by Chef Jae Bae, JFE Executive Chef, R & D
A dull knife used skillfully is actually just as dangerous as a sharp knife used poorly. Duller knives can snag your food, get out of control and injure you.
And for the sushi business, of course, your final product is known for precision and beauty. A knife sharpened daily and according to the specs I’ll provide here is safer and will actually speed your prep.
Up front, I’ll remind you to sharpen your knives every day! As with all skills, you’ll get faster and faster. Even if you’re experienced, be sure to read all the tips on here in case you’ve learned something wrong (or in case you want to follow up by email with a question or differing opinion).
The type of sharpening stones I use are called whet stones or Japanese water stones. There are three that I use: 500 grit, 1,000, and 3,000. Just like with sandpaper—for any carpenters reading—the higher the number, the finer the grit.
You start with the lowest two numbers to sharpen the blade, and the 3,000 grit is for polishing. A lot of our chefs stop with the 1,000, but finishing with the 3,000 is ideal, especially if you prepare sashimi every day–your sashimi cuts need to be very smooth in appearance.
Each day, soak your blocks in water for about 20 minutes. This serves as a lubricant of sorts that will prevent damage to both your knife and to the stone itself.
Before I describe the stroke you’ll use, a word about the angle. The angle you’re looking for is small enough that you can just fit a penny in between your blade and the stone. With some Western knives, the angle is high enough to fit a matchbook in the gap (see Sharpen Your Knife Knowledge, this page).
Starting with the 500-grit stone, slowly but steadily run your blade from the top of the stone to the bottom; at the same time, pull the knife from left to right so you sharpen the entire length of the blade with the same motion. Use the 1,000-grit stone next with the same technique; finish with the 3,000-grit stone.
You might notice some roughness has developed on the non-faceted (flat) side of the knife from the sharpening process. You can remove this with your medium grit stone just before you use the polishing (3,000-grit) stone. To smooth that side, I use about one-tenth of the strokes I used in the sharpening process.
So there it is. If you’ve learned a few new aspects of knife sharpening here, you’re on your way to safer prep and prettier cuts. By the way, you can use your stones on other types of kitchen knives, too. I welcome your comments and questions, which you can email to email@example.com Subject: magazine
Keeping two extra sharpened knives will save you time on busy days!
Sharpen Your Knife Knowledge
Get to know more about your knife and what
to look for when shopping for a new one
The knife most of our chefs use, if they’re not using a sashimi knife, is often called a slicer rather than a knife (slicing is its main purpose versus, for example, chopping). Most of you are using a sujihiki slicer. I don’t recommend a sashimi knife because they have a wider angle, which can make it hard for a chef with less experience to make a straight cut.
Even using the sujihiki, you may have noticed two things that make it unique from a regular chef’s knife. A chef’s knife is thicker since it’s used for tasks like deboning a chicken and chopping vegetables. A thicker knife than ours, even when sharp, would also squash a sushi roll a bit when slicing it.
The second feature you’ll notice on our knife is the number of facets, the angled sharp part. The Western Chef’s Knife has identical facets on each side of the edge. Our sujihiki is single faceted.
The angle of the sujihiki’s facet (15 degrees) is super important for our soft pieces of fish that need to stay pretty. A wider edge angle—20 degrees on a Chef’s Knife–creates more drag, which isn’t as important with less-precise vegetable cuts, for example.
Also, when looking at the blade from the side of the knife, you’ll notice the height, or profile, is shorter than Western knives or Japanese knives meant for chopping. A shorter knife means less of it to drag behind the cut, and you’re also able to cut the kind of curves you’ll encounter when breaking down a salmon, for example.
Though in discussions about knife selection and purchase you’ll also hear people mention knuckle clearance—your knuckles not hitting the board before your knife–that’s more important with the repetitive chopping of vegetables and less so with the delicate slicing of sushi fish.
And a final note about handles: a very large or heavy knife with a stainless steel blade, like the one on page 9, will likely be better balanced than a similarly sized wood or plastic handled knife. However, stainless steel handles do not provide as good a “grip” and can become slippery when wet.