A man who worked on the ranch gave a cleaver to my husband one Christmas, about 15 years ago. Juan had hand forged the blade from a discarded steel tractor disk and the handle was carved from a white-tail deer antler. It has steel rivets that were fashioned out of some sort of wire, and holds the cleaver tang in the handle. Clunky, funky, primitive, and my husband loves it.
Using a cleaver is something that has gone by the way side in many home kitchens. Personally, my first experience watching a cleaver at work was in a cartoon. Not sure if it was a cat chasing a dog, or vice versa, but it was obvious to me that using a cleaver indicated the user meant business. Like kneading bread, using a cleaver is a great way to channel some of those daily frustrations. CHOP!
Cleavers blades are heavy, so when you use one, your hand only has to pick it up. Gravity does the rest in plopping that sharp blade squarely on your target. And unlike the single whacking action in cartoons, I chop in a very small area, and gently. In fact, if you are new to cleaver chopping, don't show off and try to mimic that single whacking action. No reason to risk chopping something that doesn't need chopping. Like your thumb.
Chopped meat has an uneven surface, and it picks up sauces differently. I think it tastes better. Any meat that I chop has the perfect "toothy" texture, not at all like the paste a food processor produces, nor sliced sheet-like slab of a knife.
I am such a fan of hand chopped meat that Kiko now uses his tractor-cleaver to hand chop all of the pork meat filling every time I make tamales, to give the meat a great texture. I usually make about 40 dozen tamales during the holidays, so that's about 15 pounds of pork. That's a lot of pork to chop, but we both REALLY prefer the results.
Don't forget to put a towel under your chopping board when you are cleaver chopping. Easier on the countertop, and the ear drums. Plus, it gives you a little traction so your board doesn't slip with the force of the chopping.
Below is a quick recipe for Tacos de Pollo en Adobo. I made them tonight for a quick Sunday supper. But quick is relative. This was a fridge-podge recipe, meaning I cleaned out my refrigerator and threw things together to make a meal. Kiko made enchiladas earlier in the week, so I had a bunch of chile puree left-over. I did boil a chicken fresh, but it seemed so blah. Cleaver chopping gives an artisanal touch to plain old boring boiled chicken, taking my fridge-podge to a higher level.
Word Nerd Alert (Avert your eyes, those who prefer to remain un-informed): I was a little curious about the word adobo as it is used across Latin America, Cuba and Puerto Rico to refer to a myriad of sauces and spice mixes. There really isn't one recipe for adobo, but the always seems to be red, and not too picoso (spicy.) I wondered how adobo was related to the word adobe, the traditional mud bricks used throughout the Southwestern U.S. and Latin America. I thought maybe the word was from an indigenous Native American language. Turns out ancient root of the word is from Europe, meaning to slap, paint, plaster or apply. The words adobo and adobe are related to our English words daub, dob and dab. So a sauce is dabbed on a meat (adobo) and a sloppy mud can be slung into a mold (adobe). Interesting.
Tacos de Pollo en Adobo - Chicken Tacos in Adobo Sauce
- Boiled chicken - or any leftover cooked chicken, deboned, about 1 cup per person
- Puree of Chile Ancho - 1/4 cup per cup of chicken (sorry kids, making chile puree is my next blog post. This is pretty important, and makes you such a better cook by know how to do it. So easy, but again, I will explain later this week)
- 1 tbls corn oil per cup of chicken
- Flour tortillas - 3 per cup of chicken (I buy the kind that are raw, that you cook. Unfortunately, I can only find those here on the border of Mexico. Buy what you can find, or better yet, make from scratch)
- Chopped Onions and Cilantro - Better chop these with a chef's knife
Using a cleaver, chop the chicken roughly, until the pieces are about 1/2" cubes. In an 9" skillet, heat the corn oil and add the puree of chile ancho. Stir well, and add a few tablespoons of water to thin the sauce a bit. Salt to taste. Add the chopped chicken, and stir to combine well. Allow to simmer for about 5 minutes. This is even better when made a day in advance.
While simmering, heat the flour tortillas. Roll about 1/3 cup of the chicken in a tortilla. Serve with chopped cilantro and onion.
Tip: Add a bit of chopped pineapple on the side, for an sweet and sour effect.