The General Characteristics of Japanese Knives

The General Characteristics of Japanese Knives

Japanese cuisine tops the world charts for its intricate food preparation processes, all the way from selecting fine-quality ingredients like meat, poultry, fresh seafood choices, and vegetables to the skills of the blades. As Japanese delicacies like sushi and sashimi are both loved by gourmets and diners for the perfect combination of mild, subtle flavors with a typically more tangy, exotic tastes, Japanese chefs and culinary experts hold high expectations when it comes to the crafting of delicious, mouth-watering Japanese signature dishes.

Not only Japanese dishes are loved for their magical, divine tastes – the skills required to hand-craft unique and original sashimi dishes are not to be simply learned just in a few days. It is essential for Japanese food professionals and chefs to wisely pick their tools and correctly utilize them for a wide variety of menus and dishes.

Generally, Japanese food requires the skills of the blades – Japanese knives. By Japanese knives, we are talking about premium-quality knives made in Japan, to be used by worldwide Japanese food chefs and experts. Japanese knives, in general, differ in function, shape, sizes, and built-in functions. However, the following are the two main characteristics of Japanese knives and what they’re usually like, despite the brands, designs, and functions.

Extreme Sharpness

Japanese knives are generally ‘razor-sharp’. Its extreme sharpness exceeds that of Western-styled knives and cutleries – this is because most Japanese delicacies require filleting or slicing through fresh seafood and fish. As most dishes require the presence of fine-quality, exotic-flavored, vivid-colored fish like Salmon, Japanese knives do the cutting, slicing, filleting, and chopping work. The blades are designed and made to be extremely sharp, as it aids knife users when it comes to making paper-thin slices of meat or poultry.

Delicate handling of ingredients require the perfect utilization of supreme-quality Japanese knives and traditional techniques to perform various filleting and slicing skills. The results of delicate handling and the use of razor-sharp Japanese knives not only include the appreciation of Japanese food aesthetics, but also the subtle, warm feeling of together-consumed raw fish fillet sliced and prepared in a suitable manner.

Hard Steel Blades

Japanese knives are forged with hard steels, of those might include: high prime carbon, Damascus stainless-steel, silver paper steel, VG-10 stainless steel, and other stainless-steel types. To craft traditional Japanese delicacies like sushi or sashimi, perfect slices of fish and beautifully formed Japanese rice pieces are the important components of the dish. If the knife you are using isn’t forged out of a hard, premium-quality steel, cutting through dense, harder ingredients or bones will be a challenge.

Despite designed to be thin and light in weight, Japanese knives are made with extremely hard blades to enable users the capability to cut through varying materials. High-end, supreme-quality steels like high prime carbon and silver paper steel are often used in forging traditional Japanese knives for professional-use. Therefore, it is seldom to see Japanese knife brands with knife models and series made out of general steel with low Rockwell hardness values. A good Japanese knife should have HRC values of around 60-62 to be strong and durable enough in the crafting of various Japanese delicacies.

When it comes to selecting a great Japanese knife to make your own sushi at home or for professional use, it is best to consider the two main characteristics of Japanese knives to ensure the right knife type is purchased. As both blade sharpness and steel type are two important factors, it is highly recommended for users to choose knife models with extremely sharp edges and hard steels with HRC of over 60.

Knife Recommendations for Left-Handed Users

It is often known that left-handed individuals are often gifted with things right-handed individuals are not born with. Either way, being left-handed can sometimes be a little frustrating, especially when it comes to finding tools and equipment that needs mastering by hand. Many tools and equipment are made to support right-handed users due to the more frequent, higher population of right-handed individuals in the society. However, this should not discourage left-handed users or serve as a strong reason enough to destroy one’s dreams and aspirations to become or do something in particular.

Specifically, when it comes to cooking, finding a left-handed tool can be a challenge. However, in the world of Japanese cuisine, Japanese food head chefs are experts come from various destinations, are born with different talents, and own unique skills. Although they would have to go through numerous levels and stages of practice and challenges, not all are right-handed. Some amazingly talented and devoted Japanese food chefs are left-handed, too.

In Asia, the majority of the population is right-handed, which is the opposite of what’s true in the West. Western chefs can easily find left-handed tools and equipment, so that would not be a problem. However, as earlier mentioned, the majority of Asians are right-handed, so Asian food and the tools required to make them may not be of much variety. In the case of Japanese delicacies and culinary arts requiring intricacy and delicate processes, having both left-handed and right-handed tools is important – as variety opens up opportunities for everyone to showcase their skills, enjoy the bliss of the Japanese culinary traditions, and craft Japanese delicacies with ease.

