Shigefusa 270mm kasumi yanagiba with custom, by me, desert ironwood handle

5 Dec 2010

Yanagiba shoot out and a good meal

I frequently get the question about which of my yanagiba knives I prefer. I do have a special place in my heart for the Shigefusa. It is a true piece of functional art and a good example of the Japanese never ending quest for perfection. After some more thinking, however, I realized that the question was not as trivial as one could expect. Normally you quite easily find your favourite, and it is often relatively easily explained why exactly that knife ended up as the number one, closest to the hart, go-to knife. That was actually not my case.

Exept maybe for my very first yanagi, the simple mass made Masahiro, all of my yanagis are pieces of art made by masters of their craft. Well, actually the blacksmith of my 40++ year old yanagi refurbishment project is not yet known to me, but from the quality of the steel and the lamination, I can without hesitation place my refurb knife up there with the best; the Shigefusa, the Keijiro Doi Hayate, and the Kasahara honyaki. Thus I have a luxury problem comparing my knives. After a bit of thinking I decided to pick the two most different yanagis in my collection. The very well known and appreciated yanagiba from the hands of Tokifusa Iisuka, the Shigefusa, and the unknown yanagi bought for my latest refurb project.

The Shigefusa is a 270mm blade with an edge of a special proprietary alloy of Sweden steel. The refurbished yanagi is a 300mm blade with an edge said to be tamahagane, but more likely a special quality blue steel (Aoko). Both knives have new handles custom made by me.

The Shigefusa is significantly thinned from just in front of the handle and all the way to the tip, making it "loose a lot of weight", and moving the balance point close to the handle. The refurb is classic, full thickness all the way, making the point of balance well in front of the handle.

So, we are looking at two very different knives specifically made for one and the same thing. Slice fresh fish to perfecion. 

Before starting to use them, I was pretty confident with which knife I was going to prefer at the end. The Shigefusa felt a lot more balanced and more like a natural extention of my hand than the nose heavy refurb. The pictures below show the difference in balance point and shaping of the blade. In the right picture the Shigefusa on top, in the left picture the Shigefusa closest to the edge of the bench.

So, choosing by balance and feel in the hand, I would prefer the Shigefusa. The Shigefusa is also, to be honest, the prettier one of the two. The custom made handle made from dessert ironwood, silver and water buffalo is really striking and the soft steel showing a lot of structure, almost like damascus gives this knife a very special feel and look.

To do the mini test of these two magnificent knives, I had planned for some simple sushi I bought some really nice salmon back loin and a piece of really fresh halibut fillet from my local fish monger. The fat salmon is like slicing butter but the halibut has some structure to it, really putting the knives to the test. I had tested the Shigefusa on a couple of earlier occasions, so I was really exited about comparing it to my refurbishment project knife for the first time.

As I always do, I got my "mis en place" set up, as this seems to drastically reduce the chance of failure in the kitchen and gives your mind a good starting point for the mental process of creating good food. If you don't do this on a regular basis I can definately recommend it. Get everything that you will be using out in the open to check that it is there, that you have sufficient amounts of it, and that all fresh food is still fresh and will not be crawling of your workbench when you have placed it there.

A simple mis en place might look like this. Simplicity is a virtue :o) The large wooden tray is called a hangiri. It is made of Japanese cedar wood and smells absolutely fantastic! It is used to cool down the rice after cooking and to absorb excess moisture from the rice. I really had no idea that a simple utensil like this could make such a difference until I tried it. For the first time, I got perfect rice that stayed perfect for a long time.  

Starting to slice, I was quite surpriced by how different the two yanagis worked for me. The refurb had the weight to slice even the halibut just by placing the heel of the blade on the fish and slowly pulling it towards me totally without downward pressure, while the Shigefusa had to be helped a little bit due to its lighter weight and its balance point being closer to the handle. On the other hand the Sigefusa seemed to put less stress on the delicate fish due to its thinner blade, leaving an even more "shiny" and refined cutting surface on the sashimi.

However, both knives excelled in what they were meant to do, and I could probably be for ever happy with either one of them. Both knives presented beautiful homogenous slices with an almost oily look to the sliced surfaces. A good sign of a very sharp blade making very little cell damage while slicing the fish.

Here are some pictures from the process making the rice-out maki rolls. Salmon, avocado and cucumber makes a delicious blend. Velvety and crunchy at the same time. When cutting the maki into chunks, the Shigefusa was definately the better choice with its very thin and more delicate blade. Using the very thin tip, the Shigefusa made very clean slices through all parts of the maki, leaving very delicate slices.

After a lot of slicing with the two knives I finally ended up with a decent selection of nigri sushi and maki rolls.

Looking closely at the finished product, I obviously still have a long way to go, but small signs of improvement from one time to the next motivates me to go on and to try to get better. At least the result tastes wonderful, so it is not wasted. The knives, however, have not much potential for improvement, being made by artists already experts in their craft. Keep'em sharp and they will serve you well and keep on doing what they do best. Every time.

How much I just have to admit that I love the look and feel of the Shigeusa, the refurbished yanagba with its heavier blade just felt more "right" to me when slicing. The exeption being when slicing the maki where the Shigefusa was better. That said, my opinion in this matter is obviously a very personal and subjective thing, and there are a lot of people that will tell you the opposite. My opinion is also just based on the feeling I got using the two knives, again coloured by my personal preferences. If I really had to sell one of them, it would probably be the refurb. No man should be without a Shigfusa yanagi!

The bottom line is that when choosing a knife this special you will have to experience it before buying. Anything else will be a game of chance. If you like the lighter knives, you will love the Shigefusa, especially the 270mm or shorter. If you like the heavier kind, go for a standard yanagi 270mm or longer. have some really nice ones. as well. If you like the heavy weighter of the yanagi, you will probably be very happy with the Ikkanshi Tadatsuna 300mm or longer. You can probably get a nice Tadatsuna on

Please share your own views and favourite yanagis in the comment field.

1 comment:

  1. Dritbra. Du har lest denne?