Everybody with a kitchen has a decent knife, a cutting board or two, and some mixing bowls. In our column Surprisingly Useful, we’re going beyond these basics and talking to chefs, authors, and food writers about the unexpected kitchen tools they can’t live without.
As any chef knows, running a restaurant can be a rapid-fire balancing act between breaking down cardboard boxes and breaking down entire animals. Peter Cho, the chef behind Portland’s James Beard–nominated restaurant Han Oak, knows this all too well. When he’s not wielding a chef’s knife and carefully assembling the delicate Korean-American dishes he’s known for, Cho relies on a smaller tool to do odd jobs around the kitchen, slicing adeptly through packing tape, rubber-banded bundles of broccoli, and sometimes even pig skin.
So tell me about the kitchen tool you find surprisingly useful?
I have this little X-Acto knife with a snap-off blade for doing little precision cuts. I use it to cut tape for when I label something, or opening up boxes when we’re receiving our deliveries and stuff. As a restaurant owner, especially a small business like I have here, I end up doing all kinds of random stuff. If something needs to be fixed, I don’t have the luxury to just call somebody.
Have you ever used it…to cook?
Sometimes I’ll do a pork loin roast where I’ll leave the skin on, and you have to score it. A super brand-new razor blade is always the best tool for that. You’re trying to score the skin without puncturing it all the way and getting into the fat, so you’re doing a very precise cut. For something like that, I’ll use an X-Acto knife.
When was the last time you used it?
I was doing a pork loin roast for a special. We had gotten half a pig in, and we took the loin off and left the skin on and did a four-rib roast. What I wanted to do was get this nice pork crackling on it. You use an X-Acto knife to score it in little quarter-inch strips, and then you salt it, and it pulls out some of the moisture from the skin. When you slow-roast it, the scored skin cooks and renders out and becomes this awesome pork crackling.
What is it specifically about an X-Acto knife that makes it better for doing that than your average chef’s knife?
It’s just razor-sharp. I try to keep my chef’s knives as sharp as I can, but it won’t be as sharp as a razor blade.
Have you ever thought about buying a scalpel for that?
It’s…not quite that precise, but no. I guess I’ve never really tried buying a scalpel.