Ever since hibachi-style restaurants became popular and Ginsu knives made their infomercial debut, home cooks have been fascinated with the Japanese style of cooking, particularly the knives used in preparing the food.
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Why Japanese Knives Are Different
Because their blades are made of a more brittle yet harder steel, Japanese knives tend to be lighter weight than Western knives; they have a finer edge and are less flexible that other kitchen knives, which means they can be a lot sharper. Although Japanese knives require more sharpening, the task is simple and requires only a whetstone.
Forging Japanese Knives
When you think traditional Japanese cutlery, think Samurai swords. That's where the forging technique originated. Traditional Japanese knives are forged through one of two methods: honyaki and kasumi. Honyaki knives are made from high-carbon steel; kasumi are made forged from a combination of high-carbon steel and soft iron.
Japanese Knife Varieties
Japanese culinary knives come in several types, including a cleaver, an all-purpose utility knife, vegetable knives and sashimi slicers. The deba is a thick, heavy cleaver used primarily to cut and fillet fish but can be used to butcher poultry as well. The santoku bocho means "knife of the three virtues." An all-purpose utility knife, the versatile santoku can be used for fish, meat and vegetables. The nakiri bocho is a thin-bladed knife used for delicate cutting of vegetables. The usuba hoco is a thin-bladed knife also used for cutting vegetables. The blade is thicker than that on the nakiri. The takohiki is a square-tipped knife used specifically for cutting octopus, and the yanagiba is a very sharp knife is used to cut raw fish. However, the yanagiba can be used to slice just about any food.
Japanese Knife Brands
One of the most popular Japanese knife brands, Ginsu, hit the TV market in the late 1970s. Saying the knife "cuts through a nail, a tin can and a radiator hose and still slices a tomato paper thin," makers of the Ginsu knife used television to hawk their product, which still is selling strong today. While many feel a sense of nostalgia over the Ginsu, several other brands of Japanese knives also are popular. Global, Kershaw, Mac, Hattori, Kyocera, Chroma, Kasumi, Bunmei, Suisin and Misono all are popular makers of Japanese knives. Kyocera makes ceramic knives, which are made of zirconia, a substance almost as hard as diamonds, and increasing in popularity.
Care of Japanese Knives
You can use an electric sharpener for most Japanese knives. Most do not rust because of the steel from which they are made. Because they are more delicate than Western knives, they should not be used to pry open anything. If you are going to store them for a long period of time, oil the blades with camelia or mineral oil.
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