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The Mandoline Isn’t a Fancy Chef’s Tool—It’s a Kitchen Staple

The Mandoline Isn’t a Fancy Chef’s Tool—It’s a Kitchen Staple

[Photographs: Vicky Wasik] I use a mandoline to slice vegetables more often than most home cooks—maybe five to six times a week—and yet I know that I use a mandoline far less often than I should. Mostly that’s because I have a bit of a […]

Dry-Brining Is the Best Way to Brine Meat, Poultry, and More

Dry-Brining Is the Best Way to Brine Meat, Poultry, and More

[Photographs: Vicky Wasik unless otherwise noted] Should I brine my turkey? It’s a question that comes up every year around the holidays, but that’s not the only time brining is an important kitchen question, nor is turkey the only meat to which it’s relevant. Here […]

The Chinese Cleaver Is a Serious Contender for Best All-Purpose Kitchen Knife

The Chinese Cleaver Is a Serious Contender for Best All-Purpose Kitchen Knife


Using a carbon steel Chinese cleaver to split beef short ribs between the bones; the knife can slice through meat but isn’t intended to break through tough bones.[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

You know you’ve worked in a profession for a long time when you relearn something you used to know without initially realizing you used to know it. That happened to me a few weeks ago, when Fuchsia Dunlop spent the day in our test kitchen to shoot a few videos about Sichuan food and promote the revised edition of her masterful cookbook on the subject.

She brought her own knife, a carbon steel Chinese cleaver, and set to work finely shredding ginger, mincing garlic, and cutting beef tenderloin into paper-thin sheets. I watched, I marveled at her skill with the knife, and we talked about it—why she loves it, how versatile it is, how it needn’t be limited to Chinese food.

It all seemed new to me. And then, slowly, I began to remember that it wasn’t.

I am, or at least I had been, well aware of the virtues of the Chinese cleaver because I had used one every day for several months while working in a French restaurant about fifteen years ago. I loved that knife, but over time, I reached for it less and less as new knives entered my life. Fast-forward to my time working at Serious Eats, where more knives pass through my hands than I can keep track of (thanks in large part to the equipment reviews I write), and my brief relationship with the Chinese cleaver faded away. I’ve spent so much time in recent years debating the relative merits of Japanese and Western knives, which tends to be where the conversation is focused among knife enthusiasts in the United States, that I’d forgotten this third option and just how rightly it belongs in the running.

I went home that night after filming with Fuchsia and found my old cleaver at the bottom of my extra-knives drawer at home (yup, I have an entire kitchen drawer for the knives I don’t use). There it was, the Dexter-Russell stainless steel cleaver that had at one point been in my palm nearly twelve hours a day, six days a week. It reclaimed its space on my cutting board and has been getting some overdue attention after years of neglect.

I also ordered a Chinese cleaver in carbon steel, a knife material I’m very fond of, and have been using it at work. (Carbon steel is more prone to rusting, but it is often easier to sharpen than stainless.) Sho, it turned out, was similarly inspired and grabbed a different carbon steel option, coincidentally from the same online knife merchant I used. Which is to say the Serious Eats culinary team has gone from zero Chinese cleavers in active use to several practically overnight.

The main question I’ve been left with is why I ever let this style of knife, called a caidao in China, fall out of use and then memory, given how good it is.

One thing to make clear about this type of Chinese cleaver is that it’s not really a cleaver. In fact, calling it a “cleaver” is a bit of a misnomer. Yes, it’s shaped like a cleaver, but in use, it has nothing in common with those thick, bone-crushing butchers’ knives. (There is a thicker and heavier Chinese cleaver intended to break bones called a gudao, but that’s a different knife.)

You wouldn’t want to use one of these to hack through even the smallest bones; the blade is large, but it’s thin and delicate. Instead, it should be used for the types of tasks you might reach for a Western chef’s knife or Japanese santoku to do: dice, mince, and julienne vegetables; chop herbs; and slice boneless fish and meats, both raw and cooked.

A Chinese-style cleaver

A Chinese-style knife made in Vietnam; this is the one Sho bought.

The form of the Chinese-style knife takes some getting used to compared to Western and some Japanese knives—your hand is higher, the balance is different, and the blade has a minimal (and in some cases no) curve—but with practice, you can adjust to it. Eventually, it becomes clear how deft such a large knife can be.

You’re less likely to use certain cutting techniques that are common to Western-style knives, such as rock-chopping, where you seesaw the blade back and forth along its curvature while keeping constant contact with the cutting board; the Chinese cleaver doesn’t have enough of a curved blade for such back-and-forth rocking. And while it can be used to slice foods by drawing the blade along the food, it lends itself to push-cutting, where you come down on the food vertically using more of a chopping motion. (Chinese knife skills could fill a book of their own, though Fuchsia gives a brief discussion of the basic techniques in her book.)

