Sasagaki Cutting: Unlocking the Full Flavor of Burdock Root

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Japanese cuisine is known for its use of delicious root vegetables like gobo (burdock root). But in order to get the finest cuts of this root veggie, Japanese chefs must cut it into very thin slivers or shavings.

They use a knife technique called sasagaki, and it’s all about cutting the root into the thinnest shavings.

Sasagaki is a Japanese knife cut used for creating thin shavings. It involves holding the ingredient, like burdock root, and whittling it as if sharpening a pencil. The technique adds texture and is commonly used in dishes like kinpira gobo and gohan rice.

Sasagaki Cutting- Unlocking the Full Flavor of Burdock Root

In this guide, I’ll explain what the sasagaki knife technique is, how to do it, and why Japanese people like their burdock root so thin.

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What is Sasagaki?

Sasagaki (ささがき), also known as shavings, is a Japanese knife technique used to cut thin shavings of gobo, or burdock root. 

This root vegetable is commonly used in various Japanese dishes like kinpira gobo and gohan rice.

Sasagaki is a traditional Japanese knife technique used for delicately slicing ingredients into thin shavings.

The knife cut is more like sharpening a pencil than actually cutting the root on a cutting board.

It involves skillfully maneuvering the knife to create long, slender pieces.

Sasagaki is commonly employed to prepare ingredients such as burdock root (gobo), enhancing their visual appeal, texture, and flavor. 

These shavings are often incorporated into various Japanese dishes, adding a unique touch and aesthetic charm to the final presentation.

To perform sasagaki, imagine you are sharpening a pencil. Hold the gobo firmly in one hand and start whittling it with a knife, aiming to create thin shavings. 

As you work, remember to rotate the gobo to ensure that you reach all parts of the vegetable.

This technique requires precision and practice to achieve the desired thinness of the shavings. 

By using sasagaki, you can enhance the texture and presentation of your dishes that feature gobo.

Why is it called bamboo-leaf sasagaki?

You might’ve heard sasagaki called by the name “bamboo-leaf gobo,” and this is simply a name given to the burdock root shavings but still refers to the thin shavings using “sasagaki.” 

The term “Bamboo-Leaf Sasagaki” refers to a specific style or variation of the sasagaki technique used in Japanese cuisine.

It is named as such because the thin shavings created through this method resemble the shape and appearance of bamboo leaves. 

The resemblance is primarily due to the long, slender, and curved nature of the shavings, which resemble the characteristic form of bamboo leaves found in nature. 

The name serves as a descriptive reference to the visual similarity between the shavings and bamboo leaves, providing a poetic touch to the technique.

Why is it called bamboo-leaf sasagaki?

What does the sasagaki cut look like?

The sasagaki cut is characterized by long, thin shavings or slices of an ingredient, typically achieved through skillful knife work. 

The resulting shavings are delicate and slender, resembling thin ribbons or strips. The length of the shavings can vary but is generally consistent throughout.

When performed correctly, the sasagaki cut produces visually appealing, uniform shavings that showcase the craftsmanship and precision of the technique. 

The thinness of the shavings allows for an enhanced eating experience, as they provide a delicate texture and absorb flavors more easily.

In dishes like kinpira gobo or gohan rice, the sasagaki cut adds an elegant touch and aesthetic charm.

The slender shavings contribute both visual interest and a subtle layer of flavor to the overall presentation.

Overall, the sasagaki cut creates an elegant and refined appearance, elevating the texture and visual appeal of the ingredient it is applied to.

Knives & tools needed for sasagaki

To become a true sasagaki master, one must have the right tools at their disposal. 

There are actually two ways to cut gobo in sasagaki style: 1) using a Gyuto knife and 2) using a vegetable peeler.

Many people cut gobo in sasagaki style using a Japanese peeler. These peelers are small and easy to use.

But it’s up to you.

Professional chefs are skilled at handling a Japanese knife like the Gyuto (chef’s knife), so that’s what they use, and they’re extremely precise cutters!

The gyuto, a Japanese-style chef’s knife, has a versatile design that can handle various cutting tasks, including slicing vegetables.

