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Martin Yan is often credited with being a celebrity chef before the concept even existed.
His long-running cooking program "Yan Can Cook" made its debut on PBS in 1982, joining a television roster that featured the likes of Julia Child and Jacques Pépin. But it wasn't long before Yan, with his witty humor and bright personality, cemented himself as one of the greats. He introduced many Americans to the world of Chinese cooking at home, ending each episode with a smile and his signature motto: "If Yan can cook, so can you!"
Since then, Yan has hosted more than 1,500 episodes of the James Beard Award-winning show and released numerous cookbooks.
Recently, the Shop TODAY team called on the accomplished chef to ask him about his favorite kitchen tool — and anyone familiar with the show won't be too surprised by his answer.
"Most people already have pots and pans and even a wok at home, but very few mainstream kitchens have a good Chinese chef's knife," Yan told us. "To me, that’s the most essential and most frequently used kitchen tool in a Chinese kitchen or Asian kitchen."
When compared to a French chef's knife, the Chinese chef's knife (also known as a Chinese cleaver or a cai dao) has a shorter and much wider blade, which allows you to do more than just chop or dice. "You can use it for cutting, slicing, crushing, pressing," Yan said. He added that it can even be used to debone chicken or double as a spatula. Yan said the "all-purpose, functional knife," is the only one he uses in his professional kitchen.
In a previous segment for TODAY, shown below, Yan demonstrated how you can dice garlic and ginger in just seconds using the tool.
While any home chef can benefit from having the knife in their collection, Yan recommended it specifically for anyone who loves Asian cuisine.
Because, unlike in Western cooking, which focuses more on whole proteins, a typical Chinese recipe will require you to cut up ingredients into bite-sized pieces, Yan said. "In a typical Chinese dish, typical Asian dish, whether it’s Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, Korean or Japanese, you want to have a variety of things in one dish — that’s the best way to eat anyway." Whether you're making a stir fry or dumplings, the knife will help you make quick work of chopping and prepping the many ingredients, without having to switch between multiple tools. Then, once all the ingredients are cut up, you can use the knife in place of a bench scraper to transport everything into the pan or pot.
Yan released his own version of the Chinese chef's knife, which is the one that he uses in his own kitchen. But you can also find options from top brands like Wusthof and Dexter-Russell — the latter being a popular choice among Chinese chefs, he said. You can grab Yan's own knife on his website or shop any of the options below.
For more stories like this, check out:
- These 9 new cookbooks celebrate AAPI history and cuisine
- This expert-approved produce saver keeps fruits and veggies fresh for weeks
- You probably need new cutlery — 13 chef's knives and knife sets to shop