Techniques & Tools Knife TechniquesJapanese KnivesKatsuramuki

Haruji Ukai, the talented chef and proprietor of Kinmata Ryokan in Kyoto, demonstrates katsuramuki, one of the most difficult, yet essential techniques for professional Japanese chefs.

Step one: Chef Ukai uses a special thin and flat knife made just for this purpose. He first cuts the vegetable (in this case, a daikon) into a 5 or 6-inch length. He peels the skin as shown in the header image above by holding the knife firmliy on his right hande while guiding the daikon under the thumb of his left hand.

Step two: After discarding the skin, he starts again, this time with a much thinner sheet. The trick is to keep the sheet as thin as possible (the knife should show the clearly beneath the sheet of daikon) without breaking the sheet. He works slowly, smoothly and steadily.

  how to cut katsuramuki: step 2



Step three: The resulting sheet is thin enough to see through. When chef Ukai holds the sheet up to the light, you can see white squiggles that resemble writing.

Katsuramuki is a technique that young chefs take pains to master. They purchase vegetables with their own money and often practice at home in their free time. During apprenticeships, young chefs must master this and other knife techniques on vegetables before ever touching a fish.

Haruji Ukai is a seventh generation innkeeper, but his kitchen is modern and state of the art. Yet, his tools are traditional: knives of varying sizes and types are the main tools of the trade. You won't see any cuisinart machines of microwaves in his kitchen.

To better appreciate the skills of this master chef, it's best to book a table at Kinmata's restaurant, or stay at his inn. We stayed there several years ago and it remains one of our fondest memories. The cusine changes seasonally and it is classic Kyoto kaiseki, served in beautiful surroundings on exquisite tableware that has been in Ukai's family for generations. Some of the family Imari collection is priceless and would be almost imposiible to find today.

  Haruji Ukai of Kinmata ryokan demonstrates katsuramuki, a traditional knife technique

Ken and other uses: The resulting sheets can be cut into strips and twisted around a chopstick to make spirals for garnish. But the most common use is for ken, the wispy strands of daikon that often prop up sashimi. The quality of a restaurant's ken is very important, and customers in the know often judge a restaurant by its freshness and thinness.

To cut ken, Ukai simply cuts the sheets into 8 inch lengths and stacks them up. He then cuts them finely. It is amazing to watch him work, and te resulting ken is so thin that it seems almost impossible.

  shaping spirals from katsuramuki

Soak: To keep the ken crisp and cold, Ukai soaks it in ice water until it is ready for use.

  ken is made from daikon shredded from sheets of katsuramuki