Making sushi at home is not necessarily an easy endeavor, but if you’re reading this article, you’ve probably put some thought into it, and already know that it takes dedication and skill to make good sushi. If it’s just that you want to make some tasty sushi rolls at home so you don’t have to go out to get them, you probably don’t need to be a perfectionist about. While it’s certainly easier to slice raw fish for sushi with a proper sushi knife, you likely don’t need to to employ such precision to make a good roll.
However, to make beautiful, presentation-worthy nigiri, you’ll not only need some practice, you’ll definitely need the a good sushi knife. Not surprisingly, most of the best sushi knives are made in Japan, though you can find Western-style sushi knives, too. You don’t need to buy the most expensive sushi knife for it to be a good one, but you should plan to spend as much as your budget allows, in order to get the highest-quality knife you can afford. In this situation, what you pay for is what you get. A low-quality, budget sushi knife is almost not worth the effort you put into purchasing it.
Looking for other types of Japanese kitchen knives? Check out our full guide here.
What Sushi Knives Do I Need?
An important thing to look for when purchasing your own sushi knife is whether the blade is made from one pieces of steel, called Honyaki, or two pieces, called Kasumi. A single piece of steel is preferred in a high quality knife, but of course, these knives come with a hefty price tag. If your’e serious about honing your sushi skills at home, it’s important to invest in a high-quality knife – plus it will last a very long time.
We prefer to use the Japanese-style Yanagi ba knife, because it is a good universal knife for cutting fish and sushi. It is the traditional Japanese sushi knife used by chefs. Why look for something different when this is what is used by the pros? All you really need is the Yanagi ba for making great sushi and sashimi at home, but there are a few other types of knives that make up a sushi knife set, if you want to go all out. Just remember, these knives aren’t cheap and a good sushi knife set can be very expensive. Don’t be drawn in my a small price tag. A sushi knife set for $30 is probably a complete waste of money.
Looking for a good Japanese Chef’s Knife? Read our guide for choosing the best one.
A Yanagi ba knife is long and thin, has a one-sided edge, a sharp tip and a slightly concave back to ensure the food being sliced doesn’t stick to the knife. The knife is made of a very hard high carbon steel and can easily rust or be damaged, so you need to commit to taking really good care of the knife. When cutting fish for sushi, you use a Yanagi ba knife to slice the fish in one solid motion, pulling the knife toward you, rather than pushing away. This creates a single smooth cut that can be incredibly thin, due to the sharpness of the knife. [Our Top Pick for Yanagiba]
A Usuba knife is a single-edge flat knife that is used to cut and peel vegetables and garnishes. They are particularly good at chopping or slicing, which are the cutting techniques most used in the preparation of vegetable for sushi. It is a single-bevel knife, so be sure you get a left-handed version if you’re left handed. [Our Top Pick for Usuba knives]
A Deba is a knife that can be used for heavy-duty jobs like cutting through bones. You really don’t need this knife unless you’re planning to be preparing the whole fish yourself. It can be used in place of a meat clever, if you’re just swapping out all of your Western-style knives for Japanese style knives. [Our Top Pick for Deba knives]
How to Find the Best Sushi Knife
Since you’ll mainly be looking for a Yanagi ba knife, start looking there. Limit down the choices to knives that use a single piece of steel for the blade, have a D-shape handle for stability and comfort, and are from one of the best sushi knife brands. There are many brands on the market these days that claim to make high-quality Japanese knives, but I prefer a brand that is tested and respected in the market, mostly for added peace of mind.
Here are four top choices that have all of the features and design elements we look for in a good quality sushi knife.
It can be a little more difficult to find a left handed sushi knife, but not impossible. If you’re a lefty, try this left-handed sushi knife that is specially designed.
Upkeep for your Sushi Knife
Keeping the blade as sharp as possible is one of the keys to cutting beautiful slices of fish for sashimi or sushi. This means you need to be very careful not to damage the blade, let it rust, or become dull. How do you do that?
- Make sure you never toss the knife into the sink, which could cause it to chip.
- Always use the proper cutting board.
- Hand wash and dry your knife right away after use.
- Hone the knife regularly.
- Use a good quality sharpening stone to sharpen the blade.
How to Slice Fish for Sushi and Sashimi
Once you’ve found the best sushi knife, you’ll want to learn how to properly slice fish. You can often buy a chunk of sushi grade fish at the market and then bring it home to slice yourself. If the piece of fish you’re using is not precut, you’ll want to square it up to about the width of 4 fingers. You will be slicing the fish at a 45-degree angle.
When using a sushi knife, you slice the fish with a pulling motion, so place the heal of your blade on the fish, with the blade at a 45-degree angle and pull the knife toward you, slicing the fish from the heal of the knife to the point, in one fluid motion.
The size of the slices will depend on whether you are slicing the fish for nigiri or sashimi. Sashimi slices tend to be thicker than for nigiri, but since you’re making your own sushi, you have full control of how you want the fish to be cut.
To see the proper technique in action, here’s a video by Howcast on how to cut fish for nigiri sushi:
Cutting Sushi Rolls
Another usage for a good sushi knife is cutting through sushi rolls. Try using a regular kitchen knife and you’ll see how difficult it is to cut through a roll without destroying the nori wrapper or squishing the ingredients inside.
Before using the Yanagi ba to cut sushi rolls, hone the blade to make sure it’s at its sharpest. Put a little water or rice vinegar on the blade of the knife, which will help keep it from sticking to the rice. As with cutting the fish, you want to pull the knife toward you in one long slice, so start with the butt of the knife against the roll and slowly pull toward you to cut through the roll.
Another trick sushi chefs use to cut through inside-out rolls cleanly is to wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and cut through the plastic. Once the plastic is removed, the roll is still in tact and looking nice.
If you choose to add a sushi-specific knife to your kitchen tool kit, properly caring for it will be the most important things you can do. Once you’ve learned how to use it properly, it will serve you well for many years to come.
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