Cutting, slicing, filleting, and chopping a wide variety of ingredients will not be as easy as it sounds. As a left-handed person, it is essential and highly crucial to have a perfect Japanese knife, a left-handed one, that fits perfectly in the hands – ready to perform all kinds of techniques to master all Japanese traditional dishes and delicacies. Left-handed Japanese knives are forged by many Japanese knife brands, but not all are marked as high-quality ones. The following are some of the recommended left-handed knife brands and series left-handed cooks and knife users may want to take a look at.

Sabun High-Carbon MV Stainless Left-Handed Knife

Made especially for left-handed individuals, this is a professional Japanese knife used by many head chefs and culinary experts throughout Japan. There are left-handed versions of Santoku, Gyuto, Chef’s Petty knife, and Chef’s Slicer (Sujihiki). Forged with IK-8 special stainless steel, Sabun High-Carbon MV Stainless left-handed knives are trusted as they are forged by highly-skilled craftsmen to provide blade efficiency, rust resistance, and blade durability.

Sakai Takayuki Tokujyo Supreme Left-Handed Knife

As one of the most popular Japanese knife brands worldwide, Sakai Takayuki also offers left-handed knife models. However, the Tokujyo Supreme is among the best. This left-handed series comes in a variety of knife types like Deba, Fuguhiki, Usuba, Yanagiba, and Peeling knife. Made to put soft kitchen knife iron on Yasuki’s traditional Nihonko or Hagane – Shiroko / White Paper No.2 steel, it is used for a very long period of time in Japan. Known to provide excellent edge retention and extreme sharpness beneficial for the crafting of Japanese delicacies, Sakai Takayuki’s Tokujyo Supreme left-handed knives are indeed must haves for left-handed knife users looking for their best blade companions.

As these two brands top the list of high-quality Japanese knives often used for sushi and sashimi dishes, it is no doubt that their left-handed knife series would run out of stock quite easily. Handcrafted and forged with a passion to showcase Japan and its cultures through the blade bodies, despite these knives being ‘special’ and ‘unique’, left-handed versions offer opportunities for everyone with a ‘dream’ to explore their skills and talents without borders.

What is Omakase Part2

In Part 2, we’ll continue talking about the omakase experience. Let’s continue below.

In omakase, every piece of personalized and prepared for you at the perfect temperature. When the food is ready, the chef will place it in front of you. It’s impolite to let the food sit for too long. Even if you’re waiting for other people to be served, always try to eat the food as soon as possible. When you pick up the sushi, don’t be surprised or intimidated if the chef stares at you while you eat. Omakase is a personalized experience, and one of the ways a chef prepares food that you enjoy is by reading your thoughts and facial expressions to adjust if you are displeased with certain types of food. Also, if you try something you don’t like, don’t be afraid to let the chef know.

Traditionally, omakaze usually begins by starting with milder-flavored fish such as hirame or sayori, before moving on to stronger, heavier tasting fish such as otoro. While this is the standard and the norm, there are omakase restaurants out there that like to serve heavier fish such as toro first. You can always research your restaurant prior to going to see how they like to serve omakase.

Omakase can be anywhere from 8 to 20 pieces of sushi. When done, the chef will let you know omakase is coming to an end. It’s rare for dessert to be served in traditional omakase, but some restaurants do serve dessert.

There are a few types of sushi you’ll see when you’re nearing the end of omakase. Some include:

  • Maki, such as tekka maki
  • Temaki hand rolls
  • Tamago (sweet egg)

If you see any of these, it means your meal is nearing the end. After the meal, the chef will thank you and begin to tidy and clean his workspace, always keeping busy. You can now pay your check.

How does Omakase cost?

Omakase is more than just another sushi restaurant. It’s an experience, and it’s the best a chef has to offer. Expect to pay at least $50 for a basic omakase, however they are usually priced at around $100.

Tipping in Omakase restaurants

Unlike in America, if you’re in Japan, tipping is not expected. If you find yourself dining at a Japanese restaurant, you aren’t obligated to leave a tip. Today in America, non-tipping restaurants are becoming more common, especially in high-end sushi restaurants. Tipping will vary by restaurant, but non-tipping restaurants will indicate that tips aren’t required. Omakase is a unique experience which combines great food and exceptional service, therefore highly trained staff with unique skill sets and experience is required. Any tip you leave should reflect this. As with any restaurant or service, courtesy, respect, and appreciation go a long way.

