Katsura•Muki, Piller peeling

sushi-apprentice-peeling-cucumber-shoya-by-julia
Sushi apprentice peeling cucumber by Julia

“We are going to use these for all the rolls like California Roll and Spicy Tuna.”

From the walk-in, Jun brought roughly ten to twelve European cucumbers, approximately twelve inches long, individually wrapped in plastic. With his knife, he cut the one end off, and then peeled off the plastic. He placed the cucumber on the cutting board and explained to me how to cut it.

“From here, we are going to cut them into three pieces each.”

Using his left hand, Jun measured the cucumber before he cut them.

“Four fingers, or the length of your palm, are what we use to measure things at the sushi bar.”

“Four fingers?”

“Yes, four left fingers like this.”

Jun placed his left hand on the cucumber, then placed his knife just right of his left palm, and sliced his knife.

I started cutting the tips of the rest of the cucumbers and Jun did the same. I quickly learned that unwrapping of the cucumber only took fifteen seconds each, but when you had twelve of them; multiply thirty seconds by twelve equaled three minutes. Then both of us started to cut cucumbers into four-finger width. I tried the same technique and cut some cucumbers into 5 to 6-inche pieces. After cutting all the cucumbers, Jun asked me if I could do Katsuramuki.

“No, I’ve never tried.”

“Do it like this.”

Katsuramuki, also known, as Pillar peeling is a technique used to peel vegetables in paper-thin. It’s like peeling a skin of an apple and you do the same with cucumber. Imagine you hold cucumber in your left hand and knife in the right. The knife will go up and down, as you turn the cucumber to peel off the skin, going around a couple of times before you reach the core of the cucumber.

If you’ve never seen a chef do this, you probably think this is an accident waiting to happen: My left hand is right in front of the knife. I’ve seen many sushi class participants tried this and cut their hands.

Why go through such trouble to cut cucumber, you may ask. Use a machine, wouldn’t that be easier? Sure, it will be much easier to use a tool or a machine to do this. However, if you want to be a sushi chef, it is knife skill you need to master and katuramuki is just one step. The idea is that you use the knife so that it becomes part of your hand. The way I feel about my knife, now, is that it’s like an extension of my finger. With the tip of my knife, I could almost feel the texture of the ingredients I am cutting. It was amazing to realize that, after a while, I was able to develope senses to be able to feel what I was cutting, or even touching with my knife. But then, that was after several years of daily training.

So, I started doing cucumber Katuramuki. I was clumsy. I was slow and of course, I cut my fingers within five minutes into it. I put Band-Aid and started again. I felt awful. The first disappointment. Cutting your finger felt bad, no matter how small the cut was.

In front of me were eight more four-finger width cucumbers, waiting for me to peel.

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