Several factors make sushi such an alluring dish. It has such a delectable mix of ingredients, with an adventurous touch to it, especially the textures. On top of it is the artful yet minimalist presentation that breaks down any final resistance. This dish has such an iconic status that it is easy to see why many leave it to the experts.
While skill sure plays a prominent role, the other half is down to the right tool. While training and practice can help you make your sushi dish, precision is vital, and without the right kitchen tools, you will not achieve your goal.
What tools do sushi chefs use?
Taking a leaf from professional chefs can save you from the agony of trying to improvise. You only need to fill your kitchen with the same tools that sushi chefs use. Here are the essential ones.
The right knife
You want a knife that will give you precise cuts and one that is also nimble enough to ensure clean cuts without messing up the meat. It is for this reason that you must make use of a knife specifically made for sushi. The knife should also be sharp enough to avoid squishing your fish.
You need a clean and stable place for making your cuts and one that will not affect your knife's quality and the food's taste. A quality wood board specifically for fish will work, but a quality rubber cutting board is the best option. Such a board is usually cut and scratch-resistant, and it is also soft and gentle to your sharp sushi knife. It is also easy to clean, and it repels water making it an excellent surface on which to cut your fish.
A rice cooker
A rice cooker gives you the advantages of precision and convenience, and you need both in your sushi preparation. For instance, you do not worry about the rice burning or spilling over the cooking dish to the stove. A bonus tip when cooking rice, be sure to use short-grain Japanese rice as other types will not give you're the desired roll the way the Japanese rice can.
A rice paddle
Once the rice is done, do not leave it on warm as usual. Instead, you have to transfer it to a mixing bowl to cool and mix the rice vinegar. A bamboo rice paddle is best suited for this function as it ensures an even spread of the vinegar. It is the vinegar that gives sushi its unique flavor.
A bamboo mat
A bamboo mat traditionally called a 'makisu' makes it easier to roll the sushi into the desired shape, whether circular or square. You will need to cover the meat with plastic wrap to prevent the rice from sticking to the bamboo. Alternatively, you can find a quality plastic mat in a similar design to the bamboo stick mat. It is anti-bacterial, does not need drying to prevent it from rotting, and you do not need plastic wrap.
A bowl of water
This accessory is necessary to aid smooth working even after spreading the rice on the mats. During this process, your hands usually get sticky from the rice, making it a challenge to continue with the rest of the prep work. A clean bowl of water at the workstation makes the cleaning work easier, and you do not have to stop or compromise your work's quality.
Benefits of having the right sushi knife
Japanese cuisine often calls for specialized utensils and tools, and sushi is a perfect example. It also means most of their tools, especially knives are specialized. Having the best sushi knife makes the whole process safer, easier and adds to the final quality of the dish. The best sushi knives make your work in the kitchen easier and make the entire process enjoyable.
Some of the key benefits of a sushi knife include;
- Because it is primarily designed for slicing, it will give you the precise cuts you need for a visually appealing presentation.
- Its high carbon content will provide you with long-term durability, and it holds its sharp edge longer.
- The best sushi knives come in varied sizes and weights, allowing you to pick one that serves you the best.
- The best sushi knife allows you to maintain the proper structural integrity of the rolls, which keeps the ingredients in the correct ratios and evenly distributed.
- The handle has a comfortable and ergonomic design which aids in nimbleness and allows you to work for long hours.
How to pick the best sushi knives
Not every knife claiming to be a sushi knife will provide you with the performance you expect from the best sushi knives. Here are a couple of the essential things you should consider.
The blade does the cutting with is a vital part of the prep work. The ideal blade construction features a single-sided bevel to ensure the knife has the sharpest edge possible for sushi prep work precision. You also want the blade to be made from high carbon steel, which allows it to be easily sharpened and holds its edge for a long time.
Length of the blade
The length of the blade influences its function, and sushi knives are generally long so that you can make long cuts without shifting your center. These attributes help achieve straight and uniform cuts, and you can easily maintain your rhythm and use lesser force. The final aspect means you also do not get tired, especially when preparing a large amount of food.
Most Yanagiba knives blades used for sushi measure between 9'' to 10.5''. For santoku and nakiri knives, they often range from six inches to seven inches. The size of the fish you are dealing with will also influence the knife you choose.
While the blade does the cutting, it is the handle that you directly interact with, and it should be comfortable and safe. Pick handles that have an ergonomic design to protect your hands from strain. You should also go for knives that have a lighter handle than the blade to allow for easy manoeuvring of the knife.
The materials for both the handle and the blade should aid comfort, safety, durability, and high performance. It is why high carbon steel is highly recommended, especially by purists. It is, however, susceptible to staining and corrosion if you do not maintain it properly. The alternative is for high carbon stainless steel, which allows you to get sharp edges and still have long-term durability and resistance against rust, staining, and corrosion.
What type of knives to choose for sushi preparation?
Several traditional Japanese kitchen knives can be used for sushi preparation, and each type of sushi knife has its unique qualities. The variety in the types ensures you can easily find a sushi-specific knife in the market and one that matches your needs and comfort.
The Deba knife gets its name from its shape, as the name translates to a pointed carving knife. It is the closest thing to a meat cleaver you will find among Japanese traditional knives. Its design allows for beheading and filleting fish without damaging them.
The knife has a thick, heavy, and durable edge, making it excellent for cutting through thin bones and fish cartilage. It will not cut large bones, though, so it's best left for fish and poultry. The knife has a single bevel, and to obtain clean and precise cuts, place pressure on the knife's spine.
