27 Jan 2017 in Food Culture
It’s no surprise that Japanese knives are prized by the world’s top chefs: they’re razor-sharp, pinpoint-precise – and, in the right hands, they can do some incredible things!
Japan’s reputation for creating top-quality blades can be traced back to the samurai era – when the famed katana swords were the stuff of legend. But when swords were outlawed by the Haitōrei Edict at the end of the 19th century, blacksmiths turned their talents to making knives of exceptional hardness and durability. And the tradition has continued ever since.
It’s all about the forging
Today, two methods are used for forging traditional Japanese knives: honyaki and kasumi.
The honyaki method uses a single material, typically high-carbon steel, and involves hand-forging using a technique similar to that used for swords. It’s time-consuming and labour-intensive, but the result is a blade of exceptional resistance and durability. Honyaki-grade knives are among the world’s sharpest, cutting with supreme precision in the hands of an expert – but they’re also difficult to sharpen and maintain.
Kasumi-grade knives are made by combining hagane, a high-carbon steel that makes the blade edge resistant, with jigane iron, which is used in the body to make it more flexible. They’re easier to use and maintain than hoyaki knives – and also less expensive. And if you’re not a professional chef, this is probably as sharp and precise as you need your knives!
The art of cutting
In today’s Japanese cuisine, there’s a knife for every occasion. And there’s a name for practically every knife technique! Here’s our selection of some of the most frequently-used knives and some of most intriguing – and incredible – techniques used by Japanese chefs.
1 – The yanagi bōchō is the perfect tool for cutting thin, evenly-sliced sashimi, a revered art in Japan. Find out how to slice sashimi like a pro in this video:
2 – In the hands of a skilled chef, the usaba knife can be used to slice extremely long sheets of vegetable measuring less than 0.5mm in width and up to several meters long!
The vegetable of choice is usually the daikon or cucumber, but it’s possible to use the so-called katsuramuki technique with a carrot, aubergine, ginger or potato. Want to see a master in action? Check out the awe-inspiring skills of this Japanese chef:
3 – The short, pointed blade of the deba bōchō is the knife of choice for cutting fillets, bones and shells. Check out this sushi chef’s skills in filleting a mackerel in fast forward!
Like to pick up your own Japanese knife and hone your cutting and slicing skills?
Just thirty minutes from HOSHINOYA Tokyo, the Tsukiji fish market district is a great place to browse shops selling a vast range of authentic knives.
Alternatively, you can head straight to the knife specialist shop Kamata in Tokyo’s Taito district. Established in 1923, the store sells its own range of over 800 handmade and factory-made knives. It’s truly at the cutting edge of the industry!