If you’re a foodie who enjoys cooking, chances are your kitchen is equipped with a wide array of tools and gadgets that make food preparation easier and more efficient. But, if you’re looking to upgrade your kitchen knife collection, a Japanese chef knife is something you should definitely get.
What Is a Japanese Chef’s Knife?
The origins of Japanese knives trace back to the 12th century Kamakura period when samurai swords were repurposed as kitchen knives. As time passed, craftsmen started to make knives expressly for culinary usage, and the art of making Japanese knives was established. Today, these knives are increasingly renowned for their superior quality and precision.
Each region of Japan has its own unique design and method of creating knives, but the basic process is the same. The knives are first forged from a complete block of steel rather than metal sheets as with the Western method. The metal is then strengthened by the repeated heating and cooling operations that take place when the blade is being shaped in a furnace. Every time the blade is heated and cooled, extra thin layers of metal may be added during some blacksmithing processes; this layering method gives some Japanese knives their recognisable wavy design along the blade.
The blades achieve their final hardness level after being placed in a kiln to heat. After that, they are polished and shone in accordance with the factory’s chosen design and style. Next, the handles are affixed, and the blades are sharpened. It is critical at this point to keep the blade cool to avoid compromising the metal’s integrity, the reason why the blades are doused with cool water during the sharpening process.
Many blacksmiths spend their entire lives perfecting their craft in order to create the ideal Japanese knife. Despite the fact that not all blades on the market are handcrafted, many larger companies create “Japanese-style” knives with characteristics similar to traditional blades.
One of the main factors that make the Japanese blades better than the Western ones is that they’re made with strong carbon steel, resulting in a light, thin, and razor-sharp edge. These characteristics make these knives ideal for all of your slicing, chopping, and cutting requirements. They are preferred by chefs because they are simpler to sharpen than Western or European blades and, when properly maintained, have excellent edge retention.
How to Choose a Japanese Chef Knife?
Japanese knives, like your cooking demands, are highly different from one another. As a result, it is critical that you understand what to look for when shopping for Japanese chefs knives so that you can identify which one is most suited for your kitchen needs.
It’s important to take this into account due to the fact that the type of steel used greatly affects the knife’s quality. Japanese knives stand out for their high carbon steel content and beautiful grain structure. It’s crucial that you understand that the tighter the bevel angle and the sharper the edge are, the higher the hardness. High-carbon steel and stainless steel are the two materials available to choose from.
Blades made of stainless steel provide exceptional sharpness and edge retention, are rustproof, and are simple to maintain. These blades, however, need to be sharpened by a professional. On the other hand, a high-carbon steel blade combines the advantages of carbon steel with stainless steel, producing a blade of exceptional quality. This steel is incredibly durable and simple to sharpen because to the higher-quality steel and the blade’s sharpness.
Having a solid grip on your knife is a must for being able to make clean, smooth cuts, hence the need to choose a handle that works for you. Ideally, a knife handle should not be heavier or lighter than necessary, and it should fit comfortably in your hands. No matter the quality of the blade, if the knife feels uncomfortable, it is almost certain to perform poorly. Japanese knives have two sorts of handles: traditional Japanese-style handles and Western-style handles.
Western-style knife handles are heavier and more durable, making them a better option for rougher jobs. Japanese-styled handles are often made of wood, making them lighter and easier to work with.
It’s crucial to determine how you want to use the knife before making an investment. This is because various blades have varied strengths. Do you intend to use the knife in any way? For chopping and slicing vegetables, you’ll need a model with a curved edge that allows you to cut while rocking. Choose a knife with a straight edge to cut fresh fish or meat since it enables push-and-pull motions.
The length of the blade is also important. A shorter blade, for example, is ideal for cutting small vegetables; but, a longer blade is required to cut open a whole fish.
Single Bevel vs Double Bevel
What bevel means, you may ask? A knife bevel is a ground surface that forms the knife’s edge. If you take a close look at a Japanese chef’s knife you’ll notice a minor inclination that runs down to the edge on one or both sides. That’s a bevel. If the knife has one on both sides, it is a double-bevel knife; if it just has one on one side, it is a single-bevel knife.
Western blades are often double-beveled, whereas Japanese knives are normally single-beveled. But it’s possible to find premium Japanese knife models featuring both styles.
Skilled chefs tend to favour single-beveled knives for their higher precision cutting, but you should know that these knives are difficult to hold and sharpen. A double bevel might be a better option if you’re looking to buy a knife for your home kitchen.
How to Sharpen a Japanese Knife?
Sharpening a Japanese knife’s thin, hard blade demands a specific amount of expertise and knowledge. Using the incorrect technique or instruments can result in blade damage.
If you don’t have any experience with sharpening knives, I suggest you start with a cheaper blade before attempting to sharpen a Japanese knife. To achieve the greatest results, use the proper sharpening stones and method.