Essential Japanese knife skills
Many of the fancy cuts and delicate arrangements in Japanese cooking require a certain set of tools. One can imitate them with Western cooking equipment, but never really perfect them. Central to these techniques are the three single-beveled Japanese knives; the yanagiba, the deba and the usuba.
“Japanese Kitchen Knives: Essential Techniques and Recipes” is an introductory book to these three essential knives and their use. Written by celebrated chef Nozaki Hiromutsu (who has many cooking books available in his native Japanese) and Kate Klippensteen (Cool Tools: Cooking Utensils from the Japanese Kitchen), the book is about one-third knife history and information, one-third knife skills course, and one-third cook book with recipes.
I enjoyed all of the different elements of “Japanese Kitchen Knives.” I have read about some of the knife techniques, such as the sanmai oroshi three-piece filleting technique in that Japanese cooking bible Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art, but it was much easier to follow here with the photographs and step-by-step guide. In fact all of the photographs, by Konishi Yasuo, are lovely to look at and contribute greatly to the quality of the book. Some of the other techniques, like the kazari-girl forms for cutting decorative vegetables, I was especially happy to see. I have been imitating the cuts for some time now, but never perfectly and never with the correct technique.
The recipes in “Japanese Kitchen Knives” are up to the usual great standard one can expect from Kodansha. Some of them are quite unusual, such as “Braised Tai Head with Turnips.” Instead of just throwing away a fish head it is nice to use it for a delicious recipe. The “Vinegared Mackerel” I have eaten several times at Japanese restaurants, but never made for myself, so I was also happy to see that recipe.
The last few chapters of the book covers some of the more specialty Japanese knives, such as the massive soba chopper soba-giri and the unagi-bocho use for preparing eels. There is also a chapter on the maintenance of your knives and some advice on buying them which I found very helpful.
Sadly, to get a decent set of even those three most basic knives is expensive so for the time being I can only look dreamily at this book. But “Japanese Kitchen Knives” is a great guide on what I need, what to buy, and how to use the tools when I get them!