June 8, 2013

Japanese Knives for Filleting Fish/魚をさばくための和包丁

Sissi asked me about knives for filleting fish. I thought about it, and here is a brief answer:

A stainless steel aji-kiri (aka ko-deba) and a sharpener, such as Global ko-deba with a blade length of 12 cm and Global Speed Sharpener.

As the name implies, an aji-kiri is a knife for filleting aji and other medium to small fish. The blade length ranges from 9 to 12 cm. An aji-kiri is also called a ko-deba (lit. small deba).
Images of aji-kiri
Images of ko-deba

A tradititional Japanese knife made of carbon/laminated steel and a Japanese whetstone are not for everyone.

I can think of other options like a mioroshi deba and the Global-Pro GP-5 Slicer, but they are much bigger and heavier.

A mioroshi deba (or bocho) is a variant to a deba that can be used to fillet fish and cut the fillet into sashimi.

I have one mioroshi deba, bought from Watanabe Blade. A picture can be found here.

The Global-Pro GP-5 Slicer, with a blade length of 210 mm, sounds like a truly versatile knife. I learned about this knife from this this blog (Japanese only), run by a professional Japanese chef. You can tell how versatile it is by looking at the photos.

Edited to add:

A santoku (double bevel) is another option, provided that it cuts well enough. You don't necessarily have to get a single bevel aji-kiri or ko-deba, especially if you don't have to fillet fish very often.

I learned that the SekiRyu ko-deba is a stainless steel knife with a blade length of 105 mm from a Japanese site. Scroll down to view a photo of the set of four knives. 2,890 yen! Really cheap.

A stainless steel knife is easy to maintain, should cut well enough (I know because I have a stainless steel petty knife from Watanabe Blade), but don't expect too much from it. It won't cut like a Global or traditional Japanese knife.

A #1000 and #3000 whetstone sounds good. (I sometimes wish I had a #3000 whetstone, but then again, I won't use a #3000 one very often.)

Don't forget that you have to get a whetstone fixer, too. Why not get a diamond whetstone
like I did?

I was like Sissi. Someone suggested that I should buy a good sashimi knife (> 10,000 yen), but I ended up buying a cheap one (<  3,000 yen). I don't want to use it any more. Then I bought a Global santoku, found it was good enough, but I didn't stop there. I wanted better ones, and bought a Shigefusa nakiri first and then a Shigefusa kitaeji petty knife. They are both very good, especially the latter. They need proper maintenance, but I love them!

In summary, buying the SekiRyu ko-deba (stainless steel) and the whetstone is not a bad idea, but as for the knife, you will simply get what you pay for.

28 comments:

Sissi said...

Hiroyuki, I knew you were THE person to ask! Thank you so much for your kind answer in such a long informative post! I am very grateful for your help. Thank you very much for the links too. I would have never guessed such a shape is required for small fish filleting! (On English websites people were talking about sashimi knives...). I will be checking this weekend what options I have to buy such a knife in Switzerland. I think I have seen Global brand in one department store in my city actually...
Do you think buying a Japanese knife with the special whetstone is not a good idea?
UPDATE: I have actually found on French Amazon several "deba" knives! (http://www.amazon.fr/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?__mk_fr_FR=ÅMÅZÕÑ&url=search-alias%3Dkitchen&field-keywords=couteau+japonais+deba) I will still be looking... Global is particularly expensive...
Thank you so much again! I will probably ask you one last time before I definitely buy something..

Sissi said...

I have an idea: what do you think if I buy this cheap deba and the whetstone (both are cheaper on French amazon).
http://www.amazon.co.uk/SekiRyu-Japanese-Knife-single-edged-blade/dp/B0041DA9HQ/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1370697693&sr=8-2&keywords=sekiryu+deba
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Original-Japanese-Waterstone-Honing-NANIWA/dp/B00372I7L2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1370697827&sr=8-1&keywords=naniwa
My idea is to buy now something cheaper to see first of all if I enjoy using Japanese knives and if yes, I will invest in better quality and pay more when I go to Japan. If I don't like it, then I will not regret the buy a lot.

Fräulein Trude said...

Chroma type 301 P-01 or the smaller one. And funny enough here is a guy showing how to fillet a herring with a Chroma
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4IWDkiZtYiA

Hiroyuki said...

Sissi: I updated the post with some other information and my thoughts.

Kiki: Thanks for the link. It sounds like a good knife. Sissi, why not consider getting an European (German?) filleting knife?

Sissi said...

