Picking The Best Sashimi knife (What Savvy Sushi Chefs Know)
You probably already know that the best sashimi knives are eye wateringly expensive.
Prices vary from around $200 for something decent, right up to several thousand for a Japanese blade that's been hand forged and made from the finest steel.
This has probably left you wondering if you should invest your hard earned cash. Can’t you just use any knife? What difference does it make?
So, here's the deal:
Any sharp knife will get the job done. But where a razor like sashimi knife can really make the biggest difference is in presentation.
Sashimi knife design has evolved over hundreds of years and their sole purpose is to cut fish neatly and cleanly.
Don’t get me wrong, you won't suddenly be able to cut an amazing looking piece of sashimi. Or slice up perfectly uniform pieces of tuna or salmon to use in Nigiri or Miki sushi.
Practice and technique play a major part but you'll stand a much better chance.
That's the thing about Japanese food, sushi and sashimi in particular. Its impeccable presentation. So neat, tidy, and precise.
If you want to achieve the same results then you're going to arm yourself with a lot of knowledge and a razor sharp sashimi knife.
Having the best sashimi knife in your hand can even make your sushi and sashimi taste a little better. (more on this a little later)
Before we go and look at some knives it helps to know a little bit about their design and what to look out for if you plan on splashing the cash.
So, here's just some of coming up in this article.
what you'll learn
Sushi knives V’s Sashimi knives - Yes, there is a difference!
It’s a question that doesn't get asked all that much. People tend to assume their the same thing when there not.
So,Let me explain.
There's only one sashimi knife. The Japanese rapier like Yanagiba willow style blade. It's used to slice fish either for sashimi or for use in sushi. And it's the knife we’re talking about here. Below are a few examples.....
VG-10 Stainless Steel
3 Sizes Available 8, 9. and 10.5 Inch
High Carbon Steel
4 Sizes Available 9.5, 10.5, 11.8, And 13 Inch
High Carbon Steel
10.6 Inches (270mm)
The only other job its used for is to cut through maki rolls. Its sharp slender blade easily slides through without crushing up any of the ingredients inside and wrecking all your hard work.
On the other hand there's multiple sushi knives of which the Yanagiba is one.
There's a lot more that goes into making sushi. The rice, the fish, the vegetables. So you need a few more knives to get it done.
The Deba, Usuba, And Yanagiba
Examples include the Deba knife. A cleaver like blade that sushi chefs use to fillet fish and cut through bone. Then there's the Usuba knife thats square shaped and comes in useful for preparing the wafer thin vegetables used in sushi.
You’ve gotta ask yourself the question though, do you really need them? When was the last time you broke down and filleted a whole fish before making sushi or sashimi
Most of us will just buy a fillet or a piece of sushi grade fish and use a Yanagiba sashimi knife to cut it up neatly.
You could use western style knives to fillet fish and cut vegetables with decent results. When it comes to slicing fish there's no real replacement for a good sashimi knife.
How Having A Sharp Yanagiba In Your Hand Can Make Your Sushi And Sashimi Taste Even Better
You've definitely heard this old chestnut........................ ‘you eat with your eyes first’.
Well, It turns out not to be as far fetched as you might think. Science has proved there's a direct link between how food looks and how we think it's gonna taste.
After all, chefs spent their whole careers improving their presentation skills and multinational companies spend billions on pictures of their food, advertising, and packaging all in an attempt to get us to buy and eat it.
Sashimi is no different and you want it looking as pretty as a picture.
A neatly cut platter of well presented spanking fresh sashimi along with the smell of some salty soy sauce and pungent wasabi makes eating it the multisensory experience it should be.
You just know its gonna taste good before you put it anywhere near your mouth.
And you really need a decent yanagiba sushi knife to cut it properly. You simply won’t be able to get the same results with a blunt blade that leaves a piece of fish looking like it was hacked up by a five year old.
The second way a sashimi knife helps with flavour is by preserving the structure, integrity, and freshness of the fish.