How to prepare for Omakase

While it’s totally fine if you want to just show up blind and enjoy the meal, a lot of people do a bit of research prior their omakase in order to get the most out of the experience. If you decide to do research prior to attending, you’ll want to understand the different types of fish offered to see what you may or may not like. Some examples of fish typically offered include:

  • Fatty fish: hamachi, salmon, toro
  • White fish: hirame
  • Fish eggs: ikura, tobiko
  • Shellfish: uni, mirugai
  • Chewy fish: tako, ika
  • Cooked eel: unagi, anago
  • Picked fish: saba, iwashi

Omakaze restaurants will also offer sets at different price points. Smaller sets come with up to 10 pieces of sushi, and this is considered a light meal. There are also larger meals with up to 20 pieces of sushi, and you should feel very full afterwards even if you come in feeling very hungry. Checking Google or other online review platforms is helpful for knowing what type of sushi, and how much sushi to expect for your particular restaurant.

Omakase is becoming more and more mainstream and is a a heavily use marketing term nowadays. If you want to experience a true omakaze, make sure you find a restaurant where you are able to communicate directly with the chef. If you aren’t talking directly to the chef at the bar, then it’s not a true omakaze!

What is Omakase Part1

Omakase is a Japanese tradition in which you let your chef choose your order. While it may sound like an ancient tradition, omakase is a fairly recent concept, said to originate at sushi restaurants where the term was popularized in the 1990s.

Prior to the 1990s, sushi restaurants were quite pricey and out of the budget of most people. Gourmands who really knew and appreciated the ins and outs of fish enjoyed the artisanship of sushi, and they would eat sushi without drinking much alcohol out of respect for the skill of sushi chefs.

The sudden wealth of many lower-income Japanese due to Japan’s bubble economy brought many newcomers to sushi shops which were once reserved for wealthier clients. These new customers along with their newly found wealth, were unfamiliar with the culture around sushi, but would nevertheless dine at high-end sushi restaurants. What was once inaccessible to them, was now easily available, and while most may not have known much about fish, they knew the food was exquisite and wanted to try different kinds of food and liquor.

As a result, the sushi culture completely changed in response to the new consumer demographic, and many popular Japanese side dishes and sake were added to the menu of many sushi restaurants. Consumers were happy to see familiar menu items at sushi restaurants, but they mainly went to sushi restaurants to try sushi. As they didn’t know much about fish, restaurants saw there was a need for a way where these new customers could order and save themselves the embarrassment of not knowing the names of different fish. To help these customers save face, “omakase” was born, and this allowed people to place an order and leave it to the chef.

Today, omakase is a traditional Japanese dining experience in which the chef prepares a meal tailored to your preferences. It’s considered to be a very intimate experience, and best thought of as a verbal and non-verbal dialogue between the customer and chef. The food prepared is based on price, availability, taste, and seasonality. If this concept is hard to grasp, a comparable concept in Western cuisine would be a tasting menu, where a collection of several dishes is served in small portions as part of a single meal.

The word omakase is short for “omakase shimasu”, which translated to “I trust you”. Omakase requires a customer who is open to trying new experiences and feels comfortable with the chef. They must be vocal about what they like and don’t like, or what they can and cannot eat.

When omakase is mentioned, it most often refers to sushi, however non-sushi items such as tempura, tofu, salad, and soups can also be part of the omakase experience.

What to expect in Omakase

At omakase restaurants, you’ll typically be sat at a sushi counter, directly facing a chef. Depending on the chef, you may be having a full conversation, or it may be quiet. Meanwhile, the chef will be preparing their workspace and start to prepare your appetizer. During this whole experience, you’ll notice the sushi chef never appears idle, and is always working with their hands on something. They focus on their task and are never distracted by conversations going on around them, even if they’re directly engaged in those conversations.

Folded napkins to place on your lap are uncommon at omakase restaurants, but there will be a warm towel for you to wipe your hands. While you may be used to chopsticks when eating sushi, in omakase, you eat the sushi directly with your hands. It’s not a requirement to use your hands, so if you’re more comfortable using chopsticks, then feel free to use them. Omakase is not so much about traditions and rules, but about having more intimate dining experience.

If you have allergies and dislikes, you should bring it up with the chef as soon as possible.

To start, the chef will typically serve an introductory dish before getting into the sushi. In Western restaurants, miso soup is usually served prior to the sushi, however in Japanese culture it’s supposed to be served at the end of the meal. The introductory appetizer dish will be something like, such as tofu or a salad.

That’s it for Part 1 in ‘What is Omakase’. In Part 2, we’ll continue discussing what the rest of the omakase experience is like.

Itamae Tips

An itamae is a cook in a Japanese kitchen or a chef of a large restaurant. The term can be translated literally as “in front of the board,” referring to a cutting board.