One of the very best things, at least to my mind, about a Chinese cleaver is that it doubles as a bench scraper. If you’ve been a longtime Serious Eats reader, you know that we constantly recommend a bench scraper, such as this one from Oxo, to transfer prepped ingredients from the cutting board. Thanks to its large profile, the Chinese cleaver has more than enough real estate to scoop up a chopped onion and deliver it to its destination.

This doesn’t fully replace the need for a bench scraper, since I wouldn’t advise using the knife to scrape up stuck-on food bits from a dirty work surface, but it still offers much greater efficiency: Not having to put down a knife and pick up a bench scraper every time you need to transfer something ends up saving a lot of time in the long run.

The question now is whether this knife will reclaim its top position among my vast knife collection. I’m guessing it won’t at work, if only because it might confuse readers to see a Chinese cleaver being used out of context with no explanation. Having the first comment on every recipe I write be, “What’s the deal with that cleaver?” isn’t really my goal. At home, though, I suspect my Chinese cleaver will be in the regular rotation from now on, not necessarily replacing my chef’s knives, gyutos, and santokus, but rounding them out. Though who knows? Maybe it’ll take over, and I’ll eventually forget that all those other knives were once a part of my daily cooking ritual. Until I eventually rediscover them fifteen years later.

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Authenticity? These Filipino Chefs Aren’t Concerned

Authenticity? These Filipino Chefs Aren’t Concerned

[Photographs: Vicky Wasik, unless otherwise noted] Dishes like this pork soup with sour tamarind feature the pungent, sharp layers of flavors that characterize Filipino cuisine. Alexa Alfaro was in the fifth grade the last time she spent a summer visiting her father’s family in the […]

Pancit Palabok (Filipino Noodles With Smoky Pork and Seafood Sauce) Recipe

Pancit Palabok (Filipino Noodles With Smoky Pork and Seafood Sauce) Recipe

[Photographs: Vicky Wasik] This Filipino noodle dish is a seafood- and pork-lover’s dream. The rich, thick sauce is layered with flavor, starting with a base of chicken-and-shrimp stock, and followed by crab paste, the juices from shrimp shells and heads, and flaked smoked fish. The […]

Sinigang na Baboy (Filipino Pork in Sour Tamarind Soup) Recipe

Sinigang na Baboy (Filipino Pork in Sour Tamarind Soup) Recipe


[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

This rich and tart stew is one of the classics of the Filipino kitchen. Many variations exist, but this one features tender chunks of pork in a broth made sour with tamarind and calamansi (a type of citrus) juice. Hearty vegetables like taro and daikon radish add heft while others, like roasted green beans and (optionally) okra, garnish it. All of the specialty Filipino ingredients in this recipe can be ordered online, including bottled calamansi juice, though frozen calamansi is even better, so if you live near a Filipino market, we recommend shopping there.

Feel free to use this recipe as a jumping-off point. A fish version can be made by stewing salmon heads, collars, and steaks in place of the pork. You can also play with other methods of souring the soup instead of the tamarind; rhubarb, lemon, guava, or tomatillo each would add an interesting twist.

A collage of some of the products called for in this recipe

Some of the ingredients you’ll need to make this recipe, clockwise from top left: tamarind soup mix, taro root, frozen calamansi juice, fried garlic, daikon radish, tamarind concentrate.



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Cyber Monday 2019: The Best Deals for Your Kitchen and Home

Cyber Monday 2019: The Best Deals for Your Kitchen and Home

And just like that, it’s Cyber Monday! We’re excited to see that a few good deals from Black Friday are still available, plus a whole slew of new deals for some of our favorite pieces of equipment and review winners. Whether you’re outfitting a new […]

Your Thanksgiving Friday Moment of Zen

Your Thanksgiving Friday Moment of Zen

Not sick of birds, we hope. [Illustration: Biodiversity Heritage Library] You did it! Another week down! We’re putting up a post very much like this one every Friday afternoon, to celebrate the fact that the week is done. Even on Thanksgiving week! Down with working […]

Lemon and Ricotta Join Forces in This Tart and Tangy Cheesecake

Lemon and Ricotta Join Forces in This Tart and Tangy Cheesecake


overhead shot of a lemon cheesecake topped with candied lemon peel

Broadly speaking, I don’t often publish recipes for minty, citrusy, or nutty cakes and cookies, since these flavors are easily achieved using essential oils, extracts, and flower waters rather than technique. Any cake can be an almond cake if you’ve got the right extract!

When I make exceptions to this rule, it’s for recipes that offer a more holistic approach—for example, a coconut layer cake made with aromatic coconut oil, coconut milk, and ground coconut, rather than extract alone.

slice of ricotta lemon cheesecake

That’s the angle I decided to take here. The result is a lemon cheesecake that owes its complex flavor profile to freshly squeezed juice, grated zest, essential oil, and flower water. That combination creates layers of acidity, flavor, and aroma that give the cheesecake a lemon flavor that isn’t too astringent, bitter, or harsh.

