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4 Tips for Making Great Chinese Food at Home
Chinese food is one of the most popular ethnic cuisines in North America. There are more than 40,000 Chinese restaurants in the US alone. Many people think that Chinese cooking is difficult and complicated, but it really isn’t. With the right tools and equipment, knowledge of proper techniques and a few tips and tricks, anyone can make delicious Chinese dishes at home.
Let’s take a look at the top 4 tips for making Chinese food at home.
1 – Get the Right Ingredients
While most grocery stores carry some Asian ingredients, they are usually not the authentic high quality ingredients that Chinese cooks would use. If you can find an Asian market nearby, you will find that they have a much larger variety of Chinese ingredients. Typically, Asian groceries and markets also carry better quality foods as well. For example, a good rice wine is essential to many Chinese dishes that you will want to make at home. The rice wine that the average grocery store carries is really not up to par. The same goes for many produce items, noodles, vinegars, sauces and spices.
2 – You Need the Right Tools and Equipment
Most kitchens in China are very small and simple. There are really only a few essential items that you need for successful Chinese cooking. Good, sharp knives are a must. You will be doing a lot of slicing and chopping when you are preparing Chinese dishes, so a good quality knife is important. It is essential that your slices are uniform to ensure even cooking, and many dishes require very thin slices of meat and vegetables. You should be able to get by with just a chef’s knife, a santoku knife, a boning knife, a small knife and maybe a serrated bread knife.
You’ll also want to invest in a wok. A traditional wok with a rounded bottom is not really well-suited for cooking at home. The rounded bottom makes it difficult to heat the pan evenly, so a flat-bottomed wok-style pan is a better choice. Cast iron or high grade carbon steel are the best materials to look for when choosing a wok, as they hold the heat very well and can withstand higher temperatures than the cheaper alternatives.
3 – Learn the techniques
I’m sure you’ve noticed that Chinese restaurants tend to serve the food quite quickly. That’s because most recipes are very quick to make, once you have your ingredients prepared. It actually takes longer just to chop and slice the ingredients, mix up the sauces and get everything ready to go than it does to cook the meal! I’ve learned to make sure everything is completely ready to go before I start cooking anything, or I just end up in a total mess! The main cooking method in Chinese cooking is stir-frying. This is done very quickly over a high heat. You need to keep the food moving constantly in the pan or it will burn very quickly – hence the term, STIR-frying. Steaming is another common method used for vegetables and rice. Bamboo steamers are great for this, but you can get by with any type of steamer. Very few dishes in authentic Chinese cooking are fried or deep-fried, but our westernized version of Chinese food usually includes some deep frying too. After all, what’s a Chinese combo plate without chicken balls, right?
4 – Branch out!
Most of the dishes that we are used to here in America are Cantonese or Mandarin Chinese recipes. Actually, some dishes are purely Americanized Chinese dishes that you would never actually find in China! There are many different regions in China, though, and they all have differences in cooking styles, methods and recipes. Try Sichuan for spicy flavorful dishes. Jiangsu cuisine focuses primarily on meat dishes featuring duck, chicken, pork, crab, seafood, and even turtle! The Fujian region uses many different types of fish and seafood, and Fujian meals are often served in a broth.
These are only a few of the different styles of Chinese cooking. Once you’ve mastered some of the common dishes that you’re used to getting from take-out, try out some of the unique recipes from other areas in China. You’ll be sure to impress your dinner guests with such an exotic menu!
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