The Yanagiba is the specialist sushi knife, and its name loosely translates to willow blade. Its long, single bevelled, and the narrow blade design makes it excellent for pull cutting. Pull cutting is a style of obtaining a cut in one swift motion starting at the knife's heel and ending at its tip. You are not supposed to push the knife as it will ruin or tear the smoothly cut surface.
The Yanagida sushi knives usually measure 8 to 12 inches, and you pick the best length, depending on your preference. Any chef working with fish will have a Yanagida as it is handy when filleting small to medium-sized fish as well as skinning fish. However, its primary use to a professional chef is to prepare sushi and sashimi.
Usuba translates to a thin blade, and a chef will often have it for cutting and preparing vegetables. It has a double angle and features a straight edge at the end of the blade. It is different from traditional Japanese knives, particularly in its tall height, allowing the chef enough room for the knuckles.
Its design makes it excellent for slicing through carrots, cucumbers, and radishes without splitting. It is these unique qualities that make it handy too when preparing sushi.
Santoku translates to three virtues, and in the Japanese kitchen, it refers to the knife's excellence when used to cut fish, meat, and vegetables. It features a highly flat belly profile, which allows it to be used in an up and down chopping motion suitable for sushi preparation.
The kiritsuke knife has an angled tip, and it is a single bevel knife. Next to the Yanagida, it is the one knife closely associated with sushi preparation. It is a versatile knife at times serving for general purposes. In most Japanese restaurants, it is a status and expertise symbol as only the head chef can use one.
Tips for maintaining your sushi knives
Any chef knows what an excellent companion the best sushi knife is. It is also a worthy investment, and you should treat it as such. To protect your investment, here are four tips to follow;
Do not clean your knife in a dishwasher.
Dishwashers offer plenty of conveniences when cleaning around the home. However, they have several downsides when it comes to cleaning your sushi knives. During the washing cycle, there is a greater risk that the knives will get banged and chipped. Hand washing your knives prevents this risk, extending the life of your knife.
Do not leave your knife in the sink.
It is common practice to soak utensils for later washing, but you should not subject your knife to the same. Leaving it in the sink, whether washed or unwashed, increases the risk of cut accidents as the knife is exceedingly sharp. It is also harmful to the knife since other dishes can bang against the blade, chipping or dulling the knife.
The dissolved food acids in the water are also corrosive agents that will further damage the knife. The best practice is to hand wash it, dry it thoroughly with a towel, and store the knife in a specialized place.
Store your knife separately from other utensils
You should store your sushi knives in a specialized location, either a knife block, magnetic board, or knife chest. It should not mix with other cutlery and utensils. Having the sharp knives in your drawer with other utensils exposes it to the risk of damage and dulling from the clanging and banging with other items.
It also exposes you to the risk of cuts as you such for other utensils.
Sharpen your sushi blade regularly
A sharp sushi blade makes your work easier and safer. The sharp blade ensures you get the precise and clean cuts you want, and the knife does not slide sideways, keeping you safe and preventing the fish from tearing.
When sharpening your sushi knife, do not use a sharpening rod or other metal sharpeners. Instead, use water and a whetstone. It is gentler on the blade and allows you to maintain the knife's edge without overdoing it and, as such, extend the knife's lifespan.
Other considerations include;
- Do not cut frozen food with your knife, as doing so will increase the risk of chipping.
- Ensure you wipe and wash the knife frequently when cutting acidic food like lemons, sushi, or apples.
- Use warm, soapy water to clean your sushi knives, then rinse them thoroughly and dry them by running them through a dry towel.
Why are sushi knives so expensive?
One common feature of sushi knives is that they are pretty expensive. While Japanese knives tend to be generally expensive, their best sushi knives are particularly expensive. There are various reasons for this, and any professional chef will appreciate their uniqueness. These factors include;
All the three common materials used to make the best sushi knives are very costly. Premium high carbon steel and high carbon stainless steel are expensive. High carbon steel offers exceptionally sharp edges, but the chef has to sharpen them often.
On the other hand, high carbon stainless steel can is lightweight, sharp, and holds the edge longer. The same is true for Damascus steel, and these are all high-quality materials that factor into the final cost of the knife.
The time it takes to make them.
The time it takes to prepare sushi knives factors adds to the final cost. While other knives take a short time, sushi knives go through a deliberate and lengthy process. It includes forging, sanding, kilning, pounding, and then further kilning before polishing and final assembly.
All these steps are done by hand, and it takes time to work on one knife, so you are also paying for the time in the final cost.
The expertise increases the cost.
Only master craftsmen make sushi knives. There is plenty of expertise required to deliver a quality sushi knife. The craftsmen need to understand the various metals and elements and how they interact, and their properties under different conditions. Even environmental factors can affect the structure of the knife they are preparing.
There are also several other intricacies that the blacksmith has to understand that cannot be replicated mechanically. All this expertise takes years to acquire, and thus the knife is expensive.
Small-scale production increases the cost.
Such knives are handmade, and when you add to the time it takes to make one piece, it is clear that they cannot be mass-produced. This denies them the chance to enjoy large economies of scale, and the small-scale production means they will be expensive to cover the costs.
They are works of art.
The sushi knives have a prestigious history dating back to Japanese sword-making craftsmanship. They are also unique and follow deliberate production steps, each steeped in tradition and culture. What you get is not only a highly functional piece of kitchen equipment but also a work of art with an invaluable intrinsic quality.
To find the best sushi knives, you need to pick from various options, having obtained the correct information. At House of Knives, we endeavor to provide both factors to you. We stock a wide range of sushi knives and other kitchen knives and their accessories. We have the leading knife sets from all the top brands in the Japanese and German knife-making traditions. Shopping with us gives you the convenience of making comparisons in one place and the guarantee that you are getting genuine products. Visit us today for a seamless hopping experience for all your kitchen knives.