For many newcomers to the world of Japanese kitchen knives, the nakiri can be a very intriguing option. I remember first setting eyes on a nakiri in Knifewear Calgary about ten years ago. I was looking for a second knife to complement my 240mm gyuto, and I was intrigued by the square shape that I assumed was a meat-cleaver.
Kevin let me try one out, and I was shocked by how light it was compared to my expectations. This cleaver-looking knife was almost paper-thin and very easy to wield! Turns out, the nakiri is no meat cleaver. This square flat-edged blade is designed explicitly with vegetables in mind, and boy does it perform. I initially came to the nakiri for its badass looks, but I stayed for its unreal performance
What is a nakiri?
Have you ever chopped peppers for a stir-fry and been left with a string of still-attached vegetables resembling paper dolls? That’s because It’s actually very easy not to cut entirely through the skin of a vegetable with a curved blade. The nakiri makes more complete contact with your cutting board using its flat edge, resulting in cleaner cuts!
Using a nakiri can take a bit of adjustment. When you first get to chopping, you’ll probably notice that sliding the knife forward or back works much better than rocking it. All blades work better by sliding, but we’ve been trained by TV to rock our knives in the west. The nakiri re-trains your brain, and with a bit of practice, your knife skills will be better than ever!
Nakiris also have a little more heft and forward balance than a similar size santoku or gyuto because there’s more steel in the front of the knife. If you’re lazy like me, it means you’ll be delighted by how much of the work they do for you. The more you handle a nakiri, the more you start to realize that they’re more than just a pretty face - they’re vegetable chopping machines!
Why do I need a nakiri?
In my kitchen, the nakiri takes the place of “Sous Chef” to my big 240mm gyuto. The gyuto always leads the charge, but my nakiri does a lot of the heavy-duty prep work. Need to slice up ten onions for soup? No big deal. Gotta cut scalloped potatoes for a big family dinner? Move over mandolin; it’s nakiri time. Time to whip up a small stir-fry for two? The nakiri will have it done in minutes.
Your nakiri can also be every bit as useful as your chef’s knife. They tackle little jobs like mincing garlic and chopping herbs with ease, but they can also get stuck into a big leafy pile of kale or a 5lb cabbage and hold their own. If you’re vegan and only cut veggies, this is the knife you need. They’re a great first knife and the perfect wildcard to round out a more extensive collection.
How do I use a Nakiri?
As I mentioned, these knives work a little differently from what you may be used to. Here’s the basic technique for using a nakiri:
Grab the knife by its handle. Now shuffle your hand up until you’re grabbing a spot on the spine, just ahead of the end of the handle, with your thumb and pointer finger. This gives you more control over the knife than just holding the handle.
Curl the fingertips of your other hand under your knuckles, forming a “claw” of sorts. Place this on top of the food you’re cutting, and keep your thumb tucked in.
Slide the knife forwards or backwards through the food, using your knuckle to guide the side of the knife. This acts as a buffer, and keeps you from chopping your finger tips!
Now loosen up, pour yourself a beverage, and make a big stir fry. Or french onion soup. Or sauerkraut. Anything that requires lots of chopping. In a week, you’ll be a nakiri master. Check out our nakiri skills video on YouTube for more techniques:
Which Nakiri do I need?
It all comes down to your preferences, but here’s a few suggestions for different folks.
If the first Japanese knife you get will be a nakiri, get this one. Stainless steel is easy to take care of, so you won’t be sweating over a rusty knife. The blade is super pretty and razor sharp, plus a Japanese style handle is a must-try if you’ve never had one before.
If you’re looking to dip your toes into something higher-performance, this is the way to do it. The Fujimoto has a carbon steel core, with a protective security blanket of stainless steel on the outside. This means that it cuts like a lightsaber, but you only need to worry about the edge rusting. Wash it and wipe it dry immediately after use and your knife will last a lifetime.
Okay, so maybe not every home cook needs a nakiri this big. But professional prep cooks? Heck yes they need a knife this big. I would know, I’ve been one. This big boy will also become your dream knife if you cook for a big family, or you like to meal-prep an entire week in one go. I’m looking at you, crossfitters.
They really don't get better looking than this! The Haruyuki Zanpa has been making waves recently with its incredible good looks, backed up by a reliable, rugged edge forged from AUS10 steel. I love the simple look of the handle too, single-piece handles have become quite trendy and I can understand why!
If you want the best of the best, here it is. Fujiwara-san is a world-renowned knife and sword maker and his Denka series is the cream of the crop. I'm a huge fan of the rustic looks, and the notch at the back of the blade fits your finger perfectly so you can drive the blade with confidence. It’ll also stay sharp waaaay longer than anything else in your kitchen, so you’ll only need to sharpen it once every few years.
So there you have it. Everybody needs a nakiri in their kitchen, unless you only ever eat meat. Even then, you’ll be delighted by the way these knives slice up grilled steaks and chicken breasts. The nakiri quickly became one of my most treasured knives, and I know it will for you too.