THE CLEVER CLEAVER


THE ORIENTAL CLEVER CLEAVER


MARTIN YAN

You cannot talk about chicken and cleavers without mentioning the Dean of Cleavering, Martin Yan.  I can gaze over the myriad of knives I have in my collection. A favorite is my Chinese Cleaver.  I  learned its usage forty years ago.  Many times I reach for a cleaver, more correctly a  Chinese chefs knife. In this section I will be opening your mind to the use of the cleaver in the culinary arts.  The word cleaver itself means “to split".  

CHARITY WORK
I have a suite of Tramontina (COSTCO has the best deals) knives having lost, had my good knives vanish or stolen at gigs, or exhausted all my older knives. Still, I still bring my 50 year old Chicago Cutlery 8x3 cleaver, if we are doing chicken. It’s still alive.

For big Tom Turkeys, and volume, as in charity gigs, I found a neat trick, I could use a bigger cleaver, something a Viking might use and splatter the whole place, with parts flying and cross contamination, or I use a branch trimmer, a trick I learned from a chef who worked at a big turkey restaurant and for Pterodactyls I bring a chainsaw.

BRANCH TRIMMER
I just cooked a twenty-four pound monster Tom and had to break the legs with the two handed branch trimmer, rated for 1.5 inch branches, this was the Arnold Schwarzenegger of Tom Turkey’s.   Toughest Turk I ever destroyed by spatch cocking it.… My light cleaver didn’t dent it, my meat heavy cleaver got nowhere and I finally dragged out El Branch-O.   Finally, Home depot and only 19-21 dollars, made by Fiskar’s a very reputable brand and it was easy, Grandma could do it.  

Later a big thanksgiving dinner for charity, this was a life saver.  An assembly line, twenty-five turkeys, spatch cocked, dispatched and the branch trimmer does a safe easy break without turkey parts flying all over the nice clean floors and kitchen of the institution.    I could do it with the cleaver but the flying parts and the mess get you just when a health policeman is snooping around.  

This was clean and no mess the cut exactly where I wanted it to be and no lost fingers or chipped blades. I have some nice ($$$) cleavers and use them like a chefs knife and almost ruined it on one turkey who had a steel prosthesis for legs. I wet stoned and reground the blade to specs and its like new. By hand I don’t like grinders, a sander if you have the skill level and the knife is really bad. 

And I store my cleavers near my work table and chopping block, on a magnet. Cleavers don’t get along with storage blocks and drawers well since most don’t fit into blocks.  Thats what magnets are for as long as children aren't allowed in prep areas of your kitchen and mounted eye high, your eye.

I have a fascination for these things probably after watching Chinese Chef Martin Yan years ago dismembering a chicken in well, 18 seconds flat. It is still not the record.  Another world class Chef named Hung Huynh on Top Chef was also fast, not as neat, but fast. ( Pic: Lower Left)

Find him on the web on YouTube.  All I can see is flying chicken.  If I tried it, the only fast part would be the trip to the ER to sew my fingers back on.  In contrast to the celebrated French Chefs who do chicken at the speed of cranial surgery, I would starve to death by the time we cooked them.  

MARTIN YAN PERSONAL
I met him a couple times, he is always 
on.  What you see or hear is Martin Yan, the real thing.  In his show or off stage, thats him,  he is a man of many quotes one which made so much sense to me…  A quote should be truth, this is…and you gotta love this.   PIC: JACQUE PEPIN and MARTIN YAN  “Both Worlds”

“Oriental style food is better for young people because normally with Western cuisine, you’ll serve vegetables separate from the meat,  so kids will eat the meat and never touch the vegetables”.   So true.

