How to pick your Japanese Knife

When you are choosing a knife you have to have some parameters in your mind to pick the best option for your needs. This list will help pick the best japanese knife for you.

Style of Knife

If you are starting to buy professional knives you should start by a multi-purpose knife instead of buying a whole set right away. You probably won't need a set of 7 or 11 knives, and this would be expensive which could lead you to choose a mediocre quality set. Invest your money in a real good knife for daily use and build your collection around it. You can start by a Gyuto (double-beveled), an equivalent of a French chef's knife, or a Santoku, a short all purpose knife for daily use.

Hardness & Sharpness 

Sharpness and harness can tell your how long the blade holds an edge without requiring sharpening. A sharper blade will require less maintenance which is positive for you. When you take it out of the box it should be sharp already. 

A japanese knife can reach hardness up to 63, while western is around 58. Keep in mind that the thin blade of most japanese knives is not made to cut through hard materials, like bones our squash. Japan's traditional food was based on seafood and vegetables, so the knives where developed to cut this food items to perfection.

Blade Material

The blade material influences all the other features of the blade. Stronger materials can reduce sharpening frequency, while other materials are sharper but require a tiresome maintenance. You should consider the pro's and con's of each material and pick the one that is most adequate for your use.

Blade Length & Angle

The length of the blade is dependent upon the proficiency of its user, the objective of it's use and the space on your kitchen and on your cutting board. Smaller kitchens will require smaller blades to feel safe. For a home cook, a 21 cm (8 inch) blade is a good compromise.

The angle of the Japanese blade is more acute, around 10 to 30 degrees in single-beveled knives. This gives it an advantage in more precise cutting.

Ease of care

This is very important for the beginner. Like any good knife, it will need care to retain it's characteristics for a long time. Japanese knives should never go on the dishwasher, even is the manufacture says it can. The high temperatures in the dishwasher weaken the blade.

The best way to clean a japanese blade is to wash it by hand and dry it with a cloth right after. Some materials will need extra care. Carbon steel will need to be oiled and stored in a paper cover to avoid rusting, while stainless steel only need to be clean and dry after use.

The material also influences how easy and how often your blade requires sharpening. You can learn to sharpen your knife by yourself or you can pay a professional to do it. If you don't feel confident enough but want to learn, you can buy first a cheaper knife and upgrade when you know how to maintain a more demanding or expensive knife.

Handles & Looks

Looks are the least important quality, but this doesn't mean you shouldn't buy a pretty knife. Having a beautiful piece, like a traditional japanese knife with handcrafted blades and engraved handles, can keep you motivated in learning how to properly use it.

The handle should be comfortable and secure, with enough space for all your fingers and made of a material that doesn't become slippery when wet. The hand-feel is very important to feel comfortable. The spine, or top part of the blade, shouldn't be rough to not irritate your hand.

You can choose between a western handle (yo-handle), with a full tang and usually designed for the hand grip, or japanese handle (wo-handle), with half tang and similar to a wooden rod. The lightness of japanese knives allows the blade to move easily and reduce fatigue. 

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