Thank you so much again, Hiroyuki. I had no idea about the fixer... Everything gets complicated...
I should maybe consider a santoku as you advise.
Thank you so much again, Hiroyuki. Your advice is very precious. I will have to think everything over again. I was so excited to have a cheap Japanese knife to experiment with... You know, apart from one ceramic big knife, knives are the weakest part of my kitchen. I thought that even the cheapest Japanese knife will seem a huge improvement and the whetstone was supposed to be an investment for future goo quality knife I hope to buy when I go to Japan.
Kiki, first of all, I was excited at the idea of having my first Japanese knife :-) Secondly, I thought Japanese are the best at fish knives (in general the Japanese producers are excellent in knives) and at fish preparation. Moreover, the majority of fish dishes I cook nowadays are Japanese or served with Japanese rice, so somehow it seemed right to have a Japanese knife...

Hiroyuki said...

Sissi: I want you to give it a lot of good thought before actually buying one, so you won't regret later.

Fräulein Trude said...

Good advice Hiroyuki
Sissi: I had some (2) traditionally shaped japanese knives too but I must confess, they were not to my liking. The balance, the grip they were so very different to the other knives I use: Mainly the grip/handle is what I did not like at all and you have to feel comfortable using a knife or it will not do at all - especially filleting is something were the knife has to be something like the extention of your own fingertips. I hope you will tell us more about your experiences.

Sissi said...

Hiroyuki, I appreciate a lot your complex advice with many options: it's so much more precious than just saying "buy this". I have learnt so many things from your post and answers just after asking one question!
Kiki, thank you for sharing your experience. I have never thought about the "grip" or balance side... The only thing I was slightly worried about was the different sharpening. Grip is important indeed!
I will certainly share my experience when I buy a new knife!

Sissi said...

Hiroyuki, I hope you have not lost patience with me... I have spent whole Sunday reading your advice and post several times, reading about Japanese knives in general, about brands... In short, I drop the Sekiryu idea and also "special use" knife idea and switch to something more versatile (which could be used for filleting too).
I have decided to buy a chef's knife blade because I use it for everything (almost) and know that I will actually use it. The brand I chose is Kai, Seki Magoroku line with Red Wood handle (for example this one http://www.amazon.co.uk/Seki-Magoroku-Utility-Knife-MGR-0150U/dp/B000NOST88/ref=sr_1_8?s=kitchen&ie=UTF8&qid=1370866804&sr=1-8&keywords=kai+magoroku).
I was also hesitating about Chroma, Japan Chef line: the difference in price is small, but I saw that hardness is lower (56 vs 58 of Magoroku) and it's made in China, not Japan...
It's of course stainless, not carbon steel, but compared to the knives I have it seems a huge upgrade! Definitely it will be the most expensive knife I have ever had (it probably costs half the price in Japan though...) and the best I have ever had, unless you say it's as bad as Sekiryu...

Hiroyuki said...

Sissi: I think you have made a good decision. Kai (Kaijirushi in Japan) is a well-established knife maker in Japan. I searched for more information about that specific model, but there is no information available in Japanese. Apparently, it's an import model available overseas only.
I'm a bit confused with the term "utility". By looking at the photo, I think it's more like a "petty" (paring) knife than a santoku.

Anyway, I think the Kai Seki Magoroku brand is better than SekiRyu.

Sissi said...

Hiroyuki, thank you for the confirmation and your patience... You have no idea how relieved I am. I have linked to a wrong knife model, sorry. The one from the French website is called "chef's knife", I found it on the European Kai website: http://www.kai-europe.com/kitchen/magoroku.php?lang=en&id=411
I think I saw only the Magoroku "Magnolia" model on the Japanese website (it looks similar, but the handle is light-coloured), so I suppose it's only for Europe (haven't seen it on US website either).
I feel a new era is opening in my cooking experience ;-) Thank you again!

Hiroyuki said...

Sissi: Thanks for another link. Yeah, it looks more like a santoku than the first one.

You still have to decide which to buy, a sharpener or a whetstone. I have a feeling that you should stick with a sharpener for now. Using a whetstone properly requires training (and you may ruin your precious knife while training), and it's mainly a man's job. I am not biased against women, but in general, women can't find pleasure in using a whetstone to sharpen a knife. But men, once they find it intriguing, can be hooked on it. If you ever decide to use a whetstone, why not leave the sharpening job to your husband? You will never know--He might be hooked!

(Even though my wife is now the main cook in the house, I am the one who maintains the knives she uses.)

Sissi said...

Haha! I was actually going to write at a certain point that judging from my hours of internet research women are not very interested in knives... Most reviews, opinions, comments on forums, youtube films are made by men!
In the meantime I have learnt they will not send the Naniwa 1000/3000 to Switzerland... (sold by a private Amazon seller) so I would have to choose Kai brand 400/1000 (the grains you have if I remember).
I wouldn't mind if my husband sharpened the knives, but actually I find the whetstone sharpening idea very exciting! (Though I have never tried it). I will maybe experiment first with my European knives? The very cheap ones? Until I master the technique enough to use it on the Japanese knife...
I thought it was obligatory to use whetstone with Japanese knives. Is there a possibility to use another sharpener and not destroy the knife?

Sissi said...