MORE YANISMS

  • Happiness is within. It has nothing to do with how much applause you get or how many people praise you. Happiness comes when you believe that you have done something truly meaningful.
  • Chinese culture has a lot of virtues that are tremendously valuable to not only us as Asian-Americans, but also the world in general.
  • When you have a good stock, you can make a good soup.
  • I also have a lot of preserved foods, things that will keep for a long time like dried fish, seaweed or lotus seed.
  • In general I love to eat anything. I enjoy anything that is well prepared, a good spaghetti, lasagna, taco, steak, sushi, refried beans.
  • A lot of people don’t enjoy their job, they may even hate it, but I am lucky enough to be able to make a living through my passion.
  • I don't like to waste anything. Any food left over from the night before is always eaten the next day.
  • Just like if you were brought up on a farm, you would most likely carry on your father’s business as a farmer; I was brought up in the kitchen and ended up becoming a chef.
  • I can represent my culture while helping not only the Chinese-American community, but also the community at large.

ED:   “Wisdom does not have territorial, spiritual, physiological nor racial boundaries,  the only border for wisdom is truth”.  I said that,  and approved my own statement.

        


THE CHINESE CLEAVER  -  LIGHTER, THINNER, FASTER AND SCOOP-ABLE

The Chinese cleaver is made in a myriad of sizes, blade widths, metallurgy, handle design and purpose. In other words what they may find in their backyard, on the battlefield or junkyard that they can recycle into cleavers.  In China and most Eurasian countries there are also style points such as seen on Thai Knives which have a pointed front. 

They look like a butcher’s cleaver but lighter, usually with no hole for hanging, since it never stops working, but it doesn’t mean you can use it to chop bones. The larger heavier cleavers are made for this act with thick blades that are not very sharp; they are meant to be used for splitting bone.  

Chinese Cleavers are the Asian version of the French chef knife. Again, they are slicers and treat them as you would a chef knife, Slicing, cutting, dismembering, chopping and scooping.  

  • The sharp edge of the blade is used for cutting.
  • The blunter top edge is used to pound and tenderize meat. 
  • Turned on its side, the cleaver is an excellent tool for smashing garlic and ginger.
  • You can even use it to transfer food from cutting board to wok. 
  • An added bonus is that the flat end of the handle nicely substitutes for a pestle.

The Chinese used the cleaver since the beginning of time and the Japanese combined it with their metallurgy and created some really nice cleavers of their own.  I know some members of the Knife Sharpening Guild probably could shave with theirs. The basic Japanese Nakiri style is thought of an ultra light cleaver design. Another favorite tool of mine. I’ll start with a traditional Chinese made cleaver with a non-traditional history, the knives of Maestro Wu. 


THE MAESTRO WU - THE KINMEM STORY (Boom -Boom)

The Kinmen Knife (金門菜刀) is a knife exclusively made in Kinmen County in Fuchien Province of the Republic of China. The knives are made from the remains of artillery shells fired by the U.S. and Allied forces in World War II, and by mainland China between 1958 and 1978. As many as 500,000 bombs were dropped on Kinmen during the war.  I told you battlefields.

The second shipment arrived during the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis, the People's Liberation Army of the People's Republic of China fired around 450,000 shells at the Quemoy Islands in its conflict against the Republic of China which controls the islands. The shells have become a natural resource of steel for the local economy.  

This amounted to a very expensive way to deliver raw steel of good quality including stainless compounds and for those who “Bablically” wish to explain this, we promote and researched the theory of “ Beating Swords Into Plowshares".  

Swords to plowshares is a concept in which military weapons or technologies are converted for peaceful civilian applications. The phrase originates from the Book of Isaiah, who prophesies of a future Messianic Age where there will be peace amongst all humankind:  It reads: They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. 

Each shell usually took out a building or bunker adding to the cost of each shell in damage and casualties.  Thats the usual bottom line in war.  Kinmen, found itself a storage center for high-quality steel. The industrious Chinese being basically steel and iron users and needing all they could find turned this windfall into the hands of knife-maker Wu Tseng-Dong. Kinmen had a new business.

They are quite well made, for the price, after all most countries put some of our best steel into artillery shells, as we do with all weapons of war.  A knife is only as good as what it is made of, not who swears by it, as we have many cheap knives out there with endorsements by celebrity chefs. 

Quemoy has become famous for its production of "boom-boom cleavers" as they are nicknamed. A single shell, these are heavy 155 mm casings, I know I loaded a similar few, generally produces 60 cleavers from one bomb shell. They do a good tourist trade for the kitchen and for the souvenir market. With all the bombs on hand they will run out in 2096.

