Fish knives. Types, features, functions
There cannot be the only correct opinion about what should be a fish knife. Firstly, every person, from a professional chef to an amateur culinary specialist, has its own opinion. Secondly, every culture has its traditions, sometimes they are completely different. And thirdly, fish processing, as well as meat processing, is a multi-stage process, and each step requires its own tool, it's simply impossible to use only one type of knife.
Usually we just take the first available knife that is more or less suitable in size, and we try to do everything using it: to remove fish scales as well as to cut the head. That is why the result may be far from being intended, and often just sad. So, to learn the types of task-specific knives for fish processing is not to come amiss as well as to learn which types of domestic toolkit may be chosen for these needs.
Stages of fish processing by means of knives
As already said, working with fish is a multistage process, which require several fish knives.
Removing of fish scales and fish skin
Most fish species are distinguished by the presence of fish scales, which must be removed before cooking. There is also a fish scaling machine for these purposes, but if you do not have it, then you may use a knife even if it is not sharp and highly specialized: for small fish you may use paring knife, for large fish — for example, the utility knife. By the way, scales of some fish species are perfectly removed even with the spine. This reduces the risk to damage or crumple the fillet.
Removing of fins
After the scales are removed, you need to remove all fins and, if necessary, the tail. The easiest way is to use kitchen scissors for this task.
Chilled or frozen fish is for sale already gutted in stores. But if you buy live fish or you catch it by yourself you will have to remove the guts by cutting the belly with a knife with a long blade from the tail to the head, and you cannot do this with an ordinary knife, it is better to use a fillet knife or Yanagiba. At this stage the head is to be cut off, if you are not going to cook fish as a whole. It is easy to do with a cleaver or Deba knife.
Sometimes filleting is not required, and the fish is just cut in steaks. Here, the two above mentioned knives (cleaver or Deba) will be useful. After cutting off the tail and head, you need just to cut the corpse into pieces of the desired thickness.
Filleting means separation of flesh from the backbone and rib cage, the most delicate and filigree work, and you cannot do it without a special knife (fillet knife or Yanagiba). Only their flexible, thin and long blade can do this task neatly and cleanly. These knives will also be useful for further operations with fillets — cutting into pieces or the finest slices for sushi.
By the way, in the process, you may even need not a kitchen tool — a tweezers: it is very convenient to remove small bones by means of tweezers, especially in small fishes. It is clear that fish processing is not easy, but special knives for fish cutting can ease it decidedly.
Japanese knives for fish filleting
The Japanese family of knives for fish filleting traditionally is distinguished by an uncountable variety of models designed for different purposes, as well as for different species of fish. All of them are unlikely to be used even in a professional kitchen in a Japanese restaurant, and at home such variety is not needed at all.
So, from all the Japanese knives for fish only two have found their place in the European kitchens.
This is a whole family of knives, differing in thickness and blade size. They are used for primary processing of fish — head cutting, cutting into steaks, chopping of cartilages and tendons. They feature by not too long, but a wide blade and a thick spine. The cutting edge is much thicker near the handle and gets narrow to the point, so that it can handle both the chopping and flesh cutting.
At home kitchens, Deba knife is successfully used not only to prepare ready-to-cook fish food, this tool is suitable for work with rabbits, chicken, turkey.
Another traditional Japanese knife for fish cutting is Yanagiba. It features a very long blade and a thin sharpening angle. It’s ideal for the filigree work. Earlier it was used to make sushi. But it is also very good for filleting, and not only for fish, but also meat and poultry, as well as working with seafood. By the way Yanagiba is perfect to be used as an ordinary slicer when cutting gastronomy.
Both these types of fish filleting knives usually are sharpened from one side, though there are also models with double-sided sharpening.
European knives for fish filleting
If we talk about European knives for fish filleting, there are several models that are perfect for this task.
This massive rectangular knife with a thick spine and a large angle of sharpening will be as much effective as the Deba during the initial fish processing. It will easily cut bones even of the big fish, quickly cut the head and tail or slice it into steaks. Don’t be afraid to damage a cleaver as it is designed for operations that need efforts.
Perfect choice for precise work on skin removing (not all species of fish have scales, for example, lemone sole, eel, burbot, sheat fish, tench, sharks and etc. have no scales) and cutting of a flesh from the backbone and cutting of small bones. The fillet knife can cut the flesh into the finest slices or equal chops and strips.
It distinguishes by a long, narrow and very plastic blade, which provides the necessary maneuverability at work, it is sensitive to changes in the movement of the arm, gently rounds the bones and provides a very thin cut.
The slicer is not a special knife for fish filleting, but its characteristics are very similar to Yanagiba — it has the same very long but narrow blade and a small angle of sharpening. So, it is quite possible to use it for the same actions — fish filleting or cooking of Japanese national dishes.
Of course, this is not a knife, but, as we have already learned, it is not always possible to process fish without scissors: it is much more difficult to cut the ventral, dorsal and tail fins by knife than by scissors as bones are quite solid. Also, you may precut the belly to remove the guts and cut the gills, if it is planned to fry fish with the head.
Everyone should decide for himself which of the listed types to choose for work with such a difficult product. But it is hardly necessary to give preference only to Japanese or only to European models. Each has its own features and advantages, and the use of several fish knives can greatly simplify and speed up this process.