Updated: Aug 2
Masamoto Knife Shop, Tsukiji, Tokyo (photo by the author)
When it comes to knives for slicing and gutting fish, many believe that the price and quality of the knife are paramount. However, after years of experience, I've come to understand that what truly matters is how well you sharpen the knife.
Don't misunderstand me; I appreciate beautifully crafted, high-quality, and expensive carbon steel knives as much as anyone. But there's an essential aspect about knives that you should know before focusing solely on their price and quality.
Let me share an insightful story from my time working with one of the most experienced Sushi Chefs, Jin-san. He impressed me with his exceptional knife skills, using only two sets of ordinary chef's knives purchased at a restaurant supply store, each costing around $15. Despite their affordability, Jin-san cut fish faster and more beautifully than anyone I'd ever seen.
He revealed the key to his success, saying, "You see, I have several Sashimi knives that cost $1,000, $2,000, but you know what? Neither of them hardly makes an appearance at the sushi bar. These $15 knives do the work just fine because I sharpen them well."
This encounter made me realize that the quality and looks of a knife are secondary factors when you intend to use it every day in the kitchen.
A significant revelation came to me during a fascinating visit to a knife store in Tokyo's Kappa-Bashi district, renowned for its vast selection of restaurant supplies. As I browsed through a display of hundreds of knives, I overheard a conversation between a customer and the store owner. The customer was inspecting a long, shiny, and beautiful chef's knife, seemingly fascinated by the quality of the steel and its price.
Curious about the store owner's insight, the customer asked, "Which one do you think is the best knife?"
The owner replied thoughtfully, "Well, they are all great knives."
Though the customer pressed further, seeking a recommendation, the owner shared a valuable perspective. He explained that most professional chefs prefer inexpensive knives because they use them daily and sharpen them regularly. Expensive knives are often avoided to prevent accidental damage. On the other hand, amateur chefs and enthusiasts tend to lean towards pricey knives, sometimes more interested in collecting them than actually using them.
The owner's words resonated with my experiences and those of Sushi Chefs like Jin-san. Ultimately, the knife's quality and appearance are of secondary importance if you're seeking a practical and efficient tool for everyday kitchen use.
So, if you're considering purchasing a kitchen knife, here are my recommendations:
1. Prioritize how well you sharpen the knife:
No matter how sharp a knife is initially, it will eventually get dull with use. Thus, it's essential to learn how to sharpen it properly. If you choose an expensive knife, invest in an automatic knife sharpener or learn to use whetstones. For my sushi class business, we rely on a $30 automatic knife sharpener, and it works exceptionally well.
2. Consider how the knife feels in your hand:
There's no universal "best Sashimi knife." Instead, focus on finding the best knife for you, much like finding a life partner. Hold the knife, feel its balance, weight, and how it cuts ingredients. Just like dating, it may take time to find the perfect match. Don't be afraid to try out multiple knives until you discover the one that suits you best.
This is the one I use because it’s a nice-looking knife. It’s a lot lighter in weight compared to traditional Yanagi-ba. It’s made in Japan and sold by J.A. Henkel. The pattern comes from the fording technique, where they keep folding the steel to have over 100 layers. The Birchwood handle has a very nice feel and I like that.
We used this knife for our sashimi class. It’s a lot heavier than the Birchwood slicer and a good fit for those who prefer weight. One of the reasons why Yanagiba is heavy is, I think, is it’s easier to slice sashimi because you can use the weight of the knife to slice fish, instead of using your force. Less force, the better-tasting sashimi.
Founded in 1855, Tsukiji Masamoto started to supply sashimi and Japanese knives around Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. One of the most popular and used Sashimi knives in Japan and the world.
They do have Yanagi-ba ranging from $270 ~$2000 plus, so for a beginner, here are some of my recommendations.
You would want at least 270mm length. I find 240mm to be too short when making sashimi.
They say, “Masamoto to the East (of Osaka), and Aritsugi to the West (of Osaka).” There is always a rivalry (sort of) between Osaka and Tokyo, so, Tokyo chefs preferred Masamoto and Kansai chefs preferred Aritsugi.
They too are as popular as Masamoto and make exceptional Yanagi-ba.
These knives are very popular all over the world except Japan. The reason is very simple: They need less sharpening.
In summary, what truly makes a difference in a knife's performance is not its price or appearance, but rather the art of sharpening and how well it fits in your hand. By keeping these factors in mind, you'll find a knife that elevates your culinary experiences without breaking the bank.