Wu Tseng-dong, as the third-generation owner of the Chin Ho Li Steel Knife Factory, currently markets its knives under the label of "Maestro Wu," goes back much further than 1958. Knifemaking , the art relates to his ancestor, Wu Tsong-shan, late 19th century.

These knives are hand forged steel.  Smelted down to a red yellow mass and using his knowledge of hand working steel, he literally rough shapes a billet of the steel.  He flattens it on a mechanical hammer through several stages, flattens it and shapes it more, rolls and works it into shape for the hand grinding and shaping process.

He was quoted as saying , this is a learned skill. "We must judge the heat of the steel very accurately, and the color of the red hot steel tells us what we need to know".  I thought to myself, heres one thing the computer doesn't know or does it? 

These knives are still hand forged, ground, shaped and sharpened.  Walk into any kitchen in the world where real Chinese food is prepared, and you’ll most likely find only three knives - 1) Vegetable Cleaver,  2) Meat Cleaver  3) Fruit knife. 

All variants are offered, differing in size, width and shape. And I’ll tell you a secret, many were using these products made by the master.  Its like a cult following but his knives are great and do the job.  

In 1998 the Maestro WU cleavers and others designs went to Western style knives for export.  One or two companies seems to have the stock in whats called the "Maestro Wu" lineup.  

Today Mr. Wu continues his craft and sells his knives internationally. He is respected worldwide for his ingenuity. Visitors to his shop can actually assign a shell and observe a knife being forged from it. 

 In all, his knives are collected by knife enthusiasts for their quality and their interesting and meaningful history. The collection includes both the "Bombshell" and "Damascus" lines. 

Another source is Jende Industries LLC.  I strongly suggest you call these two vendors first and see if what you wish is in stock and or available. Both sites have videos and other photos of what available in these unique blades.

These brands all make fine Chinese Chefs Knives. We liked for the way they worked and in some cases the value for the frugal buyer. Cleavers are fairly priced, not unreasonable unless you get into the high end named brands. 

FORSHNER
Probably has one of the largest selections of cleavers, I have two of theirs. One with a wood handle and one with a slightly heavier composite handle. 

These are very reasonable and you can get a decent one starting at 24.00 up to 80.00 on Amazon. This one has a standard poly handle, the one higher up on the page has the round handle, and I have them in wood and nonslip. They are excellent buys for the money.


MY OLDEST KNIFE IS A CHICAGO CUTLERY CLEAVER

I still have my Chicago cutlery cleaver I purchased fifty (or more) years ago. It is laying on my block on left side of the page for my first Sushi and Sashimi setup.  I think, well I know it is now is the oldest knife I own and still does a great job every day. 

Whatever steel it has, I have not seen anything like it today. I know it is layers of rolled steel similar to Damascene.  I have used it just about every day and made a mistake one day taking on a super turkey leg bone and scared the edge in two places. I now ( thanks to a chef friend) now use a branch trimmer made by Fiskar’s. It’s faster, cleaner and will take anything up to almost two inches of bone apart.

Out comes the sharpening stones, Japanese wet stones in various grades to 12000.  I used a jig and a rough stone to create a new profile even and straight and then went to work on finalizing the angle and the sharpness.

This was the first time in 50 years, that I resharpened the blade. It has been honed religiously and taken care of.

On a big Sushi day this is the layout plus cups of rice wine or vinegar and water for rinsing the long pointed Sashimi knife after each cut so as not to stick, cutting the Sushi or Sashimi. 


ABOUT JAPANESE KNIVES


THE ART OF KNIFE MAKING IS IN THE STEEL
Since the end of World War II, western-style double-beveled edged knives have become much more popular in Japan, the best example being that of the Santoku, an adaptation of the Gyuto, as used as a French chef's knife. While these knives are usually honed and sharpened on both sides, their blades are still given Japanese-style acute-angle cutting edges with a very hard temper to increase cutting ability on specialty knives and designs.

