The Essential Guide to Kiritsuke Knives
Japanese knives are unique thanks to high quality Japanese steel and a centuries long tradition of blade making. Japanese knives are loved by professional chefs for their extremely hard steel blades which are known to get very sharp and hold an edge for a very long time. Japanese made blades tend to be thinner and lighter than European models. Lastly Japanese knives come in a unique range of shapes that are geared toward a specific function or use.
Perhaps the most revered or elevated style is the kiritsuke. Traditionally only used by the master chef or executive chef in the hierarchy of a Japanese kitchen, the kiritsuke, although truly a multipurpose knife, excels at slicing raw fish.
Understanding the Kiritsuke Knife
Although the length (usually 240-330mm) and height of a kiritsuke knife can vary, the defining feature is a sharp pointed tip. Sometimes referred to as a K or kengata tip, this feature is a useful additional cutting surface that can score proteins like fish of squid of make a cross hatched pattern in mushrooms, eggplant and other produce.
Historical background: Kiritsuke are a hybrid of a yanagi, a single bevel knife for raw fish, traditionally used for sashimi, and an usuba. a square style Japanese vegetable knife. The kiritsuke is meant to be the best of both worlds, the length and razor sharp edge make for great work as a slicer, and the tall blade works well when cutting vegetables or fine detail and decorative work.
Physical characteristics: A traditional kiritsuke has a razor sharp cutting edge, a blade length of 240-330mm, the distinctive angled tip and single bevel edge. Some modern hybrid kiritsuke feature a double bevel (50/50 balance on the straight edge blade.
Kiritsuke knives can be made in a range of steels, but some of the best are coming from craftsmen known for traditional forging of carbon steels such as White Steel #2 and Blue Steel #2.
Kiritsuke Knife Uses and Versatility
Although it takes some practice when you first use the Kiritsuke, this multi-purpose kitchen knife excels at precision cutting, slicing thin slices, dicing, filleting and julienne.
Two hybrid kiritsukes on offer, the Kiritsuke Gyuto and the Kiritsuke Yanagiba are slightly more gyutou or yanagi shaped.
Kiritsuke vs. Other Chef Knives
Kiritsuke vs Gyuto - In comparing these two knives, a gyutou will be double beveled, vs the single bevel of a kiritsuke. Also the gyutou will be a taller blade with a wider belly.
Kiritsuke vs Usuba, the usuba is taller and squarer than the narrow profiled kiritsuke.
Kiritsuke vs Yanagiba/Yanagi, the main difference here is that a yanagi is slightly more narrow and long with a tapered tip, vs the angled tip of a kiritsuke.
Kiritsuke vs Nakiri, a nakiri is usually double beveled and square like a vegetable cleaver completely lacking the pointed tip of a kiritsuke.
Kiritsuke vs Deba, hybrid kiritsuke debas are great when working extensively with fish, but the main difference is a deba has a very wide heavy blade that makes it better suited to butchering fish.
Kiritsuke vs Bunka, a bunka is an all purpose knife with a pointed tip, similar to the kiritsuke, but the blade height is much taller. Bunkas are great for all purpose cutting, but the kiritsuke would be the winner by a mile when slicing fish.
Kiritsuke vs Santoku, The santoku, another great all purpose knife, is much shorter than a kiritsuke with a taller blade height more suited to up and down chopping that pulling motions that you would look for when slicing sashimi and other raw fish.
Kiritsuke vs Western Chef Knives: Western style knives, featuring typical ergonomic handles are difficult to compare to the finnese of a traditional Japanese knives featuring wa style handles.
The Art of Using and Maintaining a Kiritsuke Knife
Techniques: When using a kiritsuke, the proper grip is known as a pinch grip, because you hold the knife just above the handle, pinching the blade between the thumb and pointer finger. This is a great cutting technique for precision and safety. Holding the knife in this manner allows great control when push-cutting and pull-cutting when slicing fish or other proteins.
Maintenance: Knife sharpening with whetstones is essential for restoring a knife’s edge to its full potential. Keeping the blade clean and try and oiling when not in use for an extended period of time are important tips for caring for the blade to ensure longevity and sharp edge. Using softer cutting boards, will improve the durability of the edge’s life.
Cultural Significance and Symbolism
The Kiritsuke as a symbol of status among executive chefs in Japan. In a Japanese kitchen only a head chef is permitted to use the kiritsuke.
Traditional vs. modern interpretations of the Kiritsuke knife. Hybrid kiritsukes as well as double bevel kiritsuke made from stainless steel and damascus options are increasing in availability. These knives offer a cool shape and less of learning curve when getting used to using single bevel knives.
Japan’s long history of sword making and has had a lasting impact on Japanese blades and kitchen knife-making. The kiritsuke is one of the most important Japanese kitchen knives and plays a very critical role in Japanese cuisine, with its heavy focus on raw fish and precise vegetable preparations.