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How to use a Chinese Cleaver

A sharp knife is essential for preparing a Chinese meal. Cleavers are the knife of choice for the Chinese cook.

Cleavers are rectangular and designed to perform all the chopping, dicing, slicing, and mincing that are required on vegetables and meat or poultry.

Cleavers can be purchased at kitchen stores, department stores, restaurant supply houses, mall cutlery stores, and on the Internet. You may wish to purchase more than one size depending on your budget. Lightweight cleavers will cut just about everything but bone and are easier to use. A good all-purpose size is a 3-inch or 4-inch blade that is not too thick. A smaller blade is good for most vegetables. The handle will be wooden or metal.

Sharpen your cleaver often. Stainless steel blades are harder to sharpen than steel. Use a whetstone or a honing blade for best results.

Handling a cleaver may take a little practice. Always use caution and in time you will become quite comfortable with the blade. You will use your cleaver for making straight cuts up and down and at an angle. Rounded vegetables benefit from diagonal cuts. Not only is it an attractive cut, but it allows the vegetable to cook faster and helps retain the flavors. Meat should be partially frozen to make cutting easier and can be cut at a 45 degree angle away from your fingers. Slice the meat against the grain to make it less tough.

The thickness and method of cutting both meats and vegetables will depend on the length of time required for cooking.

Regardless of the cutting job, grip the cleaver with part of your hand curved around the handle and partly curved against the blade for support. Do not point your index finger. Press your thumb along the opposite side of the blade and not on the handle. You want to utilize the middle to back end of the cleaver, rather than the tip.

Protect your fingers when cutting by letting your knuckles press against the blade. Keep your fingers slightly curved under; you will still maintain control of the food and be able to push it forward. You can now rock the cleaver safely in a forward to backward motion and at any angle. Practice making careful cuts at first and slow down even more as the piece underneath your fingers becomes smaller.

Dicing is achieved by first cutting strips that are no more than ¾ inches in size. Group the strips and make additional 3/4 -inch chops to produce uniform cubes.

Many Chinese recipes call for minced vegetables and meats. You should first remove stringy tissue from the meat and then dice it in the sizes mentioned above. Then, pile the meat in the center of the cutting board and, with one hand, begin chopping, using a free up and down motion. Pause often to pile the meat in the center and continue the process. You can do the same with vegetables that require mincing.

Use the cleaver as a scoop by angling the blade downward and gathering a safe amount of vegetables or meat on the blade. Transfer the food directly to the wok or into a bowl in this manner.

Just as you use any knife, always exercise caution, but in no time you will be able to make impressive and practiced cuts with your cleaver.

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