Professional Japanese cooks usually own their personal set of knives, which are not used by other cooks. Some cooks and I have heard this before, and even witnessed it on Iron Chef as they treat their knives as an extension of their hand. Some even own two sets of knives, which they alternate every other day.

After sharpening a carbon-steel knife in the evening after use, the user normally lets the knife “ Rest" for a day to restore its patina and remove any metallic odor or taste that might otherwise be passed on to the food. 

They are very fussy about their cutlery. On the Iron Chef, I believe the famous Japanese world acclaimed chef Morimoto used a sharpened abalone shell to cut the fish and not let the knife steel change the taste of the delicate Abalone which is a very absorptive flesh to work with.

If you work in the culinary arts you make a living with the only real tools you bring and take home every night. It is important to take care of those tools because they are expensive, can ruin easily and dull knives will get you cut faster than sharp knives.   

As a fellow friend chef and martial artist says to me all the time, “  You are one with the knife”. I replied, "Yes, Sensei". I replied back, "That a knife is like a rattlesnake, the minute you forget what you are holding, it will bite you". He replied, “ Keep writing recipes, leave the eastern philosophy to me…”

The Japanese call finish sharpening Honbatsuke. "Hon" means real, formal, professional and genuine. "Ba" means edge and "Tsuke" means making or finishing in this case. In short, Honbatsuke means sharpening or finishing the edge. 





CCK Chan Chi Kee - CHINESE CLEAVERS 


With a cult following,  some of the cleavers like the CCK lines in Carbon and CRES steel are very popular. “ The Chevrolet of the Chinese Buffet".  

NOTE:  The authentic pure or plain carbon steel ones can and do rust, they will develop a patina and require a simple but special amount of attention.  No dishwashers, rinse and wipe dry immediately after usage. . If storing a little mineral oil works great and will not rot like veggie or peanut oils and reward you with the sharpest blades of all. 

CCK is a famous brand of Chinese professional kitchen knives used in Chiuchow and Cantonese Cuisine.  This is like a cult and some Chinese Nationals, like the Chinese Chef at the Luxor using one chopping ribs faster then I could comprehend, and I saw another at the M hotel, Vegas finest smorgasbord using them.  

Since the food is out front, they were using the Accusharp sharpener, which is fast and accurate, but surprised me but as busy as they were this was not a Sashimi exercise,  but getting a ton of ribs out front. No steels, no files, no stones...just an Accusharp.  Surprise… I spoke with the number three chef and he said when you cook for thousands of people a day sometimes, we use our knives a lot and since many of our chefs are from the orient, this is their tool, and we regrind them as needed.  Accusharp’s do fit in the pocket.

CCK knives come in a variety of styles, for brevity we offer the following: 

  • A Kitchen Slicer
  • Kitchen Chopper
  • Kau Kong Chopper
  • Dim Sum Knife
  • BBQ Chopper
  • Bone Chopper
  • CCK Small Stainless Cleaver
  • Vegetable Knife
  • Duck Slicer
  • Butcher’s Knife
  • Butcher’s Bone Chopper
  • Butcher’s Knife
  • Scraping Knife

Due to demand and monetary exchange numbers the price of these Carbon choppers and slicers went from the thirties to the fifties and sixties.   Most of the CCK knives come with wooden, steel, or plastic handles. If you buy them for yourself we strongly recommend using knives with wooden handles.  

Chinese foods and Western Foods are prepared totally different, if you’d like to use knives with steel handles or plastic handles fine, but wood is preferred by Chinese chefs and they are fussy about what wood is used. Plastics, especially cheap hard plastics and steel polished handles slip when wet or greasy.

Please make sure you know that CCK’s knives with steel handles and plastic handles don't offer immediate shipping, sometimes knives with wooden handles get sold out, they need about 7 days to prepare the knives for you.  

I can tell you now, with some patience and a knowledge of making a good edge…  You can shave with these guys so be careful.  Many American chefs I know have converted some of their food handling and prep work to the Chinese knife using it as a knife lesser as a cleaver.  They discovered a thousands years tool that works well.  You will get used to it quite easily.  There are many variants of the cleaver in the oriental part of the world.