With its sharp, thin blade and a slightly curved edge, the gyuto knife can be utilized to create thin shavings in sasagaki. 

You’ll also need a cutting board.

When performing sasagaki or any other knife technique, it is recommended to use a cutting board that is appropriate for the task. 

In this case, a wooden cutting board is often preferred for several reasons. Wooden cutting boards provide a good balance of durability and knife-friendliness. 

They offer a bit of natural give, which helps protect the sharp edge of the knife and prevents it from dulling too quickly. 

Additionally, wooden boards tend to be more gentle on the knife blade, reducing the chances of it getting the knife nicked or damaged during the slicing process.

I’ve reviewed the best vegetable peelers for uniform and even shavings here

Mastering the art of sasagaki cutting

The first time I tried my hand at sasagaki cutting, I was amazed by the precision and skill required for this traditional Japanese technique. 

Shaving gobo roots to the perfect thickness, using a single, sharp blade is an art form in itself. 

To perform sasagaki and shave gobo (burdock root) into thin shavings, follow these steps:

Using a knife

  • Begin by selecting a fresh, firm gobo root. It’s best to choose a straight and evenly-shaped one for easier handling.
  • Start by peeling the gobo using a vegetable peeler or a knife. Remove the outer skin until you reach the white flesh beneath. This will help improve the texture and appearance of the final shavings.
  • Hold the peeled gobo firmly in one hand, keeping a secure grip to maintain control during the shaving process. Make sure to position your hand away from the area you’ll be shaving to prevent any accidental cuts.
  • Using a sharp knife, orient it at a slight angle to the gobo, similar to how you would hold a pencil when sharpening it. The blade should be in contact with the gobo’s surface.
  • With the knife in hand, begin by making vertical cuts into the root, about 7 inches (20cm) from the end. Be careful not to slice too deep, as we want to maintain the integrity of the root. This technique is essential in Japanese cuisine, and with a little practice, you’ll be able to master it in no time.
  • Start shaving the gobo by gently pushing the knife across the surface. Apply even pressure and make smooth, controlled movements to create thin shavings. The goal is to achieve long, slender pieces.
  • As you shave, continuously rotate the gobo to expose different sections for an even cut. This ensures that you work on all parts of the gobo, producing consistent shavings throughout.
  • Maintain a steady pace and be cautious not to exert excessive force, as the gobo’s texture can be relatively tough. Keep the shavings as thin as possible, resulting in a delicate and appealing final product.
  • Once you have shaved the desired amount of gobo, collect the shavings and incorporate them into your chosen dish, such as kinpira gobo or gohan rice. The sasagaki technique adds visual interest, texture, and flavor to these dishes.

Using a vegetable peeler

While the sasagaki technique is typically performed with a knife, it is possible to achieve a similar effect using a vegetable peeler. 

Here’s how you can adapt the sasagaki technique using a vegetable peeler:

  1. Start by selecting a fresh gobo (burdock root) and peeling it to remove the outer skin, exposing the white flesh underneath.
  2. Hold the peeled gobo firmly in one hand, ensuring a secure grip to maintain control during the peeling process.
  3. Take the vegetable peeler in your other hand and position it at a slight angle to the gobo, similar to how you would hold a pencil when sharpening it.
  4. Begin peeling the gobo with the vegetable peeler, applying gentle pressure, and making smooth, controlled strokes. The goal is to create long, thin shavings.
  5. Rotate the gobo as you peel, ensuring that you cover all sides and obtain uniform shavings throughout.
  6. Continue peeling until you have obtained the desired amount of gobo shavings.

Using a vegetable peeler for sasagaki may produce slightly wider and thicker shavings compared to using a knife. 

However, the technique can still enhance the texture and presentation of the gobo in dishes like kinpira gobo or gohan rice.

Adjust the pressure and angle of the vegetable peeler to achieve thinner shavings, if desired.

Remember, practicing sasagaki requires patience and precision.

With time and experience, you will develop the skill to create beautiful and finely shaved gobo for various culinary creations.

The many uses of sasagaki-cut gobo

Once I had perfected my sasagaki cutting skills, I couldn’t wait to put my beautifully shaved gobo roots to good use.

