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About Japanese Knives
Just as with many other traditional and cultural products in Japan, Japanese knives offer simple, yet sophisticated beauty and quality to their users. It can take some time to learn how to handle these knives correctly, but it is a rewarding experience.
「切っておいしくする」(Slice/cut to make it delicious) from Gakko Hojin Heisei Gakuen Heisei Chorishi Senmon Gakko. (2007). Ichiryu Ryorinin ni Manabu Hocho Tsukai. Tokyo: Nihon Bungesha.
Cutting food is not just about making good sizes for cooking or eating – you cut food to make it delicious. You cut with purpose; cutting is one of the key elements of cooking. The main purpose of cutting food is to transform it into a good size for eaters. Another part of cutting is doing away with the inedible parts of food such as skin and bones. Because foods have fibers and cells, knives can change how foods taste just by changing how they are cut, sliced, pressed, chopped, etc. How you handle knives, cut with them, and interpret “cutting” makes a great difference in your cooking.
「包丁を使い分ける」(Knives’ Time, Place, and Occasion – Use different knifes for different tasks) from Gakko Hojin Heisei Gakuen Heisei Chorishi Senmon Gakko. (2007). Ichiryu Ryorinin ni Manabu Hocho Tsukai. Tokyo: Nihon Bungesha; Shibata Shoten. (1999; 2008). Hocho to Toishi. Tokyo: Shibata Shoten; Fujiwara Teruyasu Hamono Kogei. Products. Retrieved on March 19, 2010 from, http://www.teruyasu.jp/products/sujihiki.html; Aoki Hamono Seisakusyo. About Types of Knives. Retrieved on March 19, 2010 from, http://www.aoki-hamono.co.jp/qa/qa.htm
There are many types of knives and you will most likely need more than just one knife.
Why are there so many types? The answer is simple – because professional chefs use different knives for different tasks. The key difference between Japanese knife and Western knife is the way the knife is ground.
Traditional Japanese knives are called 片刃包丁/Kataba bocho (single sided edge/blade), having a bevel on only one side of the blade (if you are right handed, the bevel should be on your right when you hold a knife.) Thus, if you cut with a Japanese blade, you will find it has a natural tendency to steer to the left. On the other hand, Western knives (両刃包丁/Ryouba Bocho) have a bevel on both sides of the blade and so the knife will cut through food without steering.
Here are some types of knives:
- - 出刃包丁/Deba Bocho: This type is used for cutting sea food and meat. Deba is characterized by its thick blade. The Deba’s relatively shorter blade length is very useful when cutting a small pieces and parts of fish.
- - 子出刃包丁/Kodeba Bocho: This is smaller version of Deba with slightly thinner blade. This is more useful in cutting small fish. It is best when used together with a Deba.
- - 柳刃包丁/Yanagiba Bocho: Yanagiba looks like Japanese sword – long and thin. Compared to other type of knives, Yanagiba has excellent sharpness and when the entire blaze is used to pull-cut food, the knife can make a beautiful slice. It is used for slicing fish fillets (without any bones) and other food items without hard parts.
- -薄刃包丁/Usuba Bocho: This is primarily used for cutting vegetables (aka 菜切り包丁/Nakiri Bocho). As stated in its name – usuba means “thin blade” in Japanese – it has thin blade that is perfect for peeling and slicing vegetables and かつらむき/ Katsuramuki (check out these mad Japanese skills on Youtube).
- -西洋包丁/Seiyo Hocho: The western knife (most commonly known as 牛刀/Gyuto) is a multi-use knife, used for everything from meat and vegetables to fish. Most of these knives have bevels on both sides of the edge. Home kitchens and professional kitchens alike would find this type of knife to be very useful. The length of handle and blade vary, but a 240mm blade is the most common for home cooks and 270mm is the most common for professional cooks.
- -ぺティナイフ/Petty knife : This is a small and thin knife, suitable for working on small and detailed food items. Petty knives are very useful for cutting fruit. A 150mm blade is the most common size.
- -骨切り包丁/Honekiri Hocho: This rectangle shaped knife is used for cutting bones of eel. Honekiri Hocho has the thickness necessary for cutting bones. The most common size is 300mm.
- -菜切り包丁/Nakiri Hocho: This style has been used to cut vegetables in Japanese households for a long time. It is double-beveled and very thin. In some cases, Nakiri makers will leave the sides of the knife unfinished, resulting in an “unpolished” black surface, or kurouchi finish.
- -筋引き/Sujihiki: This knife is designed for cleaning and slicing meat. Sujihiki have long, narrow blades, and tend to be very thin. They can also be used as a 刺身包丁/Sashimi Hocho.
- -骨すき（さばき東型）/Honesuki (Sabaki Kanto Style): This knife was originally designed for cutting chicken, but because of its small size, it is often used like a petty knife or utility knife.
- -反骨（さばき西型）/Hankotsu (Sabaki Kansai Style): This was designed for deboning meats, however, like the honesuki, it is often used as a petty or utility knife as well. It was designed to be used for hanging meats and require slightly different grip than most knives.
- Gakko Hojin Heisei Gakuen Heisei Chorishi Senmon Gakko. (2007). Ichiryu Ryorinin ni Manabu Hocho Tsukai. Tokyo: Nihon Bungesha.
- Shibata Shoten. (1999; 2008). Hocho to Toishi. Tokyo: Shibata Shoten.
- Fujiwara Teruyasu Hamono Kogei. Products. Retrieved on March 19, 2010 from, http://www.teruyasu.jp/products/sujihiki.html
- Aoki Hamono Seisakusyo. About Types of Knives. Retrieved on March 19, 2010 from, http://www.aoki-hamono.co.jp/qa/qa.htm