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Claire - Chef's Cookware

Sushi Knives Explained

9th September 2006 11:25
Next time you are out having sushi, don?t just marvel at the prize morsels on the sushi train carousel, if you can check out what the sushi chef is doing. In Japan, a sushi chef (ita-mae-san , meaning 'he who is in front of the board') has to go through five to seven years of training before he can be licensed to cut fish for customers. An experienced ita-mae-san will dazzle you with the dexterity and finesse required to produce the intricate morsels before you on the sushi train.

You will also be dazzled by the astonishing array of knives the ita-mae-san wields, there are many different types of knives used in creating sushi. Each of these knives are designed in a way which allows them to excel at a specific type of cutting, with some particular fish species having knives designed exclusively to cut them.

The three main sashimi (fish) knives are: yanagi ba, fugu hiki and tako hiki. The yanagi ba looks similar to a Western paring knife, and is used for most fish. The fugu hiki is specifically designed to fillet the puffer fish, or fugu. Yanagi ba are longer, thin blades, used for octopus or squid. For fish beyond a manageable size, such as large tuna, special blades exist which may be in excess of six feet!

Deba bocho are another type of sushi knife, somewhat resembling a Western carving knife. They are used to cut from thicker fish, but their primary purpose is for cutting non-seafood meats such as beef or chicken.

The unagisaki hocho is a knife designed specifically for filleting eel, a common sushi filling. The knife has a nearly-square shape, with a sharp point and right-angle at the tip. The point is designed to pierce the eel at the head so that the body may be sliced in one easy motion.

Vegetables are usually cut using one of two types of sushi knife, either the usuba bocho or the nakiri bocho. These knives are straight-edged so that they can slice vegetables easily with one cut, without the need to rock the blade or push it down. The blades are thin, to ensure a clean and precise cut without breaking the vegetables. Nakiri bocho are sharpened on both edges of the blade, while usuba bocho are sharpened only on one edge.

Thankfully for the novice western chef there are some Japanese knives one can use without years of training, such as the santoku knife. The word santoku means "three good things," a reference to the three cutting tasks it performs; slicing, dicing and mincing.

So all in all it takes years of training and yards of quality cutting steel to produce your superbly styled sushi, so tuck in and enjoy, because you?re worth it.

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