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mtpastille

Getting started with Chinese cooking

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mtpastille

I recently moved to Beijing and have only been eating out. As comfortable as it is, I want to learn how to make some dishes at home too. But I don't know where to start. At the moment, I have no pans or pots or chopsticks or bowls or anything. What equipment do I need? What dishes should I start out with? Is there anything I should watch out for when getting ingredients? In short, how does one learn how to cook Chinese food?

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neverending

Yaokong's advice is a good start - this is how I started cooking Chinese food.

One extra thing to bear in mind is how to use a true Chinese wok. True Chinese woks are usually made from carbon steel *without* any sort of non-stick surface like Teflon, meaning that you have to treat them and cook with them a certain way to stop food from sticking, and to stop the surface from rusting. You may wonder "why not just use a non-stick wok then?" but the problem with non-stick woks is that if you cook at high temperatures (and most Chinese wok recipes need really high temperatures) the non-stick coating will peel off. Low-temperature wok cooking often results in comparatively soggy, bland food.

Go see http://asiarecipe.com/woks.html or a similar website to find out how to choose, season and use a wok. It's not the simplest topic, but if you want restaurant quality food it is worth looking at.

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mtpastille

Thanks for the advice, both of you! I went off on a shopping spree today, buying a cheap wok and some other cooking utensils. Tomorrow I'll try my hands at it and see where it takes me.

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skylee

I don't cook, but I know I can if I want to. :mrgreen: (I had to cook when I was a teenager.)

There is this really easy dish called fried eggs. It is no different from its western cousin but if you cook it in a wok it is a Chinese dish. The easiest fried eggs that one can make is to add sliced onions (stir fry the onion first till it turns sweet and soft, then pour in the eggs and stir fry some more), or add green peas, or add chopped luncheon meat, or add cha siu. Stir fry the ingredients together, and voila you get a Chinese dish.

If you put some oil, some chopped spring onion and some cooked rice (which has been put in the fridge overnight so that it is hard and dry) in the wok, stir fry them (break the crumbs of rice with the edge of your stirrer in the process) till the rice jumps up in the heat, and then pour the eggs in and stir till there is no more liquid egg, then you get the simpliest and most delicious fried rice. Season and serve.

Bon appetit. :D

PS - another very easy Chinese dish (well strictly speaking it is not a dish, and probably not Chinese) is to cook yourself some instant noodle. Boil 600 ml of water, put in the noodle and everything else in the plastice bag, stir them in the boiling water till the noodle is soft (not very soft, al dente kind of soft), then serve. I like 出前一丁. Try it.

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xiaocai

Do you read Chinese? If you do, I have some reliable wed sites to recommend. And make sure you buy soy sauce. It is a must for Chinese cooking.

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imron

There are other people who do :D Feel free to share those links.

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abcdefg

I hired a cooking teacher in Kunming. Local lady, speaks no English. She comes once a week. We first go to the market where she helps me learn how to select ingredients. Then we return to my kitchen and cook them up. We concentrate on simple, "family style" dishes. It has been lots of fun and helpful to my daily life.

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liuzhou
Do you read Chinese? If you do, I have some reliable wed sites to recommend.

And if not, there are hundreds of sites in English. There is a list here.

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xiaocai

I just thought that, based on my own experience, the Chinese websites I go are more friendly to people who live in China and will give tips which are not usually mentioned on websites intended for western readers (like using Sichuan-style pickled ginger and chilli pepper, 花雕 instead of 米酒 and unrefined cold pressed canola oil, ingredients which are not that easily found outside of China, to make 鱼香 sauce). Anyways, if you need, I can probably post some simple ones which I've tried myself, easy and healthy. :)

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mtpastille

Thanks everyone for the discussion! I tried my hands at stir-frying some meat and vegetables, and the end result was not inedible. A bit spicy though, but that's just business as usual here in China. Next time I'll let the vegetables ripen in the wok a bit before throwing in the meat, to prevent it from drying up. Baby steps. It's a learning process, I guess.

