From the sharp corners on a slice of sashimi that stands by itself, to the smooth and shinny surface (a.k.a 艶 tsu-ya) of a cut — Cutting properly with a knife does not only make the beautiful food but is also deeply relevant to the flavours the cuts can create.
What is a sharp knife? Its shape, material, manufacturing methods to the ways of knife sharpening all matters. If you aim to achieve the best sharpness of a knife, the first thing is to know the knive types as they are.
Used from the end of the cutting edge all the way to the tip, Sashimi knives are designed to make slashing cuts. They are praised for their extremely sharp edges and the beautiful cuts they can create.
Sashimi knives consists of a thin spine, narrow and long blade shape. This design is to make to not to crush the ingredient tissue when making cuts. Such knives are often used to skin fish and fillet fish with small bones or narrow bodies.
Appropriate sashimi knife blade length for home cooking is 21–24 cm; 24–36 cm long blade for professional cooks.
Some common sashimi knives are:
- Yanagi-ba: the type of sashimi knife commonly used in western Japan. The shape of the blade resembles “calamus” (菖蒲), which give it its other name “shou-bu”
- Tako-hiki: the type of sashimi knife commonly used in eastern Japan. The spine of the blade is parallel to the cutting edge. The tip of the blade has square corners, making it easy to slice through nagashi-mono (a jello-y food made from gelatin or agar)
- Fugu-biki: A specialty knife designed to make puffer fish sashimi. Such knife has even thinner spine and narrower blade, compared to Yanagi-ba knives. The cutting edge is also straight.
A Deba knife has a thick spine and tapers towards the blade tip and edge. This type of knives are often used to chop/pound through the bones or fillet fish.
The lower 40% of the knife blade is used for chopping/pounding, the upper 60% is for filleting. There exists deba knives that are designed for pounding only; such knives employs a double-bevelled edge to prevent the blade from chipping.
Some common deba knives are:
- Ko-deba (AKA Small deba): designed specifically for cutting through the bones and fileting of Aji fish (Horse mackerel) or small Sea Breams. Usually 3–16.5 cm long, 1.5 cm thickness.
- Ai-deba: compared to a deba knife, it has a thinner spine. Being light-weighted, Ai-deba performs well at cutting through the hard bones.
- Mi-oroshi (Filet knife): employs a similar design as Ai-deba and is light-weighted. It has a wide range of applications — fileting, slicing and etc. 21–27 cm long. 1.5cm thickness.
- Kuro-deba (Black deba): with the focus in the practicality, only the Ura (back side of the kinife) is sanded down and Kira-ha (cutting edge) sharpened, leaving the rest of the knife covered in the black oxidized layer. (For more Japanese knife parts terminologies, please refer to this article.) Some kuro-deba knives are designed with double bevel and meant for hammering trhough bones.
Usuba (AKA thin blade) knives are irreplaceable when it comes to peeling, dicing, skinning and shaving vegetables. The delicate cutting edge and beautiful shapes are borned out of the especially thin blades of Usuba knives.
Kamagata Usuba: the Western Japanese style Usuba knife. The tip of the knife is used to create garnish pieces (飾り切り). The chin of the blade can be used to peel the skin of, or gouge out part of the vegetable. The middle section is used to do Katsura-muki or for creating specific sushi garnishes (AKA Tsuma), rounding off cut corners and fine-dicing. There is wide application of this kind of knife in Japanese cooking.
Higashigata Usuba: an Eastern Japan style Usuba knife. The spine is parallel to the cutting edge, and the blade is square. The blade tip curves so knives of this kind isn’t the best for creating garnishes or vegetable craft.
Muki-mono: also an Eastern Japan style Usuba knife. It can be used the same way as a Usuba knife; however, it has a thinner spine, and the blade tip is pointy triangluar. 18–21 cm long, 3 cm thick.
Mentori: an Western Japan style knife. It is a miniature Katagata Usuba knife, and also employs a thinner single-bevelled blade. It is great at peeling vegetables, rounding off corners of ingredients and dicing. 9–15 cm long, 1.5 cm thick.
Kawa-muki: Similar to Mentori, but with a thinner, double-bevelled blade. It is a smaller knife in size and rather handy in skinning vegetables or creating thin cuts of ingredients. 9–12 cm long, 1.5 cm thick.
- 包丁と砥石 柴田書店 (1999/10/1)