Most sashimi knives are so sharp that they leave a smooth shiny cross section in your fish that doesn't change the texture, taste, or mouth feel.
Finally, a clean cut prevents damage to cell walls, stops moisture loss, maintains colour and will just leave you with a tastier and fresher looking piece of sashimi. While leaving a straight edge will give the sashimi a larger surface area and more contact with your tongue maximising flavour.
Sashimi knife Design 101- 7 reasons why they're a joy to use
You’ve gotta admit Japanese knives look kinda cool especially the long slender Yanagiba. And how it performs in the kitchen surpasses its good looks. You just know it will be a joy to use even before you pick it up. Here's 7 reasons why....
1. Blade length
You’ll never see a small sashimi knife. Blades under 6 inches in length simply won’t allow you to cut through a piece of fish in one long uninterrupted stroke leaving a clean edge.
Nearly all sashimi knives are 7 to 12 inches (240mm - 300mm) long which allows you to pull through the fish, heel to tip without the need to move the knife back and forth.
There's no sawing action. No pushing or pulling which could lead to ripped, jagged, or torn edges. Or at the very least an uneven piece of sashimi
2. The single bevel
Here in the west all our knives are double bevel. This means there sharpened from both sides into a point at the middle of the blade exactly like the letter V. This makes for a strong blade but one that's not as sharp and is harder to keep that way
The best sushi and sashimi knives are single bevel. So the back of the knife is concave and the blade is honed to a point on one side. The concave back edge reduces drag and makes it easier for food to slide off without getting stuck.
All though it's not quite as strong as a double bevel it doesn't need to be because it's much sharper and you wont need to apply anything like the same amount of pressure.
3. Carbon steel
There's been a lot written about the virtues of carbon over stainless steel when it comes to knives. And all the best sashimi knives are made from carbon steel, their just sharper than their stainless steel counterparts but don't hold their edge as well and need regular sharpening.
They need a lot more care too as there prone to rust. So wash and dry your knife really well after each use. And if you're storing it away and won’t be using it for a while rub a little oil into the blade and wrap it up well in some newspaper.
It's carbon steel along with the single bevel that makes sushi and sashimi knives so unique, sharp, and easy to use.
You’ll be surprised at just how little pressure you need to use when cutting any type of fish. All you really need to do is pull the knife gently while guiding it through the fish for a clean evan slice.
4. White Carbon V’s Blue Carbon Steel
Both white and blue carbon steel are used to make sashimi knives and the difference between each can be subtle.
Without getting too technical what you really need to know is that white steel has less contaminants in the iron. Its softer, more brittle, and really easy to sharpen to a fine cutting edge.
A blue carbon steel knife on the other hand will have tungsten and chromium added which makes for a blade that holds its edge longer, is a little more durable, but won’t be quite as sharp. If you want to learn more about the types of carbon steel used in knives than check out this quick guide.
Whichever you choose will depend on your own circumstances, but think about how often your going to use it...
If your going to go into making sashimi and sushi professionally than I’d probably go for a blue steel knife. Its stronger, more durable, and better able to withstand the hectic pace of a pro kitchen,
If your only going to dabbling in a little sushi or sashimi at home than white might be a better option.
5. Really Comfortable handles
You’ve gotta admit the Japanese really know how to make knife handles. You’ll find that all the best sashimi knives have rounded wooden handles, either shaped like a D or something that resembles a hexagon / octagon.
This makes them easy and comfortable to use and hold for long periods. There's no hard straight edges or irregular shapes that dig into your hand. Enough said..
6. Half tang or full tang?
Nearly every knife I own is full tang. Made of a single piece of steel with the handle riveted on either side. It makes for a strong durable blade, there's no week point where the handle meets metal, and I’d always assumed it was the best way to go.
Sashimi knives are different. They don't need to be as strong. Your not going into battle and you won't have to hack up bone, just slice up some fish.
That's why most sashimi knives are half tang and the metal blade tapers down and is encased by the handle. It makes for a lighter better balanced knife that's easier to use.
