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Santokus. What role do they have in your kitchen?

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 
I am a devout user of the chefs knife, and very much prefer them for general jobs. However, as being without a serviceable chefs knife for some time I have been using a santoku for most of my chopping. I do enjoy this particular knife in almost a novel way. This has made me tempted to at least get a home quality santoku to have on hand (in large part because...well...like many here I just love knives and want more of them, especially if its of a kind I dont have yet!).

So here I am interested in what role/place a santoku has in the kitchen for those of you who primarily use a chefs knife, and when/if you do pick up a santoku, it isnt because your hands are too small, your height some manner of restriction, or other such variable that makes you avoid a 10" chefs. When do you pick up your santoku and why? What made you choose the specific santoku you have? And what are the important attributes to a santoku for you?
post #2 of 7
A classic French chef's knife is used in a "tip/fulcrum method". The tip of the knife stays on the cutting board as the blade rocks off this fulcrum. You get much better leverage with this method, saving on your wrist, elbow and shoulder.

As a prep cook (way back when), I worked at a large government institution, doing prep for 15,000 people, fed twice daily. 12 hours a day chopping onions, celery, carrots, peppers, whatever mountain of vegetable boxes they put in front of me. With the soduku knife, I would have had to raise my wrist each time, rather than rocking the knife against the cutting board. This is undue stress on the wrist.

A proper chef's knife will force you to use proper technique and avoid carpel/tunnel syndrome. In my opinion, those Japanese knives look better than they work.

However, whatever feels good to you, is good for you. Put two chefs in a forum, you'll get 5 opinions.
post #3 of 7
A santoku does not play into my knife selection. I have never owned one and likely never will. I either reach for a Chefs knife or a gyuto. If I need a different knife it will be for a specific task.
I think the most wonderful thing in the world is another chef. I'm always excited about learning new things about food.
Paul Prudhomme
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I think the most wonderful thing in the world is another chef. I'm always excited about learning new things about food.
Paul Prudhomme
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post #4 of 7

In mine, none. In yours ... ?

A santoku isn't a traditional knife at all, and there's no "classic" slot or role for it in a professional's block. It's history, such as it is, is as a sort of housewife's do it all. It's a cross between a nakiri (itself, the play-at-home version of a usuba), with a kamagata front end, and a gyuto/chef's knife edge and belly profile. The santoku's shape and length compensate for naive knife technique. The knife is easy to point, because it's short. Hard to hurt yourself with, because of the sort of sheep's foot point. Has plenty of knuckle clearance, and so on.

Despite lacking a classic point, most of them actually have an edge and belly arc similar to a French profile (as opposed to German profile) chef's knife.

Some people with good skills, mad skilz even, just plain like them. I don't see their appeal and find them a sort of personal knife mystery; but I have a little 7" "Nogent" chef's knife which, while it isn't my go-to gyuto, I'm quite fond of. I bought it (and use it mostly) for shallots and other very small vegetables, and as a kinda-sorta deba for small fish. However, sometimes it gets used, "just because," even though it wouldn't usually be the first choice. Breaking small birds for instance.

Discussing knife technique, even from the perspective of "no more than one or two right ways to do anything," is difficult because there are so many tasks; some of which have specific techniques associated and some of which do not.

For instance, a santoku certainly can be used in the same tip/fulcrum fashion as a chef's knife described by Chef Todd, because it's edge and belly profile are very similar to a French profile, minus the point and, depending on the individual santoku, perhaps some of the belly. But there's enough.

Furthermore, classic "chopping" is not a single task, but several discrete operations: blocking, planking, sticking (alumette, batonnet, julienne, etc.) and dicing (medium dice, fine dice, brunoise, etc.). Blocking and planking anything of size requires lifting the knife entirely off the board. For that matter, so does dicing if the cook is pushing large piles of sticks under his knife. There's a limit to how high you can comfortably raise the handle with the tip on the board.

There are any number of ways to teach skills; but most of them have a few commonalities. The knife is held square to the board and square to the food. The spine is held in line with the forearm, as though it were an extention. And, therefore the tip is an extension of the forearm also. A chopping knife is gripped in such a way (almost always the "pinch grip") that the knuckles face out instead of down, making it possible to chop with even a fairly narrow profile without rapping the knuckles against the board. So, you can see that if you have skills, nearly all of the rationale for a santoku disappears.

Good skills mean you can use a more versatile and less naive tool; but they don't mean you have to.

It is definitely true that Asian cooks using Asian knives and Asian technique tend to "push cut" (straight up and down) in a constant noisy tap-tapping. While those of us trained in a French or "Continental" technique tend to use more of a compound shearing/sliding motion and do keep the tip on the board when we can. German profile knives with their greater arc are better for rock chopping than French profiles. Personally I prefer the French -- German style knives seem heavy and clumsy in comparison. There is no best it's simply a matter of taste.

Just like whether or not you choose a santoku. Because I don't like them, doesn't mean you shouldn't.

Good luck on your continuing knife journey. You come up with interesting ideas and ask great questions.

It's fun travelling with you,
BDL
post #5 of 7
I've got a Dexter Russel Santoku in my block. It was an experiment. Not a bad knife but it doesn't really add anything in function. I do like it for slicing cheese thinly, but many of my knives can do that. Still, the wide chord blade helps you keep the slice consistent thickness and not wander in the cut.

Damning with faint praise there I suppose.
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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post #6 of 7
Thread Starter 
I appreciate the input and opinions!

I also much prefer a chefs knife for perhaps the primary reason of the cutting technique very often involved; that of rolling my knife instead of repeatedly raising my wrist. I like smooth motions. However, just because it isnt my prefered knife (If I could choose to do so I'd probably walk around town without ever having put my gyuto down...but they frown on that around here) doesnt mean it didnt have a legitimate role in the kitchen. It doesn't appear tha anyone feels a santoku has a real purpose though in a situation I would find myself.

Again, however, I may purchase a cheap one (17$ 7" calphelon from ross) if for no other reason but to have on hand for when people assist me in prep work in my home kitchen. I've never had a friend held with prep who really knew how to handle a knife..might as well give them something mostly comfortable which works for the way they cut and their particular 'knife handicap'.
post #7 of 7
I have a a 7" Santoku that I picked up to see what all the fuss was about. I like it enough to keep it on hand but I almost never reach for it first. The sheep foot profile would be more useful, I think, as a 4" for peeling or as a narrower 8" or 10" for carving, no tip to dig into an errant bone here or there.
Dammi un coltello affilato e vi mostrerò l'arte più belle del mondo.
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Dammi un coltello affilato e vi mostrerò l'arte più belle del mondo.
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