On The Chopping Block

Time spent at cooking schools in Asia proves that all cutting boards are not created equal. Use these tips to pick a winner for you!

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The Chinese Ironwood block from the Wok Shop proved to be the most durable of my test group. I should probably have gone one step farther and bought their heavy-duty model. The top cleaver is another from the blacksmith shop in Foo Li and the bottom from “the knife guy” in the Yangshuo market. There is always a knife guy in a public market if you look hard enough.

If you have ever contemplated buying a Chinese-style cleaver, you have probably found a warning in the box stating that the knife was “for soft food only, not for chopping bone.” While that is true enough of the average Asian cleaver sold in the U.S., spending eight days in the Yangshuo School of Cooking quickly taught me that the Chinese use their knives a little differently.

A large percentage of the dishes we prepared there required chopping and dicing the poultry, waterfowl, fish, and pork, bones and all. Rather than the ultra-thin vegetable cleavers most Americans are familiar with, my instructors preferred a heavier, all-purpose blade that would handle small bones as well as soft materials. It probably goes without saying that several of those locally made choppers came home from China with me!

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Naturally, I then wanted to put my newly learned skills to work. Now I’m a firm believer in quality cutting boards, and the main one in our kitchen is a 2-inch-thick, 18-by-24-inch hard maple block by Boos. Like most standard models, this one is made of long, narrow boards glued together horizontally. When I tried to cleave a whole chicken into stir-fry-sized pieces, I quickly found I was also taking large chunks of wood out of its surface. It seemed like the time for a closer look at chopping blocks.