While it is not necessary to be Japanese in order to be considered an itamae, non-Japanese people must prove themselves worthy of such a title.

Itamae as sushi chef

In Japan, becoming an itamae of sushi requires years of training and apprenticeship. Typically, after spending approximately five years working with a master itamae, the apprentice is given their first important task related to making sushi: preparation of the sushi rice. The rice is prepared according to the strict instructions of the senior itamae, and each sushi restaurant has its own “secret” recipe of rice, salt, and rice vinegar. Once the senior itamae is satisfied with the consistency of the sushi rice made daily by the apprentice, the apprentice may then be promoted.

This promotion puts the apprentice in a more prominent location, next to the senior itamae. This position is called “wakiita,” which translates to “near the cutting board.” The wakiita’s duties expand to include daily preparation of the fresh ingredients, such as preparing blocks of fish, grating ginger, and slicing scallions. Eventually, the apprentice might begin to prepare sushi for clients with take-away orders. The wakiita also learns the proper ways to interact with and treat the restaurant’s customers by observing the senior itamae.

After additional years of training as a wakiita, the apprentice can be appointed an itamae, fully authorized to stand in front of the cutting board.

The creation of sushi is an art and has colorful stories associated with it. It is a common Japanese legend that the truly great itamae-san should be able to create nigirizushi in which all of the rice grains face the same direction.

In Japan, the itamae is still the heart of the traditional sushi bar and follows many traditions not practiced elsewhere in the world. For example, part of the itamae’s art is calculating the bill. Mistakes in the calculation, unintentional or intentional, may occur.

Itamae training is conducted all over the world, including Japan, USA, and in the UK. The process can take anywhere between 2 years and 20 years.

The terms “Itamae” and “Shokunin” are used as a title for the chef. “Itamae” refers to a skilled sushi chef, while Shokunin means simply someone skilled at a profession.

Ike Jime The Japanese Slaughter Method for Tastier Fish

Ike Jime is a humane method of killing fish and draining its blood. The method originated in Japan, and when performed correctly, this method not only preserves the quality and texture of the meat, but also allows the flesh to develop an umami dimension when aged.

The Ike Jime technique is a method designed to mitigate the effects of biochemical reactions. This method disrupts the brain and the spinal cord and causes immediate brain death of the fish. When performed correctly, the method prevents the fish from producing lactic acid and ammonia, which makes the fish soggy and sour. The technique was developed approximately 350 years ago, and Japanese chefs have used this method ever since.

The key to good sushi and sashimi is the aging of the fish, which allows enzymes to break down and moisture to evaporate, resulting in a more concentrated flavor. While the technique originated in Japan, it is now used around the world.

The science of ike jime

The principal behind Ike Jime is simple – the less trauma a fish suffers prior to and during its slaughter, the better the quality of its meat. When a fish faces stress, it produces lactic acid and cortisol which makes its meat soggy and sour. The Ike Jime method disrupts the brain and spinal cord which minimises the stress signals that are sent out.

How is it done?

There are many variations of Ike Jime, however the method is just four simple steps. The entire process is done quickly, and expert fish handlers can finish the entire process is seconds.

Step 1 : Close the Fish

Closing the fish is referring to the act of crushing the brain. You will need to locate the brain which is above the fish’s eye, and use a spike to break through the skull. If done correctly, the fish will shudder and its jaw will drop open. This step must be done quickly and swiftly so the brain doesn’t have a chance to send out stress signals to the rest of its body.

Step 2 : Cut the Gills and Tail

A fish’s major blood vessels are located at its gills, and cutting the gills lets the blood drain later. The next step is to make an incision towards the tail which is vital in locating the fish’s central nervous system.

Step 3 : Severe the Spinal Cord

The next step is to push a sharp wire into the spinal cord of the fish and run the tip along the upper side. As you go along the spine, the fish will tremble. Once the trembling stops, this process is complete. Destroying the fish’s central nervous system is a vital step as it prevents the fish from sending out more stress signals.

Step 4 : Let It Bleed

The most crucial part of this method is the bleeding, because ‘fishiness’ and bad flavours are in the blood. To drain the fish of its blood, simply leave it in iced water with its head facing down where possible. Its important to bleed. The fish quickly so none of the blood gets to its muscles.

Ike Jime is a technique that takes a lot of practice and repetition to perfect. As you perform it more and more, it will become easier and change the way you cook. To begin performing Ike Jime, you’ll need the right equipment and tools for the species and size of fish that you will be working on. Having the right tools make performing Ike Jime easier, especially if you are not a professional. Enjoy your day!