this thing's incredible

I Make Sushi at Home With This (Fisherman-Recommended) Fillet Knife

Photo: Eunice Byun

In the 15 years we’ve lived in New York City, my husband and I have frequented dozens of sushi restaurants. We’ve saddled up at long, narrow bars to dine omakase-style, trusting the chef to curate our dishes, and tried out fusion restaurants and holes in the wall. Whether it’s at the acclaimed Shuko in Greenwich Village or Tanoshi, a tiny BYOB spot on the Upper East Side, we’re always in search of the same thing: the perfect, decadently fatty piece of tuna or the richest, most buttery uni.

Somewhere along the way, we decided that for all the sushi places we’ve eaten at, we should be able to re-create these meals at home. After all, we’ve spent hours watching the city’s best sushi chefs construct nigiri (thinly sliced pieces draped over a mound of rice) with intense precision, studying their moves, and inquiring about the combinations and special ingredients they use. And I’m no stranger to culinary challenges: With two toddlers at home, I basically live in the kitchen, prepping upwards of 30 meals a week to keep them satisfied.

As the co-founder of kitchenware line Material, I have a well-stocked knife drawer, but I soon found that even my best chef’s knife felt unwieldy when dealing with delicate raw fish. Sure, a sharp knife gets 80 percent of the job done, but to get that nice, clean cut for nigiri pieces, you’ll benefit from a longer, narrower, more maneuverable knife. Most meals ended with frustration, until our friend Jumee, whose father is an amateur fisherman, intervened. After joining us for a few of our early sushi-dinner attempts — and politely consuming our ugly nigiri — she surprised us with a gift: the same knife that her dad uses on his fishing trips around the world. It’s not a fancy sushi knife that could set you back a few hundred dollars, but rather a simple fillet knife you can buy on Amazon for under $25. And it works wonders.

The secret to cutting a good piece of nigiri is a knife that lets you glide the blade from the heel to the tip in a single, smooth motion. As opposed to my knives, the tip of the fillet knife curves up to slice through the last bit of fish. On the underside of the wooden handle, there is an indentation carved in — the perfect place to rest my middle finger and stabilize my cutting motion. The knife also comes with a pull-through sharpener (you’ll never cut fish cleanly with a dull knife) and an embossed sheath for storage.

Dinner, as prepared with the Rapala fillet knife. Photo: Eunice Byun

Let me be clear: This is not a true sushi knife. It’s missing the signature beveled blade, meaning that only one edge of the blade is sharpened. This creates a slight angle that allows for even thinner cuts and prevents fish from sticking to the knife. But if you’re not ready to invest in a sushi knife, this does the job quite well. Once my husband and I started to get the hang of cutting proper nigiri pieces (and fine-tuned our sushi-rice recipe), I’m proud to say that our menu expanded from a simple tuna-and-salmon duo to properly composed pieces of fluke topped with yuzu kosho, and scallops seasoned with lemon zest and flaky salt. With all the money we saved on the knife, we could spend more on delectable, rich Hokkaido uni.

One final piece of advice: You can’t just go to any fish store. It’s best to find a place that pre-preps the fish for sushi, breaking larger pieces down into smaller, more manageable ones. You’ll also want to be sure to buy fish with a sushi-grade label — or talk with the fishmonger to see what is fresh enough to eat raw. I personally rely on Hong’s Seafood, a family-owned business that’s been supplying NYC restaurants since 1976. Once the pandemic hit, they quickly mobilized and started selling to customers via a Google doc full of images, which makes you feel like you’re surveying a fish market in person. Place your order via text message, and fresh seafood is sent straight to your doorstep.

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I Make Sushi at Home With This Fisherman’s Fillet Knife