Some sushi knives have a gap between the end of the handle and the start of the blade that's known as the machi.
This little feature gives plenty of clearance between your hand and whatever piece of fish you happen to be cutting and it takes a little getting use to.
It also makes it really easy to change the handle. Which you’ll have to do at some stage during your knife's lifetime as the blade will definitely outlast the wooden handle.
Some chefs like a machi, some don’t. It's really down to personal preference.
2 really important things you’ve got to check before you use a sashimi knife for the first time.
This may seem a bit like stating the obvious, but whatever you do, before you use a yanagiba for the first time make sure it's straight. Pick in up and look right along the cutting edge of the blade making sure its not bent in any way.
Here's the deal:
A badly warped single bevel sashimi knife is next to useless. Not only will any fish you cut be misshapen and nonuniform it will also be impossible to sharpen properly.
Secondly, you've got to give it an initial sharpening yourself. The best sashimi knives, and I’m talking anything that costs serious $$$ aren't sent from the manufactures ready to use and wouldn't cut butter.
This is because each knife, each blade, is individual to whoever is gonna use it. And it needs to be honed to their liking.
If you’ve never sharpened a single bevel knife before or don’t fancy a couple of hours on the wheatstone than it's probably best left to the pros. If you try to do it yourself without the right equipment there's a strong possibility you could damage your really expensive new knife.
After your knife gets its first sharpening it's easy enough to do yourself with a little practice, some instruction, and the right wheatstone.
Most mass produced and stainless steel sashimi knives on the market ship ready to go so you won’t have to worry about a first sharpening. It only really applies to the more expensive carbon pro blades.
Now that you know a little about their design and how a sharp knife can improve the flavour and presentation of your sushi and sashimi it's time to take a look at some knives.
Best Sashimi knife reviews
All of the knife's below are made by well established trusted brands. All are single bevel and come pre sharpened. I’ve included knives at different price points so whatever your budget you should be able to find a knife to suit.
Shun Pro 10-1/2-Inch Yanagiba Knife Review
First up is the VG-10 stainless steel shun pro. Although Vg-10 is a stainless steel, it also contains carbon, so you get the best of both worlds. A knife thats sharp and holds its edge, while also being corrosion resistant.
VG-10 steel originated in Japan and its actual properties are roughly 1% carbon, 1% molybednum, 15% chromium, 2% vanadium and 1.5% cobalt.
Although each metal is only present in a small amount its the blend that make VG-10 knives quite durable, sharp, and sought after by chefs.
The shun pro also boasts a comfortable D shaped pakkawood handle thats been steeped in a resin to make it durable and resistant to moisture
The knife comes in 3 different lengths. There's an 8, 9 and 10.5 inch version which weigh in at a nifty 9.6 ounces making it light weigh for a blade of this length.
Verdict: The shun sushi knife in beautifully made blade and the etching along the top of the knife is a nice cosmetic touch. Its durable, sharp, and cuts fish like a dream.
Go for the 10 inch version as the smaller ones might be a little too short for slicing larger cuts of fish. Longer is always better when it comes to sushi knives.
Yoshihiro Shiroko Yanagiba Review
The blade is 4mm thick and tapers down to about 3mm at the tip. It comes pre sharpened but could be honed to an absolute razor with the use of a proper wheatstone.
The handle is a comfortable D shape and if you don’t like the shitan rosewood version it's also available in magnolia.
Verdict: The Yoshihiro Kasumi Yanagiba is a beautifully hand crafted blade. Its ultra sharp and will easily cut fish accurately and precisely.
It would be a good entry level knife for anybody looking to get into making a bit of sushi or sashimi. Just be well aware that it's a carbon blade and will need a lot of TLC.
Kiya Shobu Sashimi Knife
The Kiya Shobu yangabia comes direct from Tokyo's most famous knife shop Kiya Nihonbashi. Kiya knives are legendary in japan and its a brand with over 220 years experience in cutlery making business.