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yonglin
Next time I'll let the vegetables ripen in the wok a bit before throwing in the meat, to prevent it from drying up.

What kind of meat were you using? I think that the easiest meat to cook with is probably the dark meat of chicken (i.e., the legs and wings), because it will remain juicy and tender even if you cook it for quite a while.

A potential issue with the above technique is that if you cook the veggies first, they might give off quite a bit of water, meaning that the meat will get boiled rather than stir-fried if you add it at the end. Another option would be to cook the meat first, remove it, cook the veggies, and then add back the meat at the end.

However, if you're cooking lean cuts of pork, the white meat of chicken or shrimp without the shell, you may also want to consider some kind of velveting or other type of "starch treatment" before stir-frying. I don't know the exact chemistry, but it seems that the starch cover "seals" the surface of the meat to lock in the moisture, which makes for a huge difference in texture. If you like gong bao ji ding, this recipe illustrates this principle quite well (I use corn starch instead of potato starch).

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abcdefg

I agree with @Yonglin's good advice, above. My approach is similar. I cook mostly for one or two people, and make quick and simple dishes (what in the US could be called "bachelor food.") I buy whatever vegetables are in season here (Kunming) and look good that day at the outdoor market. I avoid the supermarket because their produce is seldom fresh.

Before anything else, I start the rice (in an electric rice cooker.) My rice usually takes about 30 minutes, and I don't fire up the wok until the rice is done.

When I'm making a dish with pork, I slice the meat into fine slivers (肉丝) and toss it in a small bowl with some 小粉. (Xiao Fen -- similar in use to corn starch, but more easily available in China.) Then add enough Shaoxing wine 绍兴酒 (or other "yellow" cooking wine) to make it moist. Let it stand and marinate while I prep the vegetable (wash and cut it up.) The timing of this step is not critical.

Then I cook the meat (do it first; before the vegetables.) Add it to the hot wok right after the dry ingredients (which here in Yunnan means red chili peppers, garlic, and ginger most of the time.) Cook the meat quickly over high heat and take it out when it changes color (stops being pink.) It is ready in a matter of seconds, not minutes.

Clean the wok with water (but no soap) while it is still hot. Dry it over heat (so the oil won't splatter,) add oil, cook the vegetables. When the vegetables are almost done, add back the meat. If the dish needs liquid seasoning such as soy sauce or oyster sauce, add it when the vegetables are nearly ready. You can add a pinch of salt, but be careful not to use too much because the soy sauce is salty.

This is sort of a basic meat and vegetable stir fry "core recipe" and can, of course, be varied to taste. I buy corn oil or peanut oil. If you buy cheap rapeseed oil 油菜油, it has a strong flavor that will make all your food taste the same.

If you want less fuss, you can make a lot of things in a rice cooker alone. I think there is a thread on that elsewhere here in this forum.

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abcdefg

Forgot to mention it in the stir fry discussion above, but when you finish cooking, run some water into the wok and let it stand in the sink while you eat. Makes clean up easier.

Remember that "simple is good" when doing this sort of cooking. It's tempting to try to make things too complex but if not done right the flavors can compete instead of complementing each other. Also start with only a little seasoning. If it's not enough, add more next time. Let the basic ingredients shine.

Hope the original poster is now turning out some successful dishes at home.

