Knife Skills: How to Use Your Japanese Kitchen Knife Like a Pro
April 11, 20234 min read
Congrats on the Knife!
A fancy-pants knife is a thing of beauty. There’s a very short list of things that are better than using an insanely sharp and well-balanced knife in the kitchen, but without the proper know-how you might find that you’re not getting the full potential out of your new steel baby. Fear not, we’re more than happy to give you a quick primer on how to achieve Knife Knirvana™. Let’s start with the basics; First, pick that bad boy up.
Step one: Holding your knife
No, not like this.
There are a great many things that are designed to be held by the handle but your new knife is not one of them. Holding a knife partially by the blade gives you more control, making it safer to use. First things first, find the balance point of your blade. Pinch the blade between your index finger and thumb, just below the spine near the handle. Find the point on the blade where the tip doesn’t teeter forward and the handle doesn’t totter backwards. Easy, right? There you have it. Balance point located!
The balance point of your knife is right there for a reason. Having your thumb and index finger on either side of the blade rather than gripping the handle brings your dominant hand much closer to where the action happens. This puts you much more in control of where the edge of the knife is actually going, which is obviously a good thing. It’s also going to make it easier to keep your knife perpendicular to the cutting board rather more wobbling back and forth. On that note…
Are you slicing sashimi? No? Then get your friggen’ finger off the spine of the knife! The ol’ finger-spine technique is excellent when you're cutting diagonally (like when you’re slicing delicate bluefin tuna), but it is dangerous when your chopping your veggies. It creates a tendency to hold the knife at a slight angle, which increases the risk of cutting your non-knife-wielding hand. It also puts undue strain on you wrist, which can be avoided entirely.
Ok, so now you’re holding your knife right. Congrats, you’ve come a long way! The next step is…
Step 2: How to hold your food
No. NO. BAD. That’s the best way to hurt yourself, and it will be all your fault. Don’t come crying to me.
Ah, now THAT’S a spicy meatball. The Claw Method is key! Curl those fingertips into a kitty-claw shape and put your whole hand down on your end-grain wooden cutting board.Your middle finger will act as a guide for your blade - scoot the face of your knife right up to make contact with the first knuckle of your middle finger, ensuring your fingertip is curled just a little behind said knuckle. The rest of your fingers on your non-dominant hand will hold onto the food you’re cutting, and as long as you keep all your other fingers and thumb behind this guide knuckle, you need not worry about them getting into danger’s way. In “theory” (finger air-quotes highly implied), it is not possible to cut your fingers while using this method. Just take your time, watch what you’re doing, and use a sharp knife.
Presto. Both hands covered. Now to move them around a little. Have you ever seen someone chop like this?
I know I have. And honestly? Not my favourite.
Step 3: Doin’ it and Doin’ it and Doin’ it Right!
Bonking that knife straight up and down isn’t good for your food, your knife, or you. Dragging the tip of your knife around on the board dulls it, as does repeatedly impacting the edge against the board. It’s also a lot rougher on your food, and not very precise. Slicing through your food gently gives you a much cleaner cut, and causes less of the juices to run out. Give it a try. Take your sharp knife and chop some potatoes using the method seen above and set them aside. Then, using the same knife, gently slice through it like this:
Feel the difference in texture. The sliced potato will be nice and smooth, while the chopped ones are going to feel a little rougher. You may also notice more moisture collecting on the cut surfaces of the chopped potato more quickly. That moisture that’s being lost can be the difference between a juicy steak and a dry steak. Sliced tomatoes and squished tomatoes. The technique you use can greatly change the flavour and texture of your food!
Most importantly, ‘rock-chopping’ is tough on your body. It requires a lot of repetitive motion in your wrist, which isn’t the most durable part of the human body. Lifting the blade and slicing using your elbow and bicep as seen in the gif above is better for you, your knife, and your food.
BOOM. You’re an expert now.
Well, not really. But you have all the tools you need to become an expert! Now you just need to practice! Anything worth doing is worth practicing, and cooking is absolutely worth doing. If you need more guidance we’ve got you covered. All of our locations offer hands-on Cut Like a Chef Classes! You can check out our schedule and even book online, or come by in and person and cash in on your free high five™ with the purchase of any class!
Owen is another ex-chef among our ranks. After Chef-ing in Edmonton for around 12 years, he gave it up to be a human being again! He moved out to manage the Vancouver shop in 2018 and never looked back. Later, nerds! He can almost definitely beat you in a game of Street Fighter. come chat with him about football, steel, and how we are, once again, living in a golden age of rap music!