March 01, 2022 4 min read
In China, as well as Chinese homes and restaurants worldwide, kitchen knives are typically large and rectangular. Chinese “cleavers” range from ultra-thin slicers to thick bone choppers and are surprisingly versatile. Some of the best Chinese chef’s knives are made by Hong Kong-based Chan Chi Kee, and we’re delighted to be carrying them at Knifewear!
Chan Chi Kee (abbreviated as CCK) has been in business for over 100 years. The company is named after the now-deceased founder, but they continue to be owned and operated by the Chan family. They recently switched from an old-school, embossed stamp for the logo on the blade to a more futuristic laser etching process, but CCK still makes their knives in a time-honoured way.
These classic Chinese chef’s knives have always had an excellent reputation in Greater China and are becoming more well known in the West now, too. Chef Anthony Bourdain bought a CCK knife on an episode of his showThe Layover. A CCK cleaver was featured on Christopher Kimball’sMilk Street, including demos on using it. And Chinese cuisine expert and cookbook author Fuschia Dunlop has been known to recommend the venerable CCK.
When I lived in Hong Kong, people told me that CCK stands out from other Chinese knife makers because of their steel forging methods. I’ve had a middleweight carbon steel cleaver from them for years and have found this claim to be true. It is extremely easy to sharpen and holds an edge well. But it also stains like crazy, so I’ve built up a lovely patina!
Behold, the mighty CCK Kau Kong Chopper!
Compared with other knives, a CCK will typically stay sharp longer than an average German blade but not as long as most Japanese knives. They don’t specify the steel type or hardness, but I’d guess they’re around 57 to 59 HRC. The durability of Chan Chi Kee knives depends a lot on how thick they are, and they make cleavers for every purpose. That being said, they are all hard enough to stay sharp for long periods without being too brittle or prone to damage.
The barrel-shaped wooden handles on CCK cleavers have a through-tang that is folded over on the end. This traditional construction method looks nicely rustic but is supremely practical. The handles are attached very securely but can still be replaced!
The numbers on the blade of CCK knives and many other Chinese-made cleavers indicate the size relative to others in the same line. A 3 is the smallest, 2 is medium, and 1 is large. The largest size is marked as XL. This numbering system is included in the model numbers, too. So the 130X series includes 1303, 1302, and 1301.
In Cantonese, this extremely thin blade is referred to as asong dou or “mulberry knife.” Depending on who you ask, the name is because it’s as thin as a mulberry leaf, or because it can cut food into slices as thin as a mulberry leaf, or because it was previously used to cut mulberry leaves into superfine threads as food for silkworms.
You can use this Chinese chef’s knife to cut all kinds of food, but only things you can chew with your teeth. Chopping hard stuff like bones would chip it. The 1303 is made from reactive carbon steel, which can rust if left wet and/or dirty. That being said, it has a food-safe lacquer on it that will gradually wear away with use and be replaced with a protective patina, which helps make it easier to maintain.
This lightweight cleaver is ever so slightly thicker than the 1303 and is called asiu peen dou or “small slicing knife.” A slicing cleaver is a versatile Chinese chef’s knife good for meat, fish, fruit, veggies, cheese, etc. Just stay away from hard bones, shells, pits, and stems! The 1912 is made from stainless steel, so it won’t rust unless badly abused. This knife is a perfect introduction to the world of Chinese cleavers because it is affordable, easy to take care of, and relatively durable while still providing excellent cutting performance.
The Kau Kong chopper is a beast of a cleaver, and its name literally means “nine rivers knife.” The blade is front-weighted and heavy, but it actually tapers nicely from spine to edge and heel to tip. The back half of the blade is thick enough for chopping fish, poultry, and small pork bones, while the front half is still thin enough to chop meat and veggies. As a light-heavyweight cleaver, it’s a real jack-of-all-trades but master-of-none. Nonetheless, the Kau Kong chopper is definitely not for delicate work! It’s full carbon steel with a lacquer finish, just like the more refined 1303 mulberry knife.
As a Chinese cleaver enthusiast, I highly recommend adding one of these to your collection. If more folks fall in love with these, we may add a few more to our collection. Happy chopping, folks!