I bet the first thing you wonder about when you are buying your first Japanese kitchen knives is: should I buy them one by one, or get the whole set in one go? Well, I’d advise you to check your style of cooking. Getting a whole set will save you some time and maybe a few bucks, but you might not use all of the knives included, or you might find that you don’t like the quality of that brand after using it.
I prefer to buy single knives for the highest quality, and especially when I can get the best deals. If I ever buy knife sets I only buy sets of 2 or 3-pieces and only when I trust the quality of the brand.
Ok, now you want to buy some knives. Which types do you need?
- Deba knives – cut fish, chicken, and meat
- Santoku knives – utility knives
- Nakiri knives – cut veggies
- slice raw fish and prepare seafood
- to make Japanese noodles
- Honchos – different kinds of honchos can fillet eels, tunas, and other big catches
What Makes it a Good Japanese Kitchen Knife?
So what are the factors that determine how good a Japanese kitchen knife is? Here they are:
- Edge retention ability
- Made of the finest material
- Looks cool (No joke!)
Where did the Best Japanese Kitchen Knives Come From?
I learned from friends and fellow foodies about the pleasure of using Japanese kitchen knives. If you’ve gotten yourself high-quality Japanese cutlery, most probably they are manufactured from Sakai. For your information, Sakai is the capital of samurai sword manufacturing since the 1300s.
Other places famous for their kitchen knives is Seki, Gifu which today is considered the home of modern Japanese kitchen cutlery. Here, where most of the major cutleries producing companies are based, produce the highest quality kitchen knives both in the traditional Japanese and western style.
Miki City is another famous center that is well known throughout Japan for its knife-making traditions. If you’re looking for knives mainly for their craftsmanship, you might want to buy knives made from this city.
western vs Japanese knives
There are vast differences between western and Japanese knives. If you browse through the knives’ aisle in your local stores or in websites selling them, you would notice that most Japanese knives are single ground. You would come across knives that are angled from both sides.
There are also those which are only angled from one side and the other side of the blade is flat. These knives have an edge ranging from 70/30 for the average chef’s knife to 90/10 for professional sushi chef’s knives.
What these numbers signify is the degree of ground on the right and left blades of the knives. For the 70/30 say, they are manufactured to have 70 percent of it is ground on the right-hand side of its edges while the remaining 10 is ground on its left.
Types of Japanese Kitchen Knives
Back in the day, Japanese knives weren’t made from stainless steel. At that time, they were made of the same material as the famous Japanese sword, the katana. They used carbon steel to emulate the quality of the sword in which is well known. These knives have hard steel as an inner core. You can only see the cutting edge of the hard steel as it is wrapped by thick layers of soft steel.
There are many types of kitchen knives on the market each with its own shape and function. These types of Japanese kitchen knives can be made into categories according to their usage. The categorization is such as the following:
Cutting fish, chicken, and meat
Usually, Deba Bochos are used to cut fish. They are also used to cut chicken and meat.
The two types of knives that are used to cut veggies are the Nakiri Bocho and usuba bocho. Among their characteristics are:
- You don’t need to give it a push or pull it horizontally as they have a straight blade edge suitable for cutting all the way to the cutting board.
- These knives have much thinner blades in comparison with the Deba Bochos.
- Thinner blades would mean they are not suitable for cutting small bones in fish or meat. However, they do an excellent job in cutting vegetables.
- Nakiri bocho has a black blade.
- Depending on the origin of the knives, they will have a rectangular shape if they’re from Tokyo and have a rounded corner on the far blunt side if they are from Osaka. They’ve got a cutting edge that is called the ryoba, which means angled from both sides. Therefore, giving you impeccable straight slices.
- Both knives are lighter than the deba bochos but the usuba is slightly heavier than the nakiri.
The type of knives that are used to slice raw fish and seafood are the Tako Hikis, Yanagi bas, and the fugu Hikis. The following are some of their characteristics:
- The Tako Hikes are usually used to prepare octopus.
