Which Japanese knife to choose for which use?
Working with meat
Japanese blades are extremely sharp and therefore ideal for working with meat. Let’s take a look at the different blades you can use to cut meat.
To carve meat, for example when cutting up a whole animal, you will need a knife with large dimensions. For all work on large pieces of meat, the Sujihiki is the most suitable knife. Its long and precise blade will allow quality cuts.
To prepare poultry, two types of Japanese knives are used. On the one hand you can use a Honesuki for small poultry and small birds.
For larger birds, such as poultry, turkeys, capons, pheasants and the like, use a Garasuki. This knife is the big brother of the Honesuki knife. It will allow you to debone carcasses without difficulty.
For these different tasks, many knives can be used. We have already mentioned the Sujihiki, which will allow you to slice large pieces of meat.
Two other knives will be perfect for cutting meat (and not only) the Santoku and the Gyuto. These two types of blades are very versatile. If you can only have one Japanese knife, choose without hesitation a Santoku. This knife can be used for almost all types of cuts and on all types of food (meat, vegetables, fish, fruit).
Another knife can be used, in some cases, to work with meat. The Deba was originally used for cutting heads and preparing fish. It is also very effective for making tartar or chopping meat by hand. It is a heavy and strong knife.
Cutting a ham or making thin slices
In this case we need a long, very sharp knife. Whether you want to make a carpaccio or cut fine slices of ham, the Sajihiki is once again the most suitable. This large knife is also called a « slicer ».
For the meat part, I think we have done the trick. Let’s see now, the fish part!
Fish has a very important place in Japanese gastronomy. The fact that the country is surrounded by water must have a lot to do with it. Let’s discover the many types of knives used to prepare fish.
Cutting large fish
For fish such as tuna, which can be up to 3 metres long and weigh 300kg or more for some specimens. You will need a very long knife! The Maguro is a very large knife, more like a sword than a knife. Its blade measures up to 2 meters. This knife is used to lift the nets of large fish. Its name simply means tuna, it comes from its first use.
Cutting heads and bones
A powerful and heavy knife is perfect for these tasks: the Deba. This knife is perfect for cutting off the heads of fish, but it can also be used to lift fillets. Its bevelled blade allows for clean cuts. This knife is also used for chopping different foods, such as tartar.
To lift fish fillets, different knives can be used:
- The Yanagiba, also called Sashimi, is ideal for preparing fillets thanks to its bevelled blade and long length.
- The Sujihiki is a cutting knife. Also known as a « slicer », it was originally used for cutting meat. But it can also be used to lift fillets or slice fish very thinly.
- The Deba, seen above, is also a good knife for lifting nets.
To make sashimi or fine carpaccio, bevelled blades are the most suitable. Here are 2 Japanese knives that are perfect for these uses:
- Yanagiba/Sashimi: a long knife with a hard bevelled blade, which allows a clean and neat cut without damaging the flesh of the fish
- Sujihiki can be used to cut fish or meat. Its long, bevelled blade separates food cleanly without damaging the product
For lifting eel fillets, there is a special knife: the Unagisaki. It takes its name from the eel (« unagi » in Japanese). Its blade is long and sharp to open eels easily along their entire body. It is bevelled to lift the fillets cleanly without damaging the flesh.
Do you know the « puffer fish »? Also called « balloon fish » or Fugu by its real name, its preparation is risky. Indeed, if it is badly prepared, it is toxic and can cause death. When gutting this fish, great care must be taken to ensure that the elements containing the toxin do not spill onto the flesh.
The Fuguhiki is a knife from the Yanagiba and Sashimi family. Its blade is thin and flexible to allow for filleting of this fish.
Octopus is very popular in Japanese cuisine. As its texture is different from that of fish, there is a special knife for cutting it. This knife is also part of the Yanagiba/Sashimi family. It is long and bevelled for a clean cut. The tip of the blade is either right-angled or pointed, depending on the version. This knife can also be used to cut other fish.
There is also a knife dedicated to the preparation of crab or lobster: the Kanisaki. It belongs to the Deba family. Its blade is heavy to break the shells and has only one cutting edge.
Opening oysters and preparing scallops
For shellfish, the knife used is a Kaimuki. This knife is a short, sharp blade. The point is very fine, but the blade quickly widens. This knife is very rigid to allow the shells to be opened easily, once the point is retracted.