The shop itself has been open since 1972 and is now a stop on the tourist trail for visitors to Tokyo looking to get themselves a top Japanese kitchen knife.
This Kiya sushi knife is long and slender, with a single ground edge, that's ultra sharp and easy to keep that way.
Made from 3 sheets of really soft high carbon steel. which has been heat treated and forged together in the kasumi style by master artisan Japanese craftsman the blade bears an Inscription that reads Nihonbashi KIYA.
The handle is a classic comfy octagonal design, made from zelkova wood with a water buffalo horn bolster.
At 10.5 inches (270 mm) in length it’s long enough to accurately slice up most cuts of fish for sushi and sashimi.
Verdict: The Kaya Shobu is yet another beautifully made yanagiba. Made from soft white carbon steel its really easy to sharpen to a fine edge that glides effortlessly through any type of fish you might need to slice. Like all carbon knives make sure to keep it very dry to avoid rust spots.
Best sushi knife for under $100
All though some can probably afford to spend upward of $800 on the best sashimi knife there's not many of us who could justify it unless you're a professional sushi chef.
Lots of people will tell you you that any cheap sushi knife that cost less than $100 is next to useless and not worth the money you pay for it.
I tend to disagree....
All though carbon made japanese knives are undoubtedly much better there's still some value to be had and you can definitely cut up some good looking sashimi with a cheaper blade.
Once you buy a sashimi knife that's straight and true to the original Yanagiba design your already ahead of the game.
Its length and single bevel helps enormously with slicing fish, making it much better than any other knife you already have in your kitchen.
It doesn't even matter if its stainless steel. Though carbon steel can be sharpened to a finer point, you can still get a very sharp edge on a stainless steel knife once you hone your sharpening technique.
The art of sushi and sashimi is much more about knowledge, practice, and technique. An experienced sushi chef will cut a much better piece of sashimi with a $20 knife than a novice would with one that costs thousands.
Simply having an expensive knife in your hand won’t instantly turn you into a master.
So, if your on a budget, below are a few knives you could consider while you perfect you sushi skills and save up a few dollars for an upgrade later.
Wusthof Classic Sushi Knife
First on the list is not a Japanese knife but a German made blade, but don't let that put you off. Wusthof are a really well respected brand and full disclaimer here, I own and use their knives every day.
Wusthof make knives that are built to last. And this sashimi knife is made from high carbon steel hardened to 58° Rockwell. It's not a full carbon blade but has molybdenum steel added witch hardens the knife and makes it more corrosion resistant.
Verdict: With a full tang, a single bevel, and an easily sharpened cutting edge this is a great knife for anybody just getting into sushi and sashimi.
Masahiro Stainless Yanagiba
Masahiro is a Japanese brand. Their knives come directly from the home of knife making in Sakai city.
This particular yanagiba is MBS -26 stainless steel with 13% chrome added to increased corrosion resistance. It's hardened to 58 - 59 rockwell so it will hold an edge well but is a little more difficult to sharpen.
Verdict: This is a really elegant looking Japanese knife for the price. Not for everyone especially if you don’t wanna spend a lot of time sharpening once its edge wears.
Kai Wasabi Black Sashimi Knife
The handles are polypropylene instead of wood and the blade is made of a polished carbon stainless steel thats sharp and holds its edge surprisingly well.
Verdict: The kai wasabi is nice looking sharp knife made by a well respected Japanese company. Its exceptional value for money if your on a really tight budget.
Caring for a carbon made blade
If you do decide to go for a full carbon knife be aware that they're like children and need lots of looking after.
First off, don’t be tempted (and you will be because it's so sharp) to use your sashimi knife for anything other than slicing fish or some other soft boneless protein like beef for use in carpaccio or crudos.
Let me explain...
Some types of carbon are quite soft and you could easily chip your expensive new knife while doing a simple job like skinning or filleting fish.
