One of the greatest shows to watch is a Chinese chef slicing, chopping, scooping up and swooshing away ingredients with lightning speed using his wide-bladed indispensable cutting tool: the Oriental chef's knife. Equivalent to the French cook's knife in versatility, it is the Chinese cook's best friend. Often called a cleaver because its wide blade resembles that of a meat cleaver, the Oriental knife is lighter, more balanced and has a sharper edge.
Martin Yan, the popular host of the "Yan Can Cook" television show calls his new Oriental knife product the Ultimate Chinese Chef's Knife ($38). Double riveted in brass, with a slip-resistant grooved wooden handle, the knife is far from being authentic. "The more authentic the knife, the less good it is," said Yan, who spent eight months working on the design of the knife. "This knife is lightweight and bounces easily on the board--its contoured blade allows maximum rocking motion." He advises that the cutting edge should never be lifted above the knuckles. Instead the blade should cut in short, shallow strokes, never a sawing motion.
"An authentic carbon knife often rusts and stains," Yan added. "Chinese Chef's Knife will not because the blade is made of molybdenum and high carbon stain-resistant alloy." Made in Japan, Yan's knife, which is well balanced and extra sharp, is hand-honed to a precise 20-degree V-taper. For the comfort of users who can use the knife for hours without getting a blister from sharp edges touching their fingers, the bolster and the non-cutting edges have been smoothed and rounded.
"It is not a cleaver," Joyce Chen says of her All-In-One Knife, "but an improved version of the traditional Chinese knife." Available in medium 63 millimeter ($24) and large 85 millimeter ($28) sizes, the Joyce Chen All-In-One Knife products have a full tang, with the blade extending to handle length. Heavier than Yan's knife, the Chen knife also features a rounded edge next to the handle to prevent fingers from hurting.
The medium size, which is not as wide as the larger knife, is a popular and practical size for an all-purpose knife. The front end of the blade in both knives serves as an excellent scraper. Made in Japan, the stain and rust-proof knives are made of chrome molybdenum steel.
Damco of Dressler American Marketing Co. has been introducing a variety of professional and consumer knife imports that offer excellent quality at an affordable value. In the Oriental line, two of their most popular products include the full-tang Damco Chinese Knife ($31) and Damco Usuba Knife ($22). The latter is said to be the most prevalent knife in Japan. Both knives are made of high carbon no-stain tool steel with handles that are made from black packa wood (layered wood impregnated with resins).
The eight-inch Damco Chinese Knife was designed by Chinese-American knife designer Al-Mar to fit the Western hand and work style. The blade is slightly convexed on the edge with a very thin tapered grind.
Saying it's now her basic cutting tool, noted cooking school teacher Tomi Ryan raves about the Japanese-style Usuba knife. She fondly calls it "a lady's cleaver" because women can handle it very well. Only two inches wide, the Usuba features a very thin tapered blade that is great not only for light chopping and mincing but also for filleting meat or chicken breasts. "People freeze when they handle a big Chinese cleaver, but the Usuba takes all the fear from handling a cleaver," Ryan said. "It seems to hold an edge quite well, sharpens easily and does not dull quickly."
An interesting fact disclosed by Ryan is that many professional chefs are now buying Chinese knives because of the breakage of the long French knives. "We don't seem to need the length of that professional French knife. The Chinese knife is your whole utensil in one item; it is your spatula as well."
However, like Yan, Ryan advises that the Chinese chef knife should not be used as a meat cleaver and is definitely "not for bones."
Martin Yan's Ultimate Chinese Chef's Knife is available at Williams - Sonoma (South Coast Plaza and the Beverly Center), Kitchen Emporium (Del Amo), Kitchen Corner (La Canada). The Damco Oriental knives are available at Cook's Corner (Brea and Glendale), Cookin Stuff (La Habra and Torrance) and Ingrid's (Ventura). Joyce Chen All-In-One Knife is available at Bullock's, Gelson's and Village Kitchen Shops (Glendora).