In Japan, sasagaki-cut gobo is enjoyed in a variety of dishes, such as:

  1. Kinpira gobo: Thinly sliced sasagaki-cut gobo is often a key ingredient in kinpira gobo, a popular Japanese dish. The gobo shavings are stir-fried with other vegetables like carrots, and seasoned with soy sauce, mirin, and sugar, resulting in a flavorful and vibrant side dish.
  2. Gohan rice: Sasagaki-cut gobo can be added to gohan rice, creating a visually appealing and texturally interesting element. The delicate shavings add a subtle flavor and pleasing crunch to the rice (see my takikomi gohan rice recipe here).
  3. Salads: Gobo shavings can be used in various salads, adding a unique touch. They can be tossed with other vegetables, greens, and dressings, contributing a distinct flavor and enhancing the overall texture of the salad.
  4. Garnish: The thin, elegant sasagaki-cut gobo shavings can be used as a beautiful garnish to enhance the presentation of various dishes, including sushi rolls, sashimi platters, or noodle dishes. The shavings add a visually appealing element and a hint of flavor to the overall dish.
  5. Tempura: Gobo shavings can be included in tempura preparations, adding a delightful texture and flavor. The thin shavings become crispy when deep-fried, offering a delicate and tasty component to the tempura dish.
  6. Pickles: Sasagaki-cut gobo can also be pickled, either on its own or as part of mixed vegetable pickles. The pickling process adds tanginess and preserves the gobo while maintaining its unique texture.
  7. Nabé: a hearty, warming hot pot dish perfect for feeding hungry family members.
  8. Miso soup: for this soup, the thinly shaved gobo adds a special touch and depth of flavor.
  9. Condiment: Finally, gobo can be used as a condiment on noodle dishes because it provides a very earthy flavor and unique texture.

Sasagaki-cut gobo’s versatility allows it to be incorporated into various dishes, providing visual interest, texture, and flavor. 

The delicate shavings bring a touch of elegance and complexity to the culinary creations in which they are featured.

Is Sasagaki only used for burdock root?

While sasagaki is commonly associated with burdock root (gobo), it is not exclusively used for this particular ingredient. 

The sasagaki technique can be applied to various vegetables or even certain fruits to achieve thin shavings. 

It is a versatile cutting method that can enhance the texture and presentation of a range of ingredients.

In addition to burdock root, other vegetables like carrots, daikon radish, cucumbers, and zucchini can be shaved using sasagaki to create thin, delicate pieces. 

These shavings can be utilized in dishes such as salads, stir-fries, garnishes, and more.

TIP: try this refreshing sunomono cucumber salad using the sasagaki cutting technique

The sasagaki technique allows for precise slicing and can be adapted to different ingredients based on the desired outcome.

While burdock root remains a popular choice for sasagaki, the technique itself can be applied creatively to various vegetables, expanding its application and adding visual appeal and texture to a wide range of dishes.

Inspired by the sasagaki technique, I decided to experiment with other vegetables. 

I discovered that allium vegetables, like negi (Japanese bunching onions), can also be shaved using the sasagaki method.

The result was a delightful addition to my culinary repertoire, perfect for:

  • Garnishing dishes with a visually appealing, finely shaved vegetable topping
  • Adding a burst of flavor and texture to salads and stir-fries
  • Creating a unique, eye-catching presentation for special events

What is the history of the sasagaki cut?

The history of the sasagaki cut can be traced back to traditional Japanese culinary practices. 

While there is no definitive historical account of its origins, the technique has been passed down through generations and has become a recognized method in Japanese cuisine.

Sasagaki, meaning “shavings” in Japanese, likely emerged as a way to enhance the texture and presentation of ingredients.

The precise thin shavings created through this technique add visual appeal and can improve the overall eating experience.

Burdock root (gobo) is one of the most commonly associated ingredients with sasagaki.

Due to its fibrous nature, shaving burdock root into thin strips helps soften its texture and makes it more enjoyable to eat. 

Over time, the technique expanded to include other vegetables, allowing for a wider range of culinary applications.