Next, be sure to keep a damp cloth close by while your working and everytime you pause give your knife a good wipe. If you watch sushi chefs at work you’ll notice their constantly stopping to wipe their knives every couple of minutes.
Not only are they cleaning moisture and debris from the blade, but also enzymes and chemical residue from food that could cause a knife to corrode or rust, even if left on the blade for just a short amount of time.
So, be sure to follow their example and get into the habit of wiping down your knife constantly.
Once you've finished with your knife for the day make sure you wash and dry it really well than give it a little rub with some tsubaki (Camellia) Oil to protect it from rust.
Finailly, don’t store it in a block or on one of those magnetic knife racks. Though their convenient they could easily damage soft carbon or break the tip of the knife. Its best to wrap it in a tea towel or keep in in the sheath that it came in.
Also be aware that although your new sushi knife will be all bright and shiny when you buy it, it won't stay that way. Over time and with lots of use some carbon knives oxidize and develop a patina.
This won’t affect the performance / sharpness and though you might think it looks old or dirty it's really just cosmetic and something you’ll get used to.
Keeping your sashimi knife sharp
Once you’ve invested in a single bevel sushi knife you'll have to learn a whole new skill.....wheat stone sharpening. Tradition sharpening on a steel is no good for a single bevel edge.
Sharpening on a stone is a little trickier than it looks. You've got to rub the knife along the stone at exactly the right angle to get a sharp edge on the blade. Use the wrong angle of attack and you'll dull your knife not sharpen it.
Luckily, Youtube is your best friend here, and there's tons of great video tutorials like the one below where you can learn to sharpen a single bevel blade.
My advice would be to practice a little an a cheap knife till you're sure you have the technique down before moving on to your more expensive sashimi knife.
Estimates put the amount of left handed people on the planet at 10%. And as you'd imagine the percentage of left handed sushi chefs like myself is tiny.
Most single bevel knives on the market are honed to an edge on the right hand side, with right handed people in mind, and are useless in the hands of a southpaw.
If your in the minority and are a left hander looking for the best sashimi knife than your more than likely going to have to have something custom made.
There's lots of companies out there who’ll do it but It's going to cost. Probably by about half again what it would cost for a right handed knife.
Why getting a sashimi knife is just the beginning.............
Investing your money in a good yanagiba is only the start of your journey into the delicious world of sushi and sashimi. After that it's time to get to work, practice you technique, and most importantly learn.
And there's a lot to learn. Sushi chefs spend years training and there's a lot more to slicing up a bit of fish than you might think.
Each type of fish tastes different. Evan male and female fish of the same species taste different. Different parts of the fish like the belly or tail have different flavours depending on how thick or thin you slice them. Should you cut with or against the grain?
This is just the tip of the iceberg but its stuff you’ve got to know in order to make great tasting sushi and sashimi. Expert sashimi chefs know just by looking at a fish the best way to slice it for optimum flavour.
Learning To Use Sashimi And Sushi Knives
Before all that you’ve got to learn to weild your new knife and although anybody can slice fish doing it beautifully and with style is really difficult. Think of the last time you cut up a soft loaf of bread or even something like a cucumber. How hard was it to get each slice exactly the same in thickness and shape?
The flesh of fish is evan softer and tears a lot more easily. You’ve got to train yourself to let the knife do the work, use less pressure, not more. Our tendency if we find it difficult to cut something is to push or pull harder and you’ve got to avoid this at all costs with sashimi.
Evan more importantly after you’ve spent all that cash on a good sashimi knife make sure you dont scrimp on the fish either. Be sure that whatever fish you buy is sushi grade and top quality in terms of taste and freshness. Start with poor ingredients and you'll be in trouble from the get go. There's nowhere to hide with raw fish.
Finailly, have fun and be patient. You’ll need to be, because trust me, you'll be cutting a lot of what could only be described as dodgy looking sashimi. Especially the first few times you try.
So, just put it down to experience dip it in soy, smother it in wasabi, and don’t let it go to waste.