- You might not notice the differences between the fugu Hiki and the Yanagi ba at a first glance. A fugu Hiki has a thinner blade and it is also more flexible. They’ve been traditionally used to slice very thin fugu sashimis.
To fillet an eel, a specialized knife known as unagisaki hocho is used. It has a sharp pointy tip. This pointy tip is used to push the knife through the eel’s head. And then to open its flesh, it is slid through the body of the eel towards the tail. However, their shape might differ depending on the place of origin.
How to choose the best Japanese kitchen knives
Great kitchen knives are made for a great investment. I don’t know of anything else, the things in my kitchen that matter most other than impeccable functioning shining knives. It may not matter to you but if you’re passionate about cooking or aspire to be a professional in the industry, they make a difference between a cut above or under.
Besides, how else are you going to make that perfect slices of sashimi without great Japanese kitchen knives? To me, if you want to invest in something you might as well get the best. It depends on your requirements and preferences though. Personally, I’d choose them according to the most important features followed by the others. The following is such a list:
Edge retention ability
The knives that would get the coveted place in my kitchen will be those which after years when I bought them would be as sharp as ever. This is known as the edge retention ability of these knives. No matter how often you sharpen them, they cut through the meat like the first day you use them.
Made from the finest material
If you ever have doubts about the quality of the materials of the knives that you are about to buy, abort the mission. It’s just not worth the big bucks you spend. The most important feature of the material would be that it must be corrosion resistant. If you would like your knives to last longer then take heed of this advice. Not only that, it would make them look forever young i.e. pleasant to look at after years of use.
Japanese Kitchen Knives Comfort
If you’re not comfortable with using a knife no matter how expensive they are, little use it will be to you. A good knife should be comfortable enough for you to handle. When it is otherwise, it will affect the quality of your cuts and slices which translates to poor food, sushi-wise.
Japanese Kitchen Knives Strength
The point of having good quality knives are so that you can perform difficult tasks while in the kitchen with as little effort as possible. Say, you’re having your other half come over to your place and help you cook. You don’t want to be embarrassed when you can’t chop the trout head off with the so-called expensive Japanese knife. So, get yourself knives that offer you the best of strength.
Make sure they look cool
You can’t discount this one. It’s a no-no. An expensive ensemble shouldn’t come with an ugly face. Not only would they look unattractive, but they also make you less professional as well.
These are just the list of things that definitely I’d look for when buying kitchen knives, especially Japanese kitchen knives. However, you might be of a different opinion. The first thing I’d look for might be the last one on your list. So, do your research. You might unearth the perfect knife for your kitchen with just a few clicks away.
Safety Tips for Japanese Kitchen Knives
Whenever I bought myself new stuff for my kitchen, euphoria will be in the air! Yes, excited and all. I can’t wait to unwrap my Global knives as if Santa had just dropped them through the chimney. I know, it’s KNIVES that I’m dealing with not some Lego toys.
The kitchen can be a minefield if you’re not careful enough with how you store and handle your kitchen items, what more with Japanese Kitchen Knives. There are things that you should bear in mind to avoid having those dreaded cuts on your fingers or worse. The following are some of them:
Get them really sharp
The wise man advises us to keep our sexy steels sharp, he means really sharp. You might wonder, wouldn’t it be more dangerous if it’s sharper? On the contrary. It’s logic-defying for this one. Apparently, you need less effort to slide through the meat or the raw material you’re working on if your knife is really sharp. Otherwise, you need to exert more force hence exposes you to the real danger of getting yourself cut.
Point the Steely Steve away
Whenever you’re handling any sharp gadgets or materials, always bear in mind to angle the sharp part away from your fingers and your body. The same goes with your knives, always remember to angle the blades away from you when you do your cutting.
Never do your cutting on surfaces other than aboard
I’m sure you had those times when your cutting boards just don’t want to stay put. They just seem to move all over the place and more so if your countertop is wet. To avoid this, all you got to do is place a damp towel or a paper towel under your cutting board. This would prevent it from moving.