Preparation of shellfish
The Kaisaki is the little brother of the Yanagiba. It is a copy of this model, but in a shorter version. This is why it is very suitable for preparing shellfish. However, it should not be used for opening shellfish. Just for cutting them. Its small size and bevelled blade means that it can also be used for peeling fruit and vegetables.
For cutting vegetables, several knives can be used:
- Chuka or Chuka Bocho, this knife is not, strictly speaking, a Japanese knife, as it comes from China. This large rectangular knife has a fine bevelled blade, ideal for cutting vegetables
- Usuba and Kamausuba is a large rectangular blade, also beveled to cut without tearing the vegetable
- Nakiri, again, is a great vegetable cleaver, except that its blade is sharpened on both sides (V-sharpening)
These 3 knives are perfect for cutting and peeling vegetables. They allow you to make large « leaves » of vegetables.
Cutting, slicing, peeling
For these different actions, the 3 knives mentioned above will do very well. But there are also other knives for these uses:
- Kawamuki this multi-purpose knife has a blade with a rounded tip. The tip is still pointed, but the descent is rounded. It is perfect for peeling vegetables thanks to its bevelled blade
- Kaisaki is a smaller Yanagiba, it is widely used for peeling, skinning and cutting fruits and vegetables
The most commonly used knives for cutting fruit and vegetables are the small ones. Paring knives and « bird’s beak » knives are therefore perfectly suited to the size of fruit.
For cutting fruit, you can use the same knives as for vegetables: Nakiri, Usuba, Kaisaki, Kawamuki. But also bevelled knives such as the Yanagiba / Sashimi, practical for large fruits thanks to its long blade.
The versatility of the Kawamuki gives it many advantages. One of them is peeling fruit thanks to its small size and one-sided blade.
The « bird’s beak » knife can also be used to peel fruit thanks to its rounded, beak-shaped blade.
To cut fruit with precision, small knives are once again the most suitable. Kaisaki, Kawamuki, paring knives or « bird’s beak » knives are the most precise.
There are still other knives specific to certain uses. Here is a small, non-exhaustive list of different types of blades. They have very specific uses, which is why they are less often mentioned.
The Painkiri is, as the name suggests, a knife for cutting bread. It is similar to our western bread knife, with a saw-toothed blade to easily cut through the bread crust.
Sobakiri, Udokiri and Menkiri
These 3 knives are dedicated to cutting noodles:
- Sobakiri is for cutting Japanese Soba noodles. It is a large cutter with a return of the blade under the fingers. The blade makes a sort of U shape around the hand
- Udokiri is used to cut traditional Japanese Udon noodles. It is also a large cleaver with a blade return under the handle
- Menkiri is a knife for cutting all types of pasta, it can be said to be the all-purpose knife for cutting pasta
These cleavers are regularly seen in manga when a chef gets out of his kitchen to cut up. This very atypical blade is easily recognisable thanks to the return under the handle.
It is impossible to have a knife of each type, as there are so many. That is why I will present you the multipurpose knives in this section. This way you don’t have to break the bank. Just buy one or two good knives to make all kinds of cuts.
The Gyuto or chef’s knife is originally made for slicing meat. But many people use it for many other tasks, like cutting vegetables or fish. The blade is long and sharp and can sometimes be dimpled to prevent food from sticking.
These two knives are versatile because of their double-bevelled blade. This V-shaped edge allows all types of cutting (slicing/chopping/slicing/cutting/chopping). They can also be used to cut meat, fish, vegetables or fruit. The difference between these two knives comes from their points: a broken angle, very marked for the Bunka and a rounded descent of the blade for the Santoku. This gives it a less aggressive look.
If you only have one Japanese knife in your kitchen, you should choose one of these two models.
The Petty is a small all-purpose knife that can chop, cut or mince meat, fish, vegetables or herbs. Its small size allows it to be precise on small pieces. On the other hand, it will be too short for cutting large pieces.
This is the end of our overview of the different possible uses for the many Japanese knives that exist. To choose the right brand, read our article. As for the price of your knife, it is here. If you enjoyed this article, don’t hesitate to share it with your friends who are fans of cooking, Japan or both!