
If you are going to spend money on the Usuba knife, you better know how to use it!
These are some of the top specialized Japanese kitchen knives that you can buy in Australia. They will handle everything in your kitchen such as carving some roast, slicing delicate fish, beheading fish, scaling your fish, trimming, slicing boneless meat, slicing off fat and sinews from your meat, slicing fruits or chopping vegetables. Go through our catalogue on Koi Knives and you will undoubtedly find something that works for you.