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Chinese cleavers are versatile kitchen knives which combine the cutting power of butcher knives with the chopping ability of chef's knives. There are actually two different forms of Chinese cleavers available -- the heavier meat cutting blades and the lighter vegetable choppers (also known as Chinese chef's knives). Both feature an 8 inch (20 cm) rectangular blade made from high carbon steel.
Chefs use Chinese cleavers to separate meat from bone, chop vegetables, crush garlic, transfer food and tenderize meat. The round ends of Chinese cleavers can even be used as pestles for creating pastes. The heavier meat-cutting blades can drive through most bones and sinew, but are not always as effective as saws or traditional butcher knives. The lighter Chinese cleavers can be used in tandem to make short work of vegetable prep. Experienced users are often shown on televised cooking shows demonstrating their amazing knife work with Chinese cleavers.
The blades of Chinese cleavers must be kept very sharp to perform safely. The user curls his or her fingers to protect them from the chopping action and feeds the food to the blade. Chinese cleavers have the added feature of a broad flat surface for scraping and transferring the processed ingredients to the pan. Garlic cloves can be crushed by placing them under the broad side of the cleaver and delivering a sharp blow with the heel of one hand. Chinese cleavers can also tenderize meat by creating hash marks with the dull corner of the upper blade.
Chinese cleavers are generally sold in kitchen specialty stores, mail order catalogs and better department stores. It is important to select a cleaver made from high carbon steel. Regular steel can begin to rust over time, making it difficult to keep the blades sharp and imparting a metallic taste to the food. Professional chefs often talk about a knife's 'balance', the right distribution of weight across the handle and blade. Chinese cleavers should feel balanced in your hand, not top-heavy or awkward. This may be a little too finicky for the average home cook, but it does make a difference when doing a significant amount of food prep. Quality Chinese cleavers should move through the ingredients with minimal effort.
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