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Thread: Japanese Knife Technique

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    Default Japanese Knife Technique

    I've never had any formal culinary education. I took my first class today and it was in Japanese technique for whole fish breakdown. Realize that I have very, very little experience with the western method, so I have little basis for comparison, but I was impressed how easy and fast the Japanese method is using the purpose built deba. I'll be purchasing a deba now, and probably start buying whole fish much more often.

    I didn't take pictures, since I was working hard at catching details about hand placement and movement. I'll take a few next time I get a fish (provided anyone cares to see).

    Next week is another class on vegetables. I'm intrigued that we are using the yanagiba, rather than the usuba, but it would be good for marital harmony to only acquire one additional knife, rather than two (the deba, I have a yanagiba).

    Anyone else here use traditional Japanese cooking knives? I'm going off the deep end here on a huge washoku kick. Fortunately, my wife is supportive... for now.

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    Default Re: Japanese Knife Technique

    Careful brother, you will come up one digit short if you are drinking and cutting. Them knives be sharp and hold an edge purdy good.

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    Default Re: Japanese Knife Technique

    Japanese cooking knives are something I've wanted to start using more. Right now my main squeeze is a 240mm MAC gyuto, and while it does a good job, it's certainly no deba. Of course my technique with fish sucks anyway. I have heard great things about usuba for virtually everything.

    Where'd you find the class?
    steve cortez

    FNG

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    Default Re: Japanese Knife Technique

    Quote Originally Posted by spopepro View Post
    ... it would be good for marital harmony to only acquire one additional knife, rather than two...

    Anyone else here use traditional Japanese cooking knives?
    I went down the rabbit hole of japanese knives a while ago (before I got married ;), but I don't get to use a lot of the knives I so recklessly acquired. Seriously, what do I need a fuguhiki for? I barely even eat fish at home anymore. But i do love my mioroshi deba, even if I rarely use it. I'm definitely a convert to japanese steel though, and my favourite knives in the kitchen are my gyuto and nakiri.

    The thing with a deba is that it's meant to be a pretty utilitarian knife, so I wouldn't spend that much money on it (relative to a yanagi). I hear this one is one of the better values out there. And if you're worried about forgetting everything you learned in your classes, this book is a great visual reminder: Japanese Kitchen Knives: Essential Techniques and Recipes. Happy cutting!

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    Default Re: Japanese Knife Technique

    Quote Originally Posted by randonneur View Post
    I went down the rabbit hole of japanese knives a while ago (before I got married ;), but I don't get to use a lot of the knives I so recklessly acquired. Seriously, what do I need a fuguhiki for? I barely even eat fish at home anymore. But i do love my mioroshi deba, even if I rarely use it. I'm definitely a convert to japanese steel though, and my favourite knives in the kitchen are my gyuto and nakiri.

    The thing with a deba is that it's meant to be a pretty utilitarian knife, so I wouldn't spend that much money on it (relative to a yanagi). I hear this one is one of the better values out there. And if you're worried about forgetting everything you learned in your classes, this book is a great visual reminder: Japanese Kitchen Knives: Essential Techniques and Recipes. Happy cutting!
    Every once in a while I head down to Knifewear just to oggle the blades.

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    Default Re: Japanese Knife Technique

    I agree the Fuguhiki scars the bejesus out of me. I can't handle the truth. Mr. Gyuto is my max, but I probably put Mr. Santoku to work 90% of the time as we buy fish from the monger that is already cut pretty nice. So I am more of a chop and dice than serious slice kind of guy. The knives are plenty expensive, but like my bikes, I like to look and feel them as well as use them as tools. My guess is they will be around a lot longer than I will. Hold an edge they do.

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    Default Re: Japanese Knife Technique

    Yeah, the fuguhiki and takohiki are the pursuit bike of the kitchen. Only 10 or so people really need them, but damn... just damn...

    The thing that I was surprised about, and want to get better in touch with, is how well things work with the single bevel when you get the position and angle *just* right. With the bevel right against the spine, and the right pull, the fillet just lifts off the spine. It's amazing how well it works when it's right, and how bad it catches and tears when it isn't.

    I agree about the less expensive deba. One only needs to break a spine once to realize how easy it will be to chip, or at the least roll, the blade on either a bone or the board. Having to make a hard, decisive cut, not stopping or wiggling, and then not slamming down on the board... I have lots of practice to do. Time to eat some fish!

