Japan is a land of deep culture and while some of those are not visible to us, several icons come to mind when we think of Japan. For a lot of us, we think of Japan when we step into our cars or venture on the road because we drive cars that were designed and engineered in Japan. For some of us, we think of Japan when we switch on our electronics or take pictures from superior electronics that were made in Japan. Others think of the legendary Samurai who has been romanticized as wielding the legendary sword that bears the same name as them.
For most of us, especially since you came over to the food section of this site, Japan has brought us some of the most delicious food in the world. Images of masterfully sliced sushi and sashimi come to mind. Sumptuous noodle soups known as ramen, tender slices of steak made of Wagyu beef and the visually pleasing theatrics of a teppanyaki chef preparing grilled delights that make our mouth water. Japanese cuisine stands as a powerhouse with Tokyo being named as the world’s greatest food city on account of the 12 Michelin star restaurants there.
The reason behind the rise of Japan’s greatness in the culinary arts is also related to the other cultural icons I mentioned earlier in this article. The perfection they seek in preserving techniques and improving on them is an inherent cultural trait of their people. Japanese chefs hold themselves to such an esteemed standard that they only choose the finest ingredients, execute the most intricate of techniques and use only the best tools to perfect their trade. Just like we discussed in our earlier article, a chef’s most important weapon in the kitchen is his or her knife. So let’s take a look at the Japanese chef’s weapon of choice.
The knife of choice of the Japanese master is the Santoku knife. Santoku is literally translated as three virtues or in this case three purposes to perform that task to perfection. The Santoku is to the discerning master what the chef knife or French knife is to the average Western gourmet chef. It is an all-around utility knife capable of slicing, mincing, chopping and dicing food. While their purposes may seem similar there are some variations compared to the normal chef knife that is present in the Santoku.
The Santoku knife has a shorter blade than the chef knife with the Santoku measuring in from 5 inches to 7 inches at the longest. The design i
s more streamlined than the chef knife which uses a rolling motion to slice into vegetables and meat whereas the Santoku with its more agile size will require a lifting motion when slicing through food.
While the chef knife’s design uses this rolling motion to gain efficiency, the Santoku is targeted towards precision and doing that consistently. We have to keep in mind that the Santoku was originally designed to take care of tasks like cutting precise slices of raw fish or sushi. This original purpose is also what has given the Santoku this design to allow a sharper cut through softer objects. The Santoku today also comes with a Granton Edge which is the row of identical dimples on the knife’s surface.
This dimple known as a Granton edge is oftentimes mistaken for serration, however it is completely different from that. The Santoku does not use a serrated blade like a steak knife does, it uses the same type of blade seen on the chef knife since its primary purpose is slicing quick and fast instead of sawing through. These dimples on the surface are there to help sticky food slide off easier it also complements the lifting motion discussed earlier. This definitely makes it the better knife for making sushi at home and finely cutting meat or fish as needed by recipes.
The Santoku knife has been so widely accepted by today’s culinary scene that it should be fairly easy to purchase it from major kitchen shops. The design is available in stainless steel and ceramic blades, which further enhance the masterful design with their superior sharpness. A comparison of steel and ceramic blades can be read in one of our previous articles here.
The Santoku, a manifestation of the Japanese people’s desire to incorporate efficiency, brilliant design and artful perfection in the kitchen.