While these ingredients could certainly be incorporated to taste in my classic New York-style cheesecake, I wanted to match the light and refreshing qualities of lemon with a cheesecake that would be a little more cottony and light, rather than creamy and rich. Which brings us to the secret ingredient: ricotta.

side by side comparison of two ricotta styles, one grainy and coarse, the other creamy and smooth

Ricotta can be a tricky ingredient to work with, as its flavor, texture, and appearance (not to mention its composition in terms of moisture, fat, and protein) can vary so widely from one brand to another, resulting in a cheesecake that’s hardly ever the same from batch to batch.

And yet those different expressions needn’t be a bad thing; so long as the recipe is rooted in a good-quality ricotta that you love, the results will always be delicious. What’s important is to use a brand of ricotta you absolutely love; if you find one that feels grainy or chalky, it won’t get any better in cheesecake form. So play the field; try some different styles, and know that my brown butter ricotta cookies CAN transform grainy ricotta into great cookies, so there will always be a home for the brands that don’t make the grade for cheesecake.

Having tested more than a few brands for this recipe, my favorites have been Murray’s and Bel Gioioso (both found in the deli section of my local Kroger, rather than in the dairy case), Calabro, and White Rose. On my last visit to New York, I also scored a few tubs of sheep’s whey ricotta at Sahadi’s from The Ricotta & Cheese Factory. We don’t brand-shame on Serious Eats, but two of the most readily available organic ricotta brands here in the US both proved to be abysmally gritty.

making gingerbread cookie crumbs

The true foundation for this cheesecake is the crust, which you can create with almost any sort of cookie crumb—provided you like the idea of how it sounds with lemon. My personal favorites have been homemade gingersnaps, gingerbread, lemon-ginger creams (wafers only), Biscoff-style speculoos cookies, and homemade graham crackers, although store-bought or gluten-free alternatives to any of these options will work equally well.

For me, the sharp note of spice in gingerbread is the perfect note of contrast for lemon at any time of the year, but it’s a particularly convenient option if that’s something you bake often around the holidays. Whatever type of crumbs you choose, simply combine them with a little melted butter and a pinch of salt in the bottom of a cheesecake pan.

Adding melted butter to the cookie crumbs in a cheesecake pan to prepare the crust

Here, I’m using my signature eight- by four-inch loose-bottom pan from LloydPans, but this recipe is more flexible than some of my others in terms of the exact pan involved. I do find the loose bottom–style to be the most convenient for unmolding, and I like how the added height of a four-inch pan keeps this cheesecake so creamy and thick.

Unlike my other recipes, I like preparing this one in a 14-cup food processor; its blades effortlessly emulsify the cream cheese and ricotta without aeration while better distributing the bits of zest (which tend to get stuck along the paddles of a stand mixer).

Preparing the cheesecake batter in a food processor

A food processor also slashes prep time for the batter down to about 90 seconds; just blitz the cheeses, sugar, and flavoring together until smooth, then quickly pulse in the whole eggs, and pour the batter into the prepared pan.

pouring the creamy cheesecake batter into the prepared pan

To keep the cheesecake’s texture dense and thick, I bake it low and slow at just 225°F, which obviates the need for a water bath, further simplifying the recipe. The cheesecake’s ready when it’s bouncy and firm to the touch around the edges, although a little wobbly in the dead center, with a pale color throughout.

This translates to an internal temperature of about 155°F, which generally takes me about three-and-a-half hours to reach, but the exact timing will vary depending on your cheesecake pan and the accuracy of your oven, so keep a close eye on the cheesecake as it bakes and pay more attention to the physical cues than your clock.

Detail of a lemon cheesecake with a single slice being lifted from the whole

Once the cheesecake has fully cooled, it’s a cinch to unmold from a loose-bottom pan: just place it over a large jar or can and slide off the sides. To play up the lemony flavor, try serving it with a sprinkling of candied lemon peel or spoonfuls of your favorite jam. If you’re feeling fancy, my fruit syrup for ice cream serves nicely as a glaze, and around the holidays, the cranberry jam from my cranberry trifle is a bang-up topping for a lemon cheesecake, too.

Taking a bite from a slice of lemon cheesecake

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Lemon-Ricotta Cheesecake Recipe | Serious Eats

Lemon-Ricotta Cheesecake Recipe | Serious Eats

[Photographs: Vicky Wasik] This is, first and foremost, a lemon cheesecake—its bold flavor originating with grated lemon zest and essential oil working in tandem, with the zippy brightness of freshly squeezed lemon juice, and the mellow citrus fragrance of orange blossom water to tie everything […]