Do you need a special-purpose knife for cutting sushi and sashimi?
Honestly, you don’t have to use a special purpose knife when cutting sushi and sashimi. Any razor-sharp, thin, flexible knife will do for making thin fillets. That said, there are benefits to using a special-purpose knife. First of all, it’s just more enjoyable. Chances are if you’re making sushi at home, it’s because you love making it and eating it and using a sushi knife just adds more to the whole experience. Also, keep in mind that these knives are versatile. Yes, they’re perfect for sushi but you can also use them to cut other things in your kitchen, too, especially filleting large fish or poultry.
Features to consider while choosing a sushi and sashimi knife
There are a few different features that you should consider when choosing the right sushi and sashimi knife for your kitchen. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most important ones.
We touched on this briefly in our reviews but there are actually several different kinds of sushi knives and they all serve a different purpose. We included five different types in our reviews.
A Yanagi, like the Yoshihiro VGYA240SH, has a long, thin blade that slices through sashimi in a single stroke to create a smooth, even surface that maximizes flavor. It’s single ground and has a sharper angle than is possible with a double-bevel knife. Yanagis are filleting knives and almost exclusively used with fish.
A Usuba is traditionally used for cutting vegetables. It has a flat edge with little or no curve and is tall to provide enough finger clearance for quick chopping and slicing. Plus, it’s really thin so it can make clean cuts without cracking any vegetables. Usubas are usually used by professional chefs.
A Deba is a sort of hybrid of a cleaver and a chef’s knife that’s small, curved, and have a single beveled edge for removing meat from the bone. It’s used to carve and portion whole fish but isn’t meant to cut through larger bones.
A Santoku is an all-purpose knife with a flat edge that curves down at the tip. It’s a multi-tasking tool that’s ideal for slicing, dicing, and mincing. One of the best ones we found is the Tatara Santoku knife.
Finally, a Nakiri is typically used in home kitchens and designed to cut vegetables. It has a flat profile and a square tip that make it ideal for chopping. If you want to see a great example, check out the Enso Nakiri knife.
One thing that every type of sushi knife has in common is a sharp blade. The trick is finding a material that can not only get a razor-sharp edge but also hold onto it for a long time. Most Japanese sushi knives are made from carbon steel which is extremely tough and sharp.
Bevel is also something to consider when looking at blades. Most of these knives have a single bevel because you can get a much sharper angle. The thing to keep in mind is that single beveled knives are usually made for either right or left-handed use.
Another thing you’ll see in our reviews is a Granton edge. These are small indentations along the edge of the knife that are long, thin, and shallow. They come in handy when cutting anything that’s particularly wet or messy. As the knife travels through, the indentations collect the water and fat that are coming off the meat and allow the blade to move through smoothly without anything sticking. This not only makes it easier to cut, but it also makes the final product look a lot nicer and a bit more precise.
Handle material is important for a few reasons. It has to be comfortable so it’s easy to maneuver. It should also have a non-slip grip so that you maintain good control, even if your hands get messy. A lot of these handles are made out of wood but there are a lot of really great composites available, too. In some respects, composites are a little better than wood because they won’t crack or break when exposed to extreme temperatures and aren’t effected by splashes of grease or oil. The Kai 6715D knife is a great example, it’s pakkawood handle looks and feels like wood but won’t warp or crack.
Rockwell rating (HRC)
The Rockwell scale tells you exactly how hard a piece of metal is. Basically, the higher the number, the harder the metal but there’s a lot more to it than that. Hard metals can hold a sharp edge better than soft metals but are more likely to crack or break. Soft metals need frequent resharpening but are a little more reliable. The trick is finding the perfect balance.
This scale specifically measures hardness, flexibility, and toughness. When these factors are balanced, you’ll have a knife that can not only take a razor-sharp edge, it will also be able to hold onto it.
For some reference, an everyday pocket knife has an HRC of about 57. High-quality steel has a hardness of 59 or higher. Our budget pick, the Mercer knife, has an HRC of 58. All the knives in the top Yoshihiro Japanese Sushi Chef set have an HRC of 63.
Length is another feature that really depends on the type of knife you’re looking at. Yanagis are the longest with blades about 10 or 11 inches long. They’re designed this way so you can make one smooth movement while making thin fillets to keep the meat even and consistent the whole way through.
Santoku knives are usually about 7 inches long. Because they’re considered an all-purpose knife, they need the length to make sure they can handle as much as possible.
The other knives we looked at are about 6 to 6.5 inches long, the perfect length for cutting vegetables or butchering fish.
With rare exceptions, these knives all come with lifetime warranties. That speaks highly to their overall quality, workmanship, and materials. When you do decide which of these knives is the one for you, make sure you read the warranty carefully, just in case.
For general cooking, especially cutting raw fish and making sushi,
a set of Yanagiba and Deba (and preferably Usuba [or Nakiri] for vegetable) is recommended.