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xiaocai

Another veggie I've found suitable for stir-fry is broccoli. The steps and ingredients will be similar to those mentioned in yonglin's post, but I have some small tips you may want to have a try. For dry seasonings, I normally use garlic and dried little red shrimps. Slice the garlic finely, and pre soak the slices with cold water for 10 minutes then squeeze out the excess water, this can prevent the garlic from turning brown and black too quickly when fried. The shrimps are optional if you don't like the smell, but if you do, just soak it with 花雕 for about 20 minutes and drain the excess wine, and it is ready to use. Cut broccoli into bite size blocks, pre boiling not necessary. Heat the oil and fry the shrimps first until fragrant, then garlic. when the garlic slices turn light brown, add in the broccoli. When the colour of broccoli becomes brighter and the texture slightly softer, sprinkle on about 20ml of cold water then cover the pan with a lid and lower the fire to medium. When the water is almost gone, add in soy sauce and oyster sauce and stir well, cook for another 30 second and it will be ready to serve. Alternatively, if you prefer it to be soft and tender, add in about 100ml of light corn starch water, cover the lid, boil it down until thickened, turn off the fire and add 鸡精. You can add other spices like chilli or 花椒, but from my personal experience I think it is best with lighter seasoning.

For 芥蓝菜, I think the easiest way to cook it is 白灼. Trim excessive leaves and root part of the 芥蓝菜, then boil it in water until soft. Finely slice a clove of garlic, a bit of ginger and green onion. Lay the cooked 芥蓝菜 in a plate and top it with seasoning. pour some 生抽/light soy sauce over (to taste). Heat about 15ml of canola oil (I used 茶树油 once and it was very nice, give it a try if you can find it) until very hot, then pour it over the seasoning onto 芥蓝菜, and the dish is ready to serve. If you like it spicy, add some finely sliced fresh red chilli in the seasoning. a few drops of sesame oil can be added too when you use refined canola oil to enhance the flavour.

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abcdefg

#16 -- Those both look delicious. Maybe I can try one of them tomorrow.

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xiaocai

Please let me know how they turned out. Also, don't need to be too exact on measurement, I'm also not very good at it either.

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abcdefg

#18 -- Made the gailan 芥蓝菜 tonight. Delicious!

I boiled the vegetable very quickly so it would still be slightly crunchy. (I've done it in a steamer before.) Used about half corn oil and half fresh ground sesame oil. Heated the garlic and ginger in the oil before pouring it over the gailan. Added one long dried chili (broken into thirds) to the oil as well (required in Yunnan.)

The outdoor wet market down the street has a stall which grinds fresh sesame seeds into oil every day. One can buy oil ground from toasted seeds (dark) or oil from ground un-toasted seeds, which is light in color and milder in flavor. I've been using both a lot this year.

Gailan is cheap here in Kunming. Bought a big bunch for 2.5 Yuan today.

Thank you for the recipe. I've used that 白灼 technique with wusun as well. (Snapshot attached. The slipper is to indicate size. I don't advocate cooking it.)

post-20301-0-22354200-1337783031_thumb.jpg

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xiaocai

Yes, slipper and tabloid full of fraudulent ads of cure for haemorrhoid, so much about cooking. :D I used to go to Kunming a lot, I like the food there because it reminds me of home and they always have so many fresh veggies and fruits all year round. And the freshly made sesame oil sounds good too...

Today I tried the traditional 四川 dish 干煸四季豆, not as healthy but if you prefer dishes with a richer flavour, you should give this a try.

四季豆/green beans is rather thick can be toxic when not thoroughly cooked, so the first step is to deep fry it. Deep fry it with canola oil until the skin the slightly wrinkled. Drain the oil well and remove the excess oil with paper towel. Prepare garlic and ginger like in #16, gently fry then add some finely chopped 梅菜. Personally I like 宜宾碎米芽菜, a specialty of my hometown. You may also add in dry chilli rings and 花椒 if you want it spicy. Mix the seasonings well and stir fry until fragrant, then add 50g pork mince. You can pre marinate the mince with 花雕 and a bit of sesame oil; soy sauce and salt is normally unnecessary as the 梅菜 is often salty. Keep frying until the mince is browned, then add in the deep fried 四季豆, mix well and then add in soy sauce, sugar and keep frying until the skin of 四季豆 becomes a bit dry and, voila, 干煸四季豆 is ready to serve.

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