Why japanese sashimi knives are still the best
The Japanese have a long history of knife making. We’ve all seen samurai warriors in the movies waving around impressive looking blades. And lots of the same techniques used to make the samurai's katana sword are used in sashimi and sushi knives.
Hard steel folded onto a softer iron base is a forging process known as kasumi (mist) and it dates back to to the time of the samurai.
The best and most expensive sushi knives are honyaki or true forged. Made from one single piece of steel, so you get a higher carbon content and a sharper knife without losing any durability.
A Quick History Of Japanese Knife Making
The area around Sakai city in Osaka is famous for its knife making. In 500 ad an emperor decreed that a temple be built in his honour. Once completed many of the metal workers and blacksmiths settled around the city.
Things really took off around Sakai in the 16th century with the arrival of tobacco and craftsmen around the city found themselves busy making sharp knives to cut it
In the 19th century the industry took a hit when carrying around the dangerous samurai sword was banned in public, so demand dropped, and Japanese blacksmiths turned their attention to kitchen cutlery.This turned out to be an inspired move. Japanese food is as much about presentation as it is about taste. Knife design has evolved in japan with one thing in mind....getting the perfect cut.
And to do it you need a knife designed for each specific purpose. A japanese chef will need to have a lot more knives in his kit than his counterpart in the west.
The quality of Japanese knives hasn't escaped the notice of chefs from every corner of the globe and yanagiba, deba, and santoku knives are now quite common in kitchens everywhere.
To this day Sakai city is still world renowned for its knife and cutlery making and its where many of the top knife brands we know today come from.
Foreign knife manufacturers are now traveling to Sakai to learn the techniques of Japanese craftsmen with the aim of producing western versions of the traditional japanese knife
Which brand is best
This is like asking what's your favourite colour? Or what car you like to drive? It comes down to personal preference.
Having said that, there are trusted brands where you can’t really go wrong and who will definitely sell you a top knife. Here's a few to consider in no particular order.
Yoshihiro knives have a history dating back more than 100 years. From Sakai city their yangabias aren't excessively pricy and you can pick up a really good knife in the 100$ - 200$ range
Masamoto sushi knives are another really trusted name. The company was founded in 1866 by Minosuke Matsuzawa. At just 16 years of age he moved to Sakai city to study knife making.
He didn't stay long and just a few years into his apprenticeship he returned home when he discovered a similar clay used in the forging process in Sakai could also be found around Tokyo.
Minosuke was determined to show that quality knives could be made outside Sakai. He was proved right and 5 generations later masamoto make some top quality blades.
Shun sushi knives are another make of knife that have been around a while. Like a lot of the well known brands they were founded in Sakai city over 100 years ago.
They don’t just make Japanese sushi and sashimi knives and have diversified into nearly every knife type you can think of.
Their knives are good quality, come in a range of different steels, and are available at different price points to suit different budgets.
A final few word of warning
There's not many brick and mortar stores around selling sushi and sashimi knives. If you're lucky enough to have one close by than be sure to stop by.
You’ll be able to pick them up, check them out, and maybe get some expert advice.
How to buy a sashimi knife online
Most of us however are probably going to end up getting one online. So make sure to buy from somewhere you trust and go for a well recognised brand.
At least if there's an issue, especially something serious like a bent blade, or if the knife doesn't meet your expectations than you can change it or get your money back.
Avoid anything second hand and be wary of ‘online deals’ you might see for cheap single bevel carbon blades. You know your self, if it looks too good to be true it usually is.
Wouldn't it be great if money was no object and you could go out and spend a small fortune on the best sashimi knife. How ever, Your budget will probably play the biggest role in deciding which knife to go for.
If you can spare a couple of hundred than I would recommend the Yoshihiro.....It's a great knife, full carbon, sharp, comfortable to use, and will last you years as long as you look after it.
For anybody looking for a more modest blade than the wusthof would be a good choice. It sharpens easily and will see you through a lot of sashimi and sushi..
cocklesandmussels.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc., or its affiliates.