The sasagaki cut exemplifies the attention to detail and craftsmanship deeply rooted in Japanese culinary traditions. 

It showcases the mastery of knife skills and the appreciation for transforming ingredients into visually appealing and harmonious dishes.

While the exact historical details may be elusive, sasagaki remains an integral part of Japanese culinary heritage, preserving traditional techniques and contributing to the artistic and aesthetic elements of Japanese cuisine today.

Differences

Sasagaki is just one of many types of Japanese knife cuts. 

Sasagaki (shavings) vs Hanagir (flower shapes)

Sasagaki and hanagiri are two distinct knife techniques commonly used in Japanese cuisine, each with its own purpose and aesthetic appeal.

Sasagaki, as previously discussed, involves cutting ingredients into thin shavings. It is akin to whittling or shaving, creating long, slender pieces. 

Sasagaki is often used to enhance the texture, presentation, and overall eating experience of ingredients like burdock root (gobo). 

The delicate, uniform shavings produced through sasagaki can be incorporated into various dishes, providing visual interest and subtle flavors.

Hanagiri, on the other hand, focuses on creating flower-shaped or petal-like slices. This technique involves skillfully cutting ingredients, such as vegetables or fish, into decorative floral shapes. 

Hanagiri is primarily used for decorative purposes and adds an artistic element to the presentation of dishes.

 It is commonly seen in decorative garnishes, sushi arrangements, or as an embellishment in traditional Japanese kaiseki cuisine. 

While both sasagaki and hanagiri involve precise knife work and contribute to the visual appeal of Japanese dishes, they differ in their intended outcomes. 

Sasagaki emphasizes creating thin shavings for texture and flavor enhancement, while hanagiri emphasizes creating decorative flower shapes for aesthetic purposes.

These knife techniques reflect the intricate attention to detail and artistry prevalent in Japanese culinary traditions, showcasing the diverse ways in which ingredients can be transformed and presented in visually captivating and pleasing forms.

Sasagaki vs Ken

Well, there’s something called the Japanese Ken cut. It’s mostly used for daikon radish, which is used as a garnish for sushi and sashimi. 

And no, it doesn’t involve cutting noodles. Ken cuts produce daikon that are so thin and noodle-like that they are used to offset the vividness of sashimi.

But you may also use them as a palette cleanser in between pieces of different kinds of sashimi.

The Ken cut is primarily used for daikon radish, where it is employed to create thin, noodle-like strips. 

These delicate daikon strips are often utilized as a garnish for sushi and sashimi, providing visual contrast and balance to the vibrant colors of the fish. 

Additionally, they can serve as a palate cleanser between different types of sashimi, refreshing the palate for the next flavor experience.

On the other hand, Sasagaki is a technique focused on creating thin shavings, typically from ingredients like burdock root (gobo). 

It involves skillfully whittling or shaving the ingredient to achieve long, slender pieces.

Sasagaki is utilized to enhance texture and presentation, adding visual interest and subtle flavors to dishes like kinpira gobo or gohan rice.

While both techniques involve precision knife work, they differ in their outcomes and applications.

The Ken cut produces thin, noodle-like daikon strips primarily for garnishing purposes, adding an aesthetic element to sushi and sashimi. 

On the contrary, Sasagaki focuses on creating thin shavings to enhance the texture and flavor of ingredients in various dishes.

Sasagaki vs Rangiri

Sasagaki and Rangiri are two different knife techniques commonly used in Japanese culinary practices, each with its own distinct purpose and visual impact.

Sasagaki refers to the technique of creating thin shavings or slices, often applied to ingredients like burdock root (gobo).

It involves skillfully whittling or shaving the ingredient to achieve long, slender pieces. 

Sasagaki is utilized to enhance the texture, presentation, and overall eating experience of the ingredient in dishes such as kinpira gobo or gohan rice.

On the other hand, Rangiri involves cutting ingredients, typically root vegetables like carrots or daikon radishes, into oblique or diagonal shapes.

These can look like diamonds or triangles on the plate.

The term “rangiri” translates to “random cut” or “slanting cut.”