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    Default Re: Japanese Knife Technique

    Quote Originally Posted by zetroc View Post
    Where'd you find the class?
    Class was at Bernal Cutlery. I heard that they did small class waterstone sharpening classes, and then found the knife skills class.

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    Default Re: Japanese Knife Technique

    Kind of like the oyster shuckers, do it a hundred thousand times and it looks easy. I love watching the fishmongers whack em up. So skilled and do such beautiful work with good speed.

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    Default Re: Japanese Knife Technique

    Quote Originally Posted by Jayme View Post
    Every once in a while I head down to Knifewear just to oggle the blades.
    That place is trouble for me. The owner and I are on a first name basis. When I walk in there, it's like i'm an alcoholic at a wine tasting.

    Quote Originally Posted by Moke View Post
    Kind of like the oyster shuckers, do it a hundred thousand times and it looks easy.
    No kidding. Using only an axe and a butter knife, I'm sure even a middling sushi chef could cut fish better than me. The j-knife geeks all love this guy's videos.


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    Default Re: Japanese Knife Technique

    Video is pretty cool. We learned additional steps at the start to save as many parts as possible, like roe, livers, cheek meat. No doubt, if this was a yellowtail rather than a mackerel he wouldn't have just discarded the head.

    There are two tricky parts that you might not have caught if you don't speak Japanese (I don't either). One is the second fillet cut. After cutting the skin he slides the beveled edge against the bones. This is challenging in both getting the heel to spine angle correct, but also the handle to tip angle. Too deep and the knife will cut through the bones. Too shallow and meat will be wasted. The blade just kind of bounces along on the bones. You can hear it in the video. The second part is removing the fillet from the spine. Again, if the angle is correct, the blade slides through with just marginal force applied. If not, it catches, pulls, and tears the meat. Sometimes, as shown in the video, the knife will catch anyway. Having the sense and control to stop and reset without pulling too hard is something I'm a very long ways away from.

    My teacher would not be pleased with how much sawing is going on in the video. He prefers single long pulling cuts, as this presents a smoother, shiny surface for sushi/sashimi. I, however, would not make any critique, as I am utterly unqualified to do so.

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    Default Re: Japanese Knife Technique

    These are the two things that struck me as well so glad you saved me the trouble of asking. Despite the sawing his fillets look remarkably evenly cut though.

    In your first paragraph are you describing the long explanation during which he's using the tip of the knife to gently cut some connective tissue so it releases cleanly on the other side? Pure speculation on my part. I couldn't see any other reason for doing so.

    You guys who use a deba regularly - I'm not getting how you knock off the burr after sharpening on the flat side and how you run the blade on that side without scarring the decorative part.

    Wondering how durable it is for hard use as well.

    The sound is great in the vid.

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    Default Re: Japanese Knife Technique

    Unbelievable store, If you're ever in NYC, check out Korin Trading Company - They also have a 45 min. video on knife sharpening. I picked a Misono UX10 Gyutou 240mm there a couple of years ago. I'd be lost in the kitchen without it.

    Love the opening line of this video :)


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    Default Re: Japanese Knife Technique

    Quote Originally Posted by jitahs View Post
    In your first paragraph are you describing the long explanation during which he's using the tip of the knife to gently cut some connective tissue so it releases cleanly on the other side? Pure speculation on my part. I couldn't see any other reason for doing so.
    Not exactly. We learned to separate the gills from the head, break the collar, slice the belly and remove the gills and guts, leaving the head. This would be prefered for whole fish presentation, or if you wanted to use the head for other things. I'll probably do a fish this week and try and take some pictures. My camera will love the fish guts.
    Quote Originally Posted by jitahs View Post
    You guys who use a deba regularly - I'm not getting how you knock off the burr after sharpening on the flat side and how you run the blade on that side without scarring the decorative part.
    I'd like to hear from someone who is a regular deba user as well, but my yanagiba loses its burr really easily. After fully developing a burr on the bevel side, it only takes a couple of passes with light pressure to expose the true edge. The flat part around the edge does not grow noticiably.

