Basic Knife Techniques in Japanese Cooking
When you try making Japanese recipes, you may encounter special terms for cutting, especially for vegetables, such as “icho-giri” and “sainome-giri”. For most people, these techniques will be unfamiliar, but knowing them will help you progress in your cooking of Japanese recipes. We will explore eight basic knife cutting techniques in Japanese cooking. By the end of the article, you will not only have an understanding of how to make the different cuts, but also gain insight into the meanings behind the different cutting styles. Once you master these techniques, you will be on your way to unlocking the natural flavors and textures, bringing out the best in any dish you make.
8 Basic Cutting Techniques to Know
A quick note before we get started, each of these cutting methods ends with “giri”, which comes from the verb “kiru” or “to cut” in Japanese. Let’s take a look at each technique in turn:
“Sen-giri” is translated as cutting vegetables into julienne strips. “Sen” means “thousand”, so “sen-giri” literally means “cut into a thousand pieces”. Method 1. Slice the vegetable into thin pieces approximately 5cm long and 1-2mm in width. 2. If you are cutting carrots, you will still have a flat surface the width of the vegetable. Put several slices flat side down and resume to cut the width to 1-2mm on all sides. Widely used with: Cabbages, carrots, white radishes, burdock root Widely used for: Salads, stir-fry dishes Additional Information: “Hoso-giri (thin cut)” which is a slightly thicker cut than “sen-giri”. For “hoso-giri”, cut vegetables into 3-4 mm widths instead of 1-2 mm.
Sainome-giri (Cube cut)
The challenge is to This is to cut vegetables into 1cm sized cubes, like dice. The word “sainome” comes from the Japanese word “saikoro (dice)”. Method 1. Cut the ingredient into 5cm long pieces. 2. Cut into 1cm strips. 3. Cut strips into 1cm cubes. Widely used with: Carrots, white radishes, potatoes Widely used for: Stews, soups, marinated dishes Additional Information: “Arare-giri (hailstone cut)” is to cut 8mm sized cubes, and “kanoko-giri (seed stitch cut)” is for 5mm sized cubes.
Wa-giri (Round cut)
“Wa” means “circle” or “round”, hence “wa-giri” is usually used for cylindrical ingredients. The thickness will depend on the recipe, just make sure to cut it evenly! How to Slice ingredients evenly across the length of the vegetable. Widely used with: Cucumbers, eggplants, carrots, white radishes Widely used for: <Thin slices> Salads, pickles <Thick slices> Boiled dishes Additional Information: “Koguchi-giri (end cut)” is also used to slice cylindrical ingredients, but thinner vegetables, such as green onions and cayenne peppers.
Hangetsu-giri (Half- moon cut)
“Hangetsu-giri” is to cut cylindrical or spherical vegetables into a half-circle shape, that resembles a “hangetsu or (half moon)”. Like “wa-giri”, the thickness depends on the dish you are preparing. Method 1. Cut cylindrical or spherical vegetables in half lengthwise. 2. Place the flat side down. 3. Slice crosswise to produce half-circles. Widely used with: White radishes, tomatoes, carrots, eggplants, potatoes, lotus roots Widely used for: Boiled dishes, stir-fried dishes, soups, stews Additional Information: Another way to do “hangetsu-giri” is to cut an ingredient into “wa-giri”, and then cut it in half.
Icho-giri (Ginkgo leaf cut)
With the “Icho-giri”, vegetables are cut in quarter-round shapes. As the name illustrates, the quarter rounds look like “icho”, a ginkgo leaf. Method 1. Cut cylindrical or spherical vegetables into half lengthwise. 2. Cut the half lengthwise again, and you’ll have four long 4 pieces. 3. Slice each piece crosswise to produce quarter circles. Widely used with: White radishes, carrots, bamboo shoots Widely used for: Boiled dishes, stir-fried dishes, soups, stews Additional Information: ””Icho-giri" is also called “ougi-giri (folding fan cut)”.
Ran-giri (Irregular cut)
“Cut randomly” is the meaning of “ran-giri”! This is for long thin vegetables such as cucumbers and carrots. The random cuts increases the surface area of the vegetable, leading to shorter cook times and easier absorption of flavors. Method 1. Cut ingredient diagonally, starting from one end to the other. The knife should be at about a 45 degree angle to the length of the vegetable. 2. Rotate the ingredient 90 degrees, and cut diagonally again. 3. Repeat. Widely used with: Carrots, burdocks, cucumbers Widely used for: Boiled dishes, soups, stews Additional Information: If you want “ran-giri” with thicker vegetables, such as white radishes, cut into quarters lengthwise first.
Tanzaku-giri (Rectangular cut)
Tanzaku-giri is an ingredient cut into the shape of a rectangle which resemble “tanzaku”. What’s “tanzaku”? It comes from a Japanese traditional event called “tanabata”, a star festival on the 7th of July. People write their wishes on a rectangular shaped piece of paper called “tanzaku” to hang on bamboo trees. Method 1. Cut ingredients crosswise into 5cm pieces . 2. Cut each piece 1cm thick lengthwise. 3. Slice to approximately 2mm. Widely used with: Carrots, white radishes, potatoes Widely used for: Stir-fried dishes, soups, marinated dishes Additional Information: If ingredient is cut thicker (about 1cm thick instead of 2mm), it becomes another cut called “hyoshigi-giri”. “Hyoshigi” is a Japanese musical instrument. It has two pieces of hardwood that you clap together.
Kushigata-giri (Comb cut)
This is for spherical ingredients to be cut radially, into equal wedge- shaped parts. “Kushi” is the word for a Japanese hair comb. Method 1. Cut a spherical ingredient in half. 2. Place it with the flat side down and cut into 4-6 wedges. Widely used with: Tomatoes, onions, potatoes, turnips, apples, lemons Widely used for: Salads, boiled dishes, deep-fried dishes Additional Information: You can also apply this to cone shaped ingredients such as bamboo shoots and western pears.
An extra tip for cutting vegetables
Before you cut vegetables there’s one thing you should always check; how the fibers run. The texture and taste of ingredients can change according to which direction you cut. Are you cutting in the direction of the fibers (lengthwise), or at right angles to the fibers (crosscut)? For example, a leaf of cabbage, when you cut it lengthwise, will have a crunchy and firm texture. On the other hand, if you crosscut, it will be softer.