I will receive both the knife and 400/1000 whetstone at the end of the week! I'm very impatient. I will share my experience as soon as I start cutting/sharpening (but first I will practice a lot on old used knives, unless my husband is interested in this job!). I will share my experience soon.

Hiroyuki said...

Sissi: Mine is #240/1000. A #400/1000 one sounds much better.

Start training with your cheapest knife, naturally!

I don't think a sharpener can destroy a knife. For a single bevel knife, you have to use a sharpener specifically for it, though. The thing is, you will eventually get tired of using a sharpener because you will see it can't regain the original sharpness of the knife, and you will want to reach a higher level of knife maintenance.

Don't try to sharpen soon! Start sharpening when you think your knife has gotten blunt. One of the common mistakes is to sharpen a knife when it doesn't need to be sharpened and make it less sharp due to poor sharpening skills.

Sissi said...

Thank you for the advice.
Luckily you told me this because many "specialists" say that one shouldn't wait until the knife is blunt. (Maybe they meant "completely blunt" or maybe they were talking to professionals...). I think this one will be double beveled since it's European blade shape (chef's knife), but I will see.

Hiroyuki said...

Sissi: Probably different people use the word "blunt" in different ways.

Here is a simply way to determine whether a knife "cuts" or not:
http://www.watanabeblade.com/hotyo/sharp1.htm
Place the edge on the top of the nail of your thumb at 40-50 degrees from vertical as shown. If the blade slides, it does not cut. Otherwise, it cuts. DON'T MOVE THE BLADE SIDEWAYS.

There are other ways such as holding a sheet of newspaper in one hand, and try to cut with the knife, but the way described above is the simplest and the surest one I have ever found.

Sharpening a knife with a whetstone will make your hands stained with fine particles of the whetstone. I wonder if you can stand the stain...

Sissi said...

Thank you again, Hiroyuki. I will try to test the knife without cutting off my hand ;-) (I have never had a knife which would pass the newspaper test, so I'm even more convinced I took the right decision about the Japanese knife!).
As for the stains... I think I might wear surgeon's gloves maybe... but if the stains don't stay forever, I don't mind at all. I will remember your warning. For now I prefer to think of my knife and whetstone as my "toys", so I have to assume whatever comes with them (stains, cuts...).

Hiroyuki said...

Sissi: The stain won't stay forever, but it can stay for a day or two if you don't remove it with soup or something.

Hiroyuki said...

Sissi: I found some sites explaining the thumbnail test:
http://www.instructables.com/id/Knife-Sharpening-Tricks/step2/Thumbnail-test-the-edge/
http://everything2.com/title/How+to+test+if+a+knife+is+sharp

I often do this test on all the knives I have to see if they are sharp enough. More specifically, I do this test on different portions (20 or so) of the edge of each knife, all the way from the tip to the heel, in rapid succession.

With a newspaper/magazine paper test, like the one here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3m1QRB2ReF8&feature=player_embedded
you can't tell which portions of a knife edge are dull and which portions are sharp, right?

Hiroyuki said...

As for the thumbnail test, the angle of the knife to the thumbnail is important: 40-50 degrees. Neither site above explicity specifies the angle. And, don't move the knife; just place it on your thumbnail at the correct angle to see if it slides downward or not.

Sissi said...

Thank you, Hiroyuki for all the links. This nail test sounds really the best. I will do it before I start sharpening my precious knife.
In the meantime I will hopefully learn on other knives.

Hiroyuki said...

Sissi: I ordered a #5000 whetstone yesterday, and it will arrive tommorrow. Can't wait to get it into action (laugh).

Sissi said...

5000 sounds like "haute couture" in the world of knives sharpening ;-) Certainly not for a beginner!
I'm very curious about your impressions...
I have also started to think about a good system to store my knives, now that I will have the Japanese one... I have hated the wooden "box" system and threw it away (blades became moist inside even if I wiped them). I should maybe install something similar to the Japanese knife storage system you have once showed us...

Hiroyuki said...

Sissi: No, no, there are even #8000, #12000, and #30000 whetstones!

Threw it away?! Why not just make some holes to let air in?

Sissi said...

Too late :-( it was a long time ago...
30 000??? Wow! I haven't even read about it...
I have a small language question (my Japanese teacher wasn't able to tell me...). Is "fushuukoo" stainless steel? and "tansokoo" carbon steel in Japanese? Can I also say "tansokoo" about my steel pan? (It requires greasing every time after use; it's an old-fashioned pan).

Hiroyuki said...

Sissi:
Yes, fushuukoo ふしゅうこう 不銹鋼 = stainless steel
We usually use the word sutenresu ステンレス to mean stainless steel.

tansokoo たんそこう 炭素鋼 = carbon steel

<Can I also say...?
I suppose so, if your pan is made of carbon steel.

Sissi said...

Thank you so much, Hiroyuki.