Sunday, December 7, 2014

Shun Classic knives. Again.

I've spent like, six hundred dollars on knives in the past year.  Kayla wanted to eat out less and cook at home more, and I'm... not a bad cook, if I do say so myself.  I make a mean ginger beef, my lasagna is pretty damned good (though, to be honest, I'm not sure I've made that for Kayla), and... okay, I'll admit after like fifteen years of experimentation I've never come to a fettuccine alfredo recipe I'm a hundred per cent happy with... but my garlic shrimp, which go on the alfredo, are phenomenal - converting lifelong shrimp-hater Kayla to the joys of shrimp consumption - and I make a mean panzanella.

Anyway, I've been cooking more, and this past July we walked into a local sorta-upscale-ish kitchen store in one of my city's trendiest neighbourhoods called The Happy Cooker.  There, I found Shun's Classic line of knives.

Ugh, they're so gorgeous.

The Shun Classic 10 inch chef's knife.

Japanese make, folded Damascus steel.  The steel used in the cutting edge is so hard it can't be coaxed back into shape by a run-of-the-mill honer, and will instead cut the honer - and their uniquely 18-degree edge has been described by none other than Alton Brown as "scary sharp." Indeed, about two weeks after buying my first classic, I sliced myself open pretty good.

There was... a lot of blood.  Anyway, it wasn't the knife's fault.  The knife is civilization.

Kayla and I have poked around our city, looking at other stores - your big home stores - but only the high-end speciality shops carry the Shuns.  Yesterday we were poking around a huge, beautiful store on the far side of the city and I, again, found a beautiful selection of Japanese knives.

Shun has several lines,

The Classic Pro line (top) has some really drastic acid etching on the blades, which feels a bit much, to me.  The Premier line (middle) retains the gorgeous hammon of the Classic series, but only between the hammer marks at top and the edge of the blade.  Not bad - feels rustic yet high-end - and the Sora line (bottom) is pure engineering efficiency without much care to style.

No, those Classics are where it's at.  World-class craftsmanship, and the very... well, classic style of the gorgeous pattern created by the folded steel. Earlier this year, our favored store was having a major knife sale, and I was able to get the seven-inch hollow-ground Santoku-style and the three-point-five inch paring knife for a bit over two hundred bucks (a steal).

I'm currently in the market for a bread knife, as I'm still using the same bread knife that was in my kitchen when I was six years old. It crushes English muffins - which reminds me, my breakfast sandwiches are the stuff of dreams - and I've had enough of it.

So anyway, we were at this new store yesterday and I'm looking at the Japanese knives and in the market for Shun's Classic bread knife - but here it was forty bucks more expensive than at Happy Cooker.  And then, I saw it.

The 10-inch Shun Blue kiritsuke.

The Shun Blue kiritsuke has the distinctive shape of a Japanese kiritsuke, but it's not entirely traditional.

Soooo sexy... The Blue line uses yet-harder steel than the Shun Classics, and the Blue kiritsuke is made to hold a downright-evil sixteen-degree edge.  The classic Japanese kiritsuke is a single-bevel knife - the angle to the cutting edge is only on one side, and the other side is flat.  Single-bevel blades are used in Japan to do as little damage to the tender flesh of a fish as possible, pushing away the desired slice on the bevel edge without disturbing the piece of fish being sheared on the flat edge - which will increase the uniformity of the pieces cut. Similarly, a flat-edged blade like an usuba is used specifically for shaving the flat edge of a japanese radish, to create one long strip of uniformly-thick material - which a double-bevel blade would have difficulty with.  A single-bevel knife - like most traditional Japanese knives - has a single point and purpose, but by that very nature limits a knife's versatility.

A kiritsuke is considered a master chef's knife - a single, workhorse blade that can do everything an experienced chef requires, from shaving paper-thin slices of anything you put in front of it to preparing a flank steak for a stir-fry - and many modern kiritsukes have adopted the double-bevels of western designs to permit the knife to excel at as many jobs as possible, instead of confining it to specific tasks.

The Shun Blue is double-beveled.

Each knife in the Shun Blue line includes a wooden saya, or sheath.  A nice touch.

The name Blue is a nod to the blade core's high-carbon blue steel, a very hard steel which permits it the ability to take the obscenely-slender sixteen-degree edge, and hold it.  The reason all knives aren't made with this type of steel - most knives are the ubiquitous stainless steel - is because high-carbon steel like blue and white have the potential to rust, if not properly cared for.

The upside of a knife that can rust - a knife that oxidizes when exposed to the elements - beyond a harder steel's ability to hold an insane edge, is that it will oxidize when exposed to the elements, and what's called a patina will form.

Blue patinas forming on high-carbon steel blades.

A patina is a layer of chemical reaction on the surface of the steel, which (in the case of blue steel) can take on a beautiful, gassy liquid-blue color - hence the name - and once the patina has formed, the blade will no longer have the potential to rust.  The Shun Blue kiritsubo has the blue steel only in the core and the exposed cutting edge, which is otherwise sandwiched between two layers of the traditional, more-flexible stainless steel.  As a result, over time and with use, it will develop this beautiful blue patina just above the cutting edge, but not beyond - a testament to its life and its work - and earn its namesake.

Truly, a knife of legend.

But it's like three hundred dollars, so... that can wait.

Kayla follows The Happy Cooker on Facebook, and was alerted that today they were holding a customer appreciation day, and covering the taxes on all sales (taxes in Canada are very high - your jaw would drop if you knew).  We walked in and were immediately offered glasses of a very nice champagne with a pleasant, crisp, apple flavour. I wasted no time.

"Would you like to see a knife, Sir?"

"No, I'd like to buy that Shun Classic bread knife.  Well - wait - you guys are covering the tax today, right?"

"That's correct."

"Then I am buying that knife."

And then there were four.  Because, if you're going to cut bread, you're going to need a blade of folded Damascus steel to do it.

As for the Blue kiritsuke..?


  1. Not much of a knife guy... but I am VERY much a Damascus steel guy. How does it get so wavy?

    1. The waves are two different quality pieces steel, hammered out, folded over on each other, and hammered out again. The process is repeated until you get sixteen layers on each side of the blade - the layers kind of fold around the harder cutting-edge steel at the center and edge of the blade, providing strength and durability, and a total of thirty-two folds. Any folding beyond that, and you risk losing the strength and durability benefits the folding process imparts.

      The pattern is called a hammon.