Video: Sharpening Knives and Cleaning Fish

Video: Sharpening Knives and Cleaning Fish

Meet Ueno-san and Nagase-san, talented chefs at Takegami who will teach you about sharpening knives, cleaning fish, and Japanese cooking techniques. Follow their instructions and learn the art of knife skills from the experts.

I love these guys. Ueno-san on the left, Nagase-san on the right, two exceptionally talented chefs at Takegami who run the restaurant's dining counter, and who taught me a ton about knives and knife work.

Let's talk a little bit about sharpening, then check out the video. Ueno-san spent literally hours instructing me and watching me sharpen (thank you so much for your kindness, Ueno-san). When I worked on my knife and thought it was already razor sharp, Ueno-san would invariably run the blade across the top of a fingernail, look at me and announce, "mada, neh?" - in other words, keep sharpening! Finally, he would check my knife and give it the thumbs up. Then I'd lightly slide it across the stone to polish and it would be ready for the next day.

Some observations on sharpening:

  • "Light touch," as Ueno-san liked to say. In other words, don't press to the blade too hard against the sharpening stone.
  • Follow the center line of the stone, which you'll see Ueno-san do in the video below.
  • Use three fingers on the blade and rest them on the top of the blade edge.
  • If you're a righty (do the opposite if you're lefty like me): Your right hand holds the blade against the stone and creates the angle (if you're sharpening a gyuto, like in the video). Your left hand's three fingers rest on the blade edge and slide down as you sharpen.
  • This is important: As you'll see in the video, the right hand moves the blade up and down in quick, even strokes, while the left hand's fingers slide slowly down the blade. You'll develop a rhythm to accomplish this as you practice. (I did.)
  • You'll also notice that Ueno-san's right thumb or index finger, depending on which side of the blade he's sharpening, does not move. It stays firmly planted on the heel of the blade to control the angle and position of the knife.
  • Add a few drops of water if the stone gets dry, but don't wash off the muddy stuff on the top, which has metal shavings that help sharpen the knife (there's a name for this stuff, but I can't remember right now).
  • Finally, use a coarser grit stone at regular intervals to flatten the stone you're sharpening with. An uneven surface inhibits sharpening.

Okay, here's video of Ueno-san in action, shaping his knife:

Now, on to cleaning fish.

Ueno-san and Nagase-san both taught me a lot about cleaning fish during my training. What they impressed on me is, no wasted motions. Every move is deliberate and efficient. Put both the heel and tip of your deba knife to work as you clean. And hold the knife at the back of the handle so you don't cut yourself on any sharp spines (like I did, more than once). Here's the video:

Finally, as an added bonus, I took video of Ueno-san cleaning an Aori ika, a huge squid. Enjoy:

Thank you Ueno-san and Nagase-san!