Preparation / Directions:
While it is not absolutely essential to purchase a lot of exotic Chinese implements for one's kitchen, the author recommends the purchase of a good Chinese cleaver. Like the wok, the Chinese cleaver has been known in China for centuries. There are several types of Chinese cleavers on the market. Most of the ones that are available at department stores or Chinese shops are made of mild steel with either metal or wooden handles. There are ones with 1 1/2" of blade width, others up to 4" blade width. If one wishes to spend the money, it is best to purchase a Chinese cleaver with a 1 1/2" blade for slicing vegetables and another 4" blade one for all purpose work. If one is living on a strict budget and can only afford one knife, it is best to purchase the Chinese cleaver with the 4" blade. In both cases choose knives with blades that can be readily honed to sharpness. There are some Chinese cleavers on the market which have thick blades. These are used for mincing meats or for heavy duty chopping. It is well to buy one of these also, if you already own the above mentioned two.
There are Chinese cleavers made of stainless steel. These are more expensive and are rather difficult to hone to razor sharpness. For these reasons, they are not as popular as ones made with mild steel.
Your Chinese cleaver should be washed and dried with a paper towel. It should be kept as sharp as possible at all times because Chinese cookery requires that most foods be either sliced, diced, shredded, or minced. A knife steel (which can be purchased from most restaurant supply houses) or a fine whetstone is used to keep knives sharp. In sharpening the Chinese cleaver, one should alternate the blade surface as one is honing it against the whetstone. A daily honing of ten or twelve strokes is not too much for your Chinese cleaver. Do, however, store your Chinese cleaver carefully in a drawer so that the blade side is down. Otherwise one could accidentally cut oneself when opening the drawer, if the blade of the cleaver is facing upwards.
In order to use the Chinese cleavers or for that matter, any other groups of sharp knives efficiently, one must definitely have a good cutting board. Breadboards may be used. The only problem with a breadboard is that it is likely to crack if one uses it for mincing meat upon it, Chinese style! If one can afford one, it is best to get a thick, cross-grained laminated hardwood meat board. They cost more but are very durable and will not splinter.
As mentioned earlier, they only other essential piece of equipment that one needs for good Chinese cooking, is a pot for cooking rice. Any pot with a tight fitting cover can be used. If you are cooking a small amount of rice, a small one or two quart pot will do. Most Chinese people prefer to use a heavy gauge pot for cooking rice. The author has taught students to cook rice successfully in stainless steel copper bottom pots, as well as clear glassy Pyrex pots. The chief requirement for a good rice pot is that it has a well fitting tight cover, so that the rice can be properly steamed in it during its cooking process. Automatic rice cookers are marvelous inventions for anyone who eats rice very frequently. In addition to cooking perfect rice every time, an automatic rice cooker does not cause a crust of hard browned rice to form at the bottom of the pot. Some people discard this rice thereby creating wastage. There isn't any wastage with an automatic rice cooker. However some gourmets prefer the first mentioned method of cooking rice, appreciating the delicate toasted flavor that is imparted to the rice from the resulting crust. The author has included instructions for cooking perfect white rice in an ordinary pot at the end of the introductory section of this booklet.
Chopsticks are so inexpensive that it is well to buy at least a dozen pairs. They are usually sold in packages of ten pairs. Besides using them for eating at the table, many Chinese cooks use them for stir-frying or for mixing ingredients. They can be used in lieu of a fork or slotted spoon. They are especially useful for picking out ingredients, either in cooking or in eating.
Currently there are some non-warp wood chopsticks coming from The People's Republic of China on the market. If one cooks a great deal with chopsticks, one might want to purchase a pair of long wooden chopsticks expressly for this purpose. Due to prolonged use in stir-frying in the wok, the tips of the chopsticks acquire a burnt appearance and, therefore, become unattractive for table settings.
There are also plastic and ivory chopsticks, if one desired fancier chopsticks for setting the table. However, food does have a tendency to slide off them and, therefore, more people prefer wooden chopstic