Regardless of the cuisine, the knife is the most most important tool for any chef. Many professional chefs and cooking enthusiasts swear by Japanese kitchen knives. The best pieces are crafted using the same forging and grinding processes as those used to make traditional samurai swords centuries ago. Over 90% of all knives used by professional chefs in Japan today come from Sakai, Osaka.
As the production of knives in Sakai dates far back to the 1400s, it is hard to briefly go through everything there is to know about these knife manufacturing tradition and why it is important today, however here are some main features that are essential for understanding the uniqueness of these tools and their application.
Defining Japanese knives
Comparing to Western-style knives, Japanese knives have single beveled blades. This means Western-style knives are sharpened on both sides of the blade, while Japanese style knives are only sharpened on one side. Another characteristic of Japanese-style knives is ultra-sharp blades that not only cut better but also remain sharp for a longer time before needing to be sharpened again. This is explained by the type of steel used for the production of the knives. It often has a high carbon content that allows them to be harder and more rigid. Japanese knives’ blades are thinner, sharper, and much lighter than their Western counterparts. The lightweight and sharpness make the knife easier to handle and lends itself well to Japanese cooking which typically requires more detail and precision.
Types of Japanese knives
Even though they share common features, Japanese knives come in various types to fit different tasks. Single-edged knives are usually specialized for one purpose. The examples of these types are ‘deba’-used for fish butchery and ‘usuba’ -used for vegetable-cutting. There are also multipurpose styles, such as the ‘gyutou’ – the most common and used type of Japanese knife used for almost all cutting tasks including vegetables, meat, fish and ‘santoku’ – another all-purpose Japanese knife found in most Japanese homes used for slicing, dicing and mincing. Knife experts from https://knivesadvisor.com/best-japanese-knives/ offer the most detailed insight on the anatomy, types, and specific usage of each Japanese knife model you can find today.
The beauty of Japanese knives
Another important characteristic that singles out Japanese knives are their beautiful designs. Japanese knives stand out for having aesthetic blades and beautiful, D-shaped handles, and are mostly even packed and soled in elegant boxes with Japanese characters that add to the overall experience of entering the Japanese cutlery world. Besides that, there are some types, called Damascus knives that have blades made of several layers of steel. The steel layers are usually visible on the blade’s surface as they form original wavy patterns. Another known aesthetic feature found in some of the Japanese blades is the ‘tsuchime’- finish that consists of hammering the blade to create an irregular surface. Other than given them an amazing look hammered finish also helps to reduce the blade’s stickiness.
Japanese cutting techniques
In Japanese cuisine, the appearance and presentation of the food are getting quite a lot of attention. Therefore different cutting techniques are depending on what you are cutting, and what knife you are using. While some techniques are basic, others require a great deal of skill, training, and experience. Some vegetable cutting techniques include rangiri ( meaning ‘random cuts’), Icho-Giri (quarter rounds), and Katsuramuki (rotary sheet cutting). Rangiri is a technique used to cut vegetables like carrots and cucumbers into uneven shapes of the same size. “Icho” means ginkgo in Japanese, so vegetables cut in Icho-Giri style result in a quarter-circle shape that looks like a ginkgo leaf while Katsuramuki is the cutting method to turn a cylindrical vegetable into a thin, flat sheet.
Taking care of Japanese knives
To preserve the quality and the look of a Japanese knife it is highly important to you give it proper maintenance. Japanese knife does remain sharp for a longer time than a Western one, however, when it comes to sharpening it eventually, you should know the right way to do it. Tips for taking good care of your Japanese knife include washing them with hands, not in the dishwasher. Never let it dry by itself and avoid humidity as the steel it is made of has a higher carbon content and is prone to rust. And when it comes to sharpening the most recommended type of sharpener is the sharpening stone.
After having these essential features of Japanese knives explained, along with the tradition that lies behind it, as well as behind everything else originating from Japan, it will hopefully be easier for you to choose your Japanese. Have in mind to take care of it, the same way the people took special care while producing each of them.