    Quote Originally Posted by jitahs View Post
    Wondering how durable it is for hard use as well.
    My deba (as of yesterday!) is really, really thick. It makes meat cleavers look thin. It is also listed at Rc.64. So everything is likely indestructable except for chiping the edge. It should last me at least 20 years of hard use so long as I never, ever, never, wiggle it, putting lateral stress on the edge.

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    Default Re: Japanese Knife Technique

    Quote Originally Posted by jitahs View Post
    You guys who use a deba regularly - I'm not getting how you knock off the burr after sharpening on the flat side and how you run the blade on that side without scarring the decorative part.

    Wondering how durable it is for hard use as well.
    98% of the sharpening is on the bevel side. You just run the concave/flat back side on a finer stone at the end to knock off the burr you've created from working the bevel. Not sure what you mean by decorative part?

    As for durability, it's partly down to technique - really the spine should be cut between vertebrae. But also, it's a pretty big honking piece of steel. Most debas are > 1/4" thick and the bevel angle isn't that shallow, so there's a lot of steel behind the edge. Also, folks sometimes put a microbevel toward the heel of the knife so it's got more strength for chopping spines, with a finer edge on the top 2/3rds of the blade.

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    Default Re: Japanese Knife Technique

    OK forgive my persistence... At 5:17 he's running the tip along the mackerel's spine, then flips it over to do remove the other filet. What is he doing - the other filet is on the table already.
    "Old and standing in the way of progress"

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    Default Re: Japanese Knife Technique

    Quote Originally Posted by randonneur View Post
    98% of the sharpening is on the bevel side. You just run the concave/flat back side on a finer stone at the end to knock off the burr you've created from working the bevel. Not sure what you mean by decorative part?

    ?As for durability, it's partly down to technique - really the spine should be cut between vertebrae. But also, it's a pretty big honking piece of steel. Most debas are > 1/4" thick and the bevel angle isn't that shallow, so there's a lot of steel behind the edge. Also, folks sometimes put a microbevel toward the heel of the knife so it's got more strength for chopping spines, with a finer edge on the top 2/3rds of the blade.

    I mean close to the spine on the flat side.



    This guy is going to town on that side .. shouldn't there be a lot of scoring or at least some markings there? At the end you can see the beveled side polished higher up the blade - same on flat side?

    I can see a couple of passes to knock off the burr at a degree or two to avoid this but...
    "Old and standing in the way of progress"

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    Default Re: Japanese Knife Technique

    Quote Originally Posted by jitahs View Post
    OK forgive my persistence... At 5:17 he's running the tip along the mackerel's spine, then flips it over to do remove the other filet. What is he doing - the other filet is on the table already.
    not sure, but i think he's just scoring the meat on the underside of the spine to make it easier to release the remaining filet from the spine in the next step. Either that, or he's just demonstrating what he's about to do. I notice he doesn't do this step and the technique is slightly different when he demonstrates on a .

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    Default Re: Japanese Knife Technique

    the video is a bit deceptive.

    Have a look at the following images depicting the standard cross section of a traditional Japanese single-bevel knife:




    In the video, He's not actually coming close to the polished flat face ('Omote' in the diagrams) of the knife.

    First he rough grinds the 'kiriba' (also sometimes called the blade road) on the sen (circular wheel). you can tell at :43 that he hasn't touched the flat part (omote) of the knife as he turns it over because it's still shiny. He then brings it over the the stones. It's hard to see in the video, but he's got the spine off of the stones and the knife is at an angle so that only the blade road is contacting the stone as in the second diagram above. In fact, he may even only be putting a microbevel a the very edge of the blade road (a-b in this diagram). At about 1:10, he flips the knife over and gives a few strokes on the back side of the knife to break the burr. Since the backsides of traditionally made japanese knives are hollow ground/convex (made by grinding on the sen), when the knife is flat against the stone on the backside, you're only contacting the outer edges of the blade (at the edges of the 'ura'). He then does the process again on a yellow stone, which i assume is a finer grit. If I'd venture a guess, these stones are probably in the ball park of 1000 grit and 6000 grit, so they're pretty fine.
    Attached Images Attached Images

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    Default Re: Japanese Knife Technique

    Ah OK this explains everything. I was asking about the Ura, not knowing that side is actually concave. Thanks for the detailed explanation.

    And I can see why you'd never want to alter your cutting angle if the blade were caught; looks like the edge could not be re- ground should a piece break off.
    "Old and standing in the way of progress"

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