All About Sushi - Which Knife Do I Need?

Have you ever been to one of those sushi restaurants where the chefs whip up tasty treats right before your eyes? From delicious sea urchin sushi to tasty rice-free salmon sashimi, there’s certainly a lot of choice.

But if you have been to one of these eateries then you’ll have noticed one thing that all the chefs have in common; they’ve got a special set of Japanese sushi knives for slicing razor-thin sheets of food or cut fish required for constructing their sushi rolls.

Now, most sushi chefs will normally have a good collection of traditional Japanese knives but if you’re making sushi at home, you don’t necessarily need to be quite as diverse. Generally speaking, there are three sharp knives that any home sushi chef shouldn’t be without.

The Yanagiba knife, the deba knife and the nakiri knife.

In this guide, we will be looking at these blade styles in more detail, looking into what makes traditional Japanese knives ideal for this task, as well as telling you why owning a special sushi knife will be the best decision you ever made for your kitchen.

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The Importance of Owning a Good Sushi Knife

When you think about expert sushi chefs in Japan, you immediately think of a highly-skilled person who has trained for years to hone his or her craft. And it is true, there is an art to making good sushi, but that doesn’t mean that you and I can’t do it.

As with anything, having the right equipment can make a world of difference. It would be entirely possible for you to make sushi by using the knives you already have in your kitchen or western style knives, but we wouldn’t advise doing this. You might compare it to trying to carve a joint of pork using a butter knife; it’s never going to be simple.

Sushi knives are multifaceted, but sashimi knives are specifically designed to cut fish. Traditional sushi knives have been specially designed to slice your fish and vegetables for the best results possible. They work to give you the right distribution and ratio of your ingredients so that your sushi preserves its structural integrity.

Good-quality sushi knives, constructed using high-carbon stainless steel, are highly durable and are typically the sharpest possible sushi knife available. The knives have been designed to be as ergonomic as possible so can be used for longer. A selection of sushi knives in different blade styles, sizes, and weights will be more versatile for your needs.

If you want a low-maintenance sushi knife that is not going to rust and you don't care if yours is not the sharpest sushi knife in town, then stainless steel may be the best option for you.

Sushi requires delicate and intricate preparation. As such you need a traditional Japanese sushi knife that is going to be up to the challenge. The knife needs a sharp edge, with which the user can be precise so tearing of the fish and wastage of the meat is kept to a minimum. You will therefore need authentic sushi chef knives to do this.

The traditional sushi knives made in Japan are designed just for this purpose and as a result, you’ll find that you are much more easily able to make proper sushi if you use them. The final result will be far more professional and something that you can be really proud of.

But it’s also crucial that you purchase a good-quality sushi knife. There are knives on sale that are inferior and their cheap price tag demonstrates this. It can be tempting to buy these as they’re affordable but you will find that they dull much more quickly and are far more prone to damage. You’ll only end up replacing the knives more frequently.

The Best Knives for Sushi

Several traditional Japanese kitchen knives can be used for sushi preparation, and each type of sushi knife has its unique qualities. If you want to get started with making sushi then it is imperative that you choose the right type of knives. In the beginning, you won’t need a massive selection but if you’re going to choose the best sushi knives, let it be these...

Yanagiba Knife

Yanagiba knives are a traditional Japanese knife. The blade is long and thin. The yanagiba is a single-bevel knife with the edge typically on the right, although there are left-handed versions out there. This type of knife is largely used for sushi and sashimi.

As with many other types of knives, there is something of a knack to using a yanagiba knife and rather than making a push and pull cut, they’re designed only to be pulled. This means that the cut is completed in a single, smooth motion. Doing it the other way would mean more chance of the meat tearing.

But while getting the technique spot on might take some practise, the knife is designed to aid you in every way possible. For example, its thin blade makes moving the knife through food almost effortless, you certainly won’t have to put in any force. Depending on the quality of the knife, it may also feature a depression at the back which prevents it from sticking.

Would you believe that chefs in Japan take sushi-making so seriously that they’ll even check the meat under a microscope? Sounds crazy but it’s true; they’re sticklers for perfection and expect the meat to be shiny, smooth and sharp. Without a yanagiba knife, you’ll never achieve this level of perfection.

There are basically 3 different types of steel used to make a Yanagiba, but they actually apply to the Deba and Usuba also. The composite steel knives hold a sharper edge than stainless steel and are less susceptible to rust but can be quite costly. 

Nakiri Knife

The Nakiri is a versatile knife, often used in the kitchen for different tasks, especially cutting vegetables. These knives have a square tip with a curve at the front end and have a double-bevelled or double-edged blade.

Some professional sushi chefs prefer to use an usuba knife. This is very similar to the nakiri but many would agree, the usuba can be a little more difficult to master.

Deba Knife

The deba knife is a type of curved Japanese carving knife that features a wide, curved blade that is never any more than 12 inches in length. That said, some of these knives are as short as four inches so it’s worth trying out different ones to see which feels most comfortable for you.

When comparing this knife to other types of blade, you might consider it to be a cross between a chef’s knife and a meat cleaver. They’re ideal for filleting fish as well as removing the heads.

What’s great about the deba knife is that it’s super strong and being double-bevelled, is much easier to master than something like the yanagiba.

Final Thoughts

Sushi is a dish that is enjoyed all over the world but in its native country of Japan, chefs pay a lot of attention to detail and that starts with having the right equipment.

A good set of extremely sharp sushi knives is essential if you want to produce sushi that’s comparable to what comes out of Japan but you don’t need to go crazy. There are three main knives that will meet all of your sushi-making needs; the yanagiba, the deba and the nakiri. Get your hands on these and start practising; before you know it, you’ll be the next sushi master!

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