Cooking with a Japanese Knife Set

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A great knife set is critical to cooking great meals. Offering some of the best quality available, a good Japanese knife set cuts with precision and accuracy for perfectly cut meats, vegetables, and more. They have a strong reputation as being some of the most coveted culinary tools available.

History of Japanese Knives

Japanese knives date back centuries to the Nara Era, where they were made long and narrow with a slight curve on the blade. Long before they were used for cooking, Japanese knives were an important part of religious ceremonies. Known as Hocho-shiki, during this ceremony the knives would be used to cut carps and cranes in time with music.

Later in history, Japan reached the age of Samurai, which led to the creation of the Japanese sword. This is where much of the technique to crafting the knives we use today came from. The demand for Japanese swords, known as Katana, reached its peak during the Sengoku Era where multiple Japanese cities had dedicated craftsmen in the trade. However as time went on, the demands for samurai swords lessened and more and more vendors were creating knives instead.

Today, many of the unique styles seen in Japanese knives come from the craftsmanship of the cities Katana originated from. Made with layers of high-quality metal, Japanese knives are extremely sharp and precise; reminiscent of their Katana ancestry.

Japanese Knives vs. Western Knives

Photo by Huy Phan from Pexels

Beyond their rich history, Japanese knives set themselves apart from your average western knife in a variety of ways.

Typical western knives are sharp on both sides of the blade, creating what is called a symmetrical bevel. Western knives also have a more significant curve to the blade, which lends to a more rocking cutting process that allows you to distribute pressure in various areas. Alternatively, Japanese knives are only sharp on one side, allowing for a straighter cut and easier sharpening process.

The single bevel of a Japanese knife allows for a much sharper knife, which helps you to cut through tougher foods and make smoother cuts. However, given their unique composition, it’s critical to use the right kind of Japanese knife for the right cuts: certain foods and textures are meant to be cut with specific types of Japanese knives.

Cooking with Japanese Knives

Many chefs around the world today use Japanese knife sets as their preferred cooking knives. Given their high-quality build and sharp cut, they’re the best option for all styles of cooking. You can prepare multiple genres of meals with Japanese knives, far beyond just Japanese cuisine.

Using your Japanese knife set right is the key to reaping the benefits these knives have to offer.

Finding the balance point

If you’re new to knife techniques, you want to reconsider how you’re holding your knife when you use it.

Japanese knives are not meant to be held by the handle – instead, they’re best used when held steady by the blade. To know where exactly to hold your knife, you’ll want to find the balance point: by holding your knife by the blade between your index finger and thumb, find the point where the blade and handle balance without tipping over to identify your balance point. This is where you’ll hold your knife when using it.

This technique leads to far more accuracy when cutting your ingredients. You have much more control over the blade, and prevent it from moving around and creating uneven cuts.

Slicing your ingredients

It’s tempting to slice your food straight down, sliding your knife through your cutting board. While this is second nature for many knife beginners, it can cause real damage to your knife. Often, it can lead to dulling your blade exponentially, and also damaging your food, leaving it slightly muddled or dried out.

Instead, while using your Japanese knife, slice through your food gently. Your blade is sharp enough to cut through tough foods, and should be used accordingly! You’ll notice as you’re cutting this way, you have more even and smooth cuts that don’t dry out your foods.

Sharpening your knives

Though you can dramatically reduce the rate at which your knife dulls by using it correctly, you’ll still have to sharpen it from time to time.

It’s important to note that Japanese knives should not be sharpened often: instead, you should only sharpen your knives when they have become noticeably dull. If you are using them correctly, your knives shouldn’t reach this dull point for a while – often, around a year.

Once it’s time to sharpen your knives, though, it is best to use a whetstone. Whetstones are fine-grain stones that are made to have various surfaces for sharpening. To use a whetstone properly, you need to soak it in water for around 10 minutes and then place a cloth under it to prevent it from moving around during the sharpening process. You can get different whetstones to refine your sharpening technique, with textures ranging from rough and coarse to very fine.

When sharpening, you’ll want to have a firm hand and take your time throughout the process. Going too quickly can cause damage to your knife, or prevent it from sharpening properly. Once finished, be sure to clean your knife thoroughly and get any excess debris off the blade and handle. Overall, Japanese knives are a fantastic addition to your kitchen tools. They’re sharp and precise, and make for professional-like cuts that will have you feeling like a real chef in the kitchen. Using the right techniques and taking care of your knife properly, you’ll never want to use another type of knife again.

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