Wash and Store
For protection, make sure to store them away in a knife block. Not only do you save your fingers from unnecessary cuts, but you also prevent damages to the blades of the knives.
Japanese kitchen knives are based around an ancient philosophy that enables them to be light and easy to use and of course, exceptionally sharp. Japanese knife sets are made in a slightly different manner from usual kitchen knife sets. The system of forging plus the grinding and sharpening method will provide you with a razor-sharp edge. Knives like this will perform very well in the kitchen and will cut through their tasks with ease.
Japanese food is prepared with essential techniques and to exacting standards – preparing sushi and other types of dishes needs a perfect pairing of ingredients to create a visual masterpiece. A Japanese chef demands a lot from his tools and this is one of the factors which makes these knives the best in the world.
Why Do You Need To Use Japanese Kitchen Knives?
The preparation time for ingredients is very fast. No more battling with the wrong knife for the job. The Japanese have a type for each purpose; cleaving, chopping, paring, filleting, slicing, etc. although quite often, one type of Japanese knife will do many tasks.
You will be rewarded with a performance that is second to none. Slicing all those ingredients for a stir fry or preparing vegetables for a traditional dinner does not have to be a chore anymore. Choosing the best AND the correct type of knife will save you plenty of time in the kitchen.
Due to the incredible sharpness, it is recommended that a little more care is taken with washing and storing these knives. Usually, you could place chef knives in the dishwasher and think little about it, as they are made of metal, aren’t they! It is better to rinse by hand and store it carefully.
The reason for this is simply that the blade is thinner, a little more brittle, and requires a bit more care from you so that it does not get ‘nicks’ or tiny chips in the edge. Having said that, there is no reason why these superb tools should not last many, many years with no problems at all.
How Are They Made And Why Are They So Different?
Japanese kitchen knives are designed to be fairly lightweight with a fine edge. The steel blade is more brittle and sharper than other knives which tend to be tougher and more flexible. The premise is that without flexibility the blade can be thinner and much, much sharper. They do require more frequent sharpening, but it is not onerous, a simple whet-stone will do the job beautifully in a couple of minutes or you can acquire a diamond sharpener if preferred.
Forging these knives relies on traditional methods which can be one of two. The Honyaki is high carbon steel forging using one material only. The Kasumi is a steel and iron combination. The steel provides the blade edge and iron provides the body and backbone of the knife. Kasumi is the method used for Samurai sword forging. Both types are renowned for their sharpness and excellent durability.
Different Styles and Purposes
Popular knives are the cleaver the utility knife, paring knives,
There are also literally dozens of different types for preparing such foods as Udon or for certain filleting of fish. Obviously, it is not necessary to have lots of knives in your kitchen and even top Japanese chefs will settle with just a few favorites for regular use, regardless of their original purpose.
Where Are They Produced in Japan?
Most of the Japanese Kitchen Knives you will find available for sale today are fire-forged in the Sakai region of Japan. This region is responsible for much of the modern Samurai sword production since the 1930s. Knives were first forged in this region in the 16th Century and Sakai has remained at the forefront of cutlery production since then.
Nowadays many blades are forged using both modern and traditional hand tools. Traditionally Japanese Knives were ground on a single edge which was believed to give a better cut but did require extra skill to use. Today Japanese kitchen knives produced for the Western world will have a double cut edge which is as easy to use as any other kitchen knife.
Japanese knives are available in different styles and finishes – some highly polished and some less so. The handles vary from wood to resin and even seamless steel throughout. Some blades are cut slightly asymmetrically which can initially take a little getting used to but the performance of these knives is generally exemplary.
Japanese knife popularity is soaring in the West and in the US in particular. There is a good reason for this as it is finally recognized that they are better tools than the finely engineered German varieties. They are sharper and easy to keep that way. Food professionals and serious cooks are becoming converts to these Japanese kitchen knives and love them giving them excellent reviews in general!