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Selecting Nakiri Knives


Chris Amirault
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I'm interested in why you didn't consider Chinese cleavers more seriously. They're obviously bigger and heavier, which is an ambivalent factor, but they do include a board scraper with every purchase. ;)

Cleavers are serious. I've never used one (as a chef's knife) but am often humbled by people who do. They have advantages over a gyuto, and also disadvantages, in roughly equal measures. Pit a master with a cleaver against a master with a gyuto and you'll see a good contest.

Notes from the underbelly

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So as a very happy multi-purpose user of a Tojiro DP 240mm gyutou, what might I use a nakiri for?

Some people like the compact size of a nakiri. It's a popular style among Japanese home cooks in very small kitchens. Think of it as the precursor to the santoku. It does nothing that you can't do with a gyuto, and it does nothing better. The reverse is not true.

The lack of curve in the blade makes it ideal for many applications -- batonnet, dicing, mincing parsley down to the atomic level, etc. I prefer the single bevel of the usuba, but the shape is the same. So I'd say that this style actually does some things better, or at least faster. I can whack out paper-thin slices of garlic much faster with an usuba over a gyuto. And mincing parsley is much, much faster with an usuba than a cleaver. And, of course, whenever I have free time and a daikon, I practice rolling it out in sheets. Just 'cuz. It's a thin, fast knife which I like immensely.

If I could only have ONE of the two, gyuto of course. Luckily, there's room in my bag for more than one knife.

Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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The lack of curve in the blade makes it ideal for many applications -- batonnet, dicing, mincing parsley down to the atomic level, etc. I prefer the single bevel of the usuba, but the shape is the same. So I'd say that this style actually does some things better, or at least faster. I can whack out paper-thin slices of garlic much faster with an usuba over a gyuto. And mincing parsley is much, much faster with an usuba than a cleaver. And, of course, whenever I have free time and a daikon, I practice rolling it out in sheets. Just 'cuz. It's a thin, fast knife which I like immensely.

If I could only have ONE of the two, gyuto of course. Luckily, there's room in my bag for more than one knife.

I'd leave the usuba out of the discussion, because it really has nothing in common with either of these knives. The usuba is a wonderfully specialized knife that does some things better than any other knife and other things not at all, and which is only useable by someone who has trained with it. It's easily the most challenging knife to use properly. The nakiri is just a western style Japanese knife with a stubby blade.

I don't believe that you or anyone can cut garlic or parsely faster with a nakiri than someone who's well trained with a gyuto. A 270mm gyuto in well trained hands is ferociously fast and precise. I would challenge anyone in that contest, and I'm not even a pro. I would not make this challenge against a Chinese cleaver or an usuba. There are some things that the gyuto does better than these knives, but the person wielding the cleaver or usuba would switch knives for those tasks.

Notes from the underbelly

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The lack of curve in the blade makes it ideal for many applications -- batonnet, dicing, mincing parsley down to the atomic level, etc. I prefer the single bevel of the usuba, but the shape is the same. So I'd say that this style actually does some things better, or at least faster. I can whack out paper-thin slices of garlic much faster with an usuba over a gyuto. And mincing parsley is much, much faster with an usuba than a cleaver. And, of course, whenever I have free time and a daikon, I practice rolling it out in sheets. Just 'cuz. It's a thin, fast knife which I like immensely.

If I could only have ONE of the two, gyuto of course. Luckily, there's room in my bag for more than one knife.

I'd leave the usuba out of the discussion, because it really has nothing in common with either of these knives. The usuba is a wonderfully specialized knife that does some things better than any other knife and other things not at all, and which is only useable by someone who has trained with it. It's easily the most challenging knife to use properly. The nakiri is just a western style Japanese knife with a stubby blade.

I don't believe that you or anyone can cut garlic or parsely faster with a nakiri than someone who's well trained with a gyuto. A 270mm gyuto in well trained hands is ferociously fast and precise. I would challenge anyone in that contest, and I'm not even a pro. I would not make this challenge against a Chinese cleaver or an usuba. There are some things that the gyuto does better than these knives, but the person wielding the cleaver or usuba would switch knives for those tasks.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but an usuba is just a nakiri with a single beveled edge, right? If so, than I think the learning curve is a single bevel. Once that's mastered, it's no harder to reach for your usuba than your single-bevel gyuto, or your single-bevel sujihiki.

All my knives are beveled for left-handed use. Not all of them STARTED that way. But months of sharpening has got them to where I want them. Once I learned to compensate for the pull of the bevel, it became second-nature to use any of them.

Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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what's the advantage to single bevel - sharper angle?

Often a sharper angle, depends on the blade and how its sharpened. And cleaner cuts. One side is dead flat. The other side does the cutting. There is a "pull" as the blade wants to travel at whatever the angle the bevel happens to be. You learn to compensate. It's kind of like the difference between playing a six-string guitar and a 12-string guitar. The 12-string is harder to learn. But once you learn it, you can do things on it that no six-string can ever do.

And there is a big speed increase. And I find the knives to be easier to tune up. Just sharpen the one side. Then hold the knife flat against an 8,000 stone to remove the burr.

I was once asked to run a few dozen tomatoes through the slicer.

"Why, chef? I can knock this out in half the time with a knife, and then I don't have to clean a million tomato seeds out of the slicer."

Chef was skeptical, but I showed him. I did the last one horizontally, showing off.