This technique produces angular pieces with slanted edges, adding visual interest and a dynamic element to the ingredient. 

Rangiri cuts are often used for decorative purposes or to facilitate even cooking when ingredients are used in stir-fries or simmered dishes.

While Sasagaki focuses on creating thin shavings, Rangiri emphasizes creating distinct diagonal or oblique shapes. 

Sasagaki enhances texture and flavor, while Rangiri adds visual appeal and an artistic touch to ingredient presentation.

Both techniques exemplify the precision and attention to detail that are integral to Japanese culinary traditions. 

They contribute to the overall aesthetics and culinary experience, showcasing the versatility and artistry of knife skills in Japanese cuisine.

Sasagaki vs Sengiri

Sasagaki and Sengiri are two distinct knife techniques commonly used in Japanese cuisine, each with its own specific purpose and visual effect.

Sasagaki refers to the technique of creating thin shavings or slices, typically from ingredients like burdock root (gobo). 

It involves skillfully whittling or shaving the ingredient to achieve long, slender pieces.

Sasagaki is used to enhance the texture, presentation, and overall eating experience of the ingredient in dishes such as kinpira gobo or gohan rice.

Sengiri, on the other hand, involves cutting ingredients into thin, matchstick-like strips. It is a technique commonly used for vegetables like carrots or daikon radishes. 

The term “sengiri” translates to “thinly sliced” or “julienne cut.”

Sengiri cuts are uniform and slender, creating thin strips that are often used in stir-fries, salads, or as a topping for noodles.

While Sasagaki focuses on creating thin shavings, Sengiri emphasizes uniform thin strips resembling matchsticks. 

Sasagaki enhances texture and flavor, while Sengiri is valued for its uniformity, ease of cooking, and visual appeal in various dishes.

Both techniques require precision and knife skills, contributing to the overall aesthetics and culinary experience in Japanese cuisine. 

Whether creating delicate shavings with Sasagaki or uniform strips with Sengiri, these techniques showcase the artistry and attention to detail that is integral to Japanese culinary traditions.

Sasagaki cutting tips and tricks

Alright, folks, let’s talk about sasagaki cutting, or rather shaving tips and tricks for burdock root, also known as gobo. 

First things first, you need a sharp knife and some patience. The sasagaki cutting method involves shaving the burdock root thinly, which can be a bit tricky. 

Start by scrubbing the surface of the root with a natural bristle scrubber or a vegetable brush.

If the root is too tough, you may need to peel it with a small peeling knife or a fruit knife.

Next, make vertical cuts on one end of the root, about 7 inches or 20 cm long.

Hold the uncut end of the root and shave it thinly, preferably over a bowl of water to catch the shavings. 

Rotate the root as you go, making new vertical cuts every 7 inches or so until you’ve shaved the entire root.

You’ll notice that the shavings turn yellow-brown in color and may have a bitter taste.

Rinse them lightly in a colander to get rid of any bitterness or overt earthiness. Voila, you’ve got perfect sasagaki gobo!

Some people prefer to use sasagaki gobo instead of julienned gobo in dishes like kinpira gobo or soups and stir-fries.

It’s a great way to add texture and flavor to your dishes.

If you’re still struggling with sasagaki cutting, you can try using a coarse grater or a mandolin with a fine shredding blade. 

And if all else fails, just pretend you’re sharpening a pencil and cut the root thinly that way.

So there you have it, folks, some sasagaki cutting tips and tricks for burdock root. Now go forth and conquer that gobo like a pro!

Conclusion

In conclusion, sasagaki is a traditional Japanese knife technique that involves creating thin shavings or slices of ingredients, specifically gobo root. 

This meticulous and precise cutting method enhances the texture, presentation, and overall eating experience of various dishes. 

The delicate and slender shavings produced through sasagaki add visual interest, improve flavor absorption, and contribute to the aesthetic charm of Japanese cuisine. 

With its focus on craftsmanship and attention to detail, sasagaki exemplifies the artistry and culinary traditions deeply rooted in Japanese culinary culture.

Next, learn about Hiramori, the fascinating Japanese Plating Style

Check out our new cookbook

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.