Now I'm stuck prepping veg any time I'm working under that particular chef. :rolleyes:

Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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Correct me if I'm wrong, but an usuba is just a nakiri with a single beveled edge, right? If so, than I think the learning curve is a single bevel. Once that's mastered, it's no harder to reach for your usuba than your single-bevel gyuto, or your single-bevel sujihiki.

All my knives are beveled for left-handed use. Not all of them STARTED that way. But months of sharpening has got them to where I want them. Once I learned to compensate for the pull of the bevel, it became second-nature to use any of them.

No, an usuba is much, much harder to use than a yanagi or a deba (neither of which is easy to use). And a gyuto sharpened on one side only does not count as a single bevel knife.

Part of the issue is that a yanagi only contacts the cutting board lightly and with drawing strokes. An usuba will frequently hit the board rapidly, which will chip the edge if technique is anything less than precise and delicate.

The other part of the issue is the complete lack of curve. The blade must be brought to the board dead flat, every time, or a corner will catch and the blade will chip.

Notes from the underbelly

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Well, I must be doing SOMETHING right, because I've yet to chip my usuba. I don't find it very hard at all to hit the cutting board flat, with a strong enough force to cut the vegetable, yet light enough not to damage the blade.

Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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Well, I must be doing SOMETHING right, because I've yet to chip my usuba. I don't find it very hard at all to hit the cutting board flat, with a strong enough force to cut the vegetable, yet light enough not to damage the blade.

It's certainly possible that you're a prodigy. It's also possible that your usuba isn't sharpened to the bevel angles that are standard for this knife. I do know that my friends who have trained with Japanese chefs have pretty consistently reported weeks of practice before they could get reliable results without chipping.

Edited by paulraphael (log)

Notes from the underbelly

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Well, I must be doing SOMETHING right, because I've yet to chip my usuba. I don't find it very hard at all to hit the cutting board flat, with a strong enough force to cut the vegetable, yet light enough not to damage the blade.

It's certainly possible that you're a prodigy. It's also possible that your usuba isn't sharpened to the bevel angles that are standard for this knife. I do know that my friends who have trained with Japanese chefs have pretty consistently reported weeks of practice before they could get reliable results without chipping.

Or perhaps because one of my hobbies is woodworking, and you learn quickly to hit things square and flat.

Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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So does the double edge of the nakiri make it far less delicate? Are all single-bevel blades like the usuba, easy to chip and requiring greater precision?

Edited by Hassouni (log)
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That's possible too. At any rate, the usuba has proven an extremely frustrating choice for the majority of cooks, including experienced ones, who expect to be able to use it without a serious time investment.

What kind of usuba do you have?

Suisin

Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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Another issue with the usuba, which I forgot to mention, is that it's just not suitable for many of the things we're used to doing with western-style knives. The blade is extremely thick at the spine, so if you want to do something like cut an apple or potato in half, or make thick cuts of anything substantial, the blade will wedge. Also its asymmetry will cause it to "steer" away from the bevel, making straight cuts of these kinds very difficult. The knife is designed specifically for thin cuts and for katsuramaki.

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Just used the usuba for a couple hours breaking down pineapples.

Probably not what the Japanese designed the knife for, but it worked very well. There isn't all that much difference between skinning pineapples and katsuramaki. Ran through several cases in a couple hours.

EDIT

"Does anyone know any good links or videos for Japanese knife/cutting techniques?"

Just search on Youtube for katsuramaki. That will get you started -- there'll be plenty of other related videos.

Edited by ScoopKW (log)

Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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I love my shun classic nakiri . I have almost stopped using my shun chefs knife since I bought the nakiri. Now I just have to find a perfect paring knife, finding one that has just the right blade length and handle shape is harder than I ever thought it could be.

"Why is the rum always gone?"

Captain Jack Sparrow

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So I own a Cutco Vegetable Knife (an unsolicited gift), which, after reading this thread, I now realize is actually a nakiri, at least in shape. It also has a very thin blade profile so with proper sharpening it might actually function well as a nakiri - but the standard Cutco edge, while adequate for most American home chefs, is NOT up to the kind of paper-thin slices that a nakiri should be able to do. Anybody else own or use one of these? Is it worth keeping? It's been sitting in my knife block for a long time mostly because I didn't want to offend my in-laws who must have spent considerable money on it.

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It's been sitting in my knife block for a long time mostly because I didn't want to offend my in-laws who must have spent considerable money on it.

You could use it as a sharpening project ... try to reprofile and put a real edge on it. I don't know how far you'll get. Those knives are made of mediocre steel at best. Cutco is a marketing company that is best known for getting sued for fraud by former teenage salespeople. It may be best to leave it where it is as long as the inlaws are around. And then get an inconspicuous gyuto for actual cutting.

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I already have a gyuto, but I'm intrigued by the possibilities of a nice nakiri (even if, at best, this wouldn't really be one - but maybe if I can get it sharp I'll find out I could use a real one).

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Does anyone know any good links or videos for Japanese knife/cutting techniques?

http://www.tsuji.ac.jp/hp/gihou/Basic_Techniques/index.html

KCMA's video's are excellent.

(and worships his knife) to some pretty melodramatic music.

These guys have Japanese training. Curtis mixes in some burly Western cutting techniques (rock chopping, etc.) so I assume he has a more robust edge on his knife. They have better skills than all but a couple of the people I've observed in high end restaurants in NYC. I hope they give some sense of the wicked versatility of the 240 or 270mm gyuto.

For traditional (single bevel) technique in fish preparation, Itasan18 is guy everyone looks to.

Edited by paulraphael (log)

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