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Using a Chinese recipe: Corn and chicken stir-fry 玉米炒鸡肉


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Good point, Lips. And absolutely true.


One generally starts with the meat, and when done, reserves it off to the side while cooking the vegetables rapidly over high heat. Then add back the meat near the end.


The main thing that keeps these simple stir fry dishes from becoming boring is the way the marinades and condiments can be varied to compliment the main ingredients. Plus an imaginative choice of those main ingredients themselves, with an eye to harmonizing textures as well as flavors and colors, can help the dish be lively and interesting.


Most of the time I try to select fresh ingredients that are in their prime; especially vegetables that have hit peak season. The seasons here can sometimes be short, but they are so very bountiful that it's nearly criminal to ignore them.


What I was hoping to do with this current post was to encourage people to try using Chinese-language recipes in order to achieve more authentic results. Maybe start some discussion of other real-China cooking materials and methods.


When I look up Chinese recipes on the English-language internet, I often get things that are very different from what I would ever be served in an unpretentious, home-style restaurant here on the Mainland. You have no idea what bizarre stuff tries to pass for Chinese food in Texas, where I am from.


"Combine the ketchup with the pineapple chunks before adding the sliced franks; hit it with a dash or two of soy sauce and sprinkle Chow Mein noodles on top as you put it in the oven. Serve with iced tea or Diet Sprite for a stunning Chinese feast." (Aaargh! Heaven help me!)


So I had two goals this time around: promoting the use of native-language recipes, and secondly showing folks how to make this simple, tasty one-dish stir-fry meal.

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Beautiful post, abcd! Sadly, I am a vegetarian so cannot try it out, but I think such lessons are valuable for Chinese learners to study. Wish my Chinese textbooks possessed such chapters. 


When you discover recipes, do you usually use Chinese-based media, or friends, or?

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Appreciate your kind comment, Alex_Hart. When I discover a new recipe it's usually triggered by a suggestion or request from a friend who is coming over for a meal or a vendor at the wet market that I've asked how to best prepare the ingredient he or she sells all day long. I consider these vendors de facto experts on their particular food item. And every now and then I'll try something in a local restaurant that I like a whole lot and want to try to reproduce at home.


But the second phase of working out a new recipe, once I've decided what I'd like to try to make, is to research it on the Chinese internet. I do a Baidu search and then study three or four variations on it. I synthesize them and boil them down, taking what look to be the best parts of each, then try out the result in my kitchen, keeping in mind tips that I may have learned directly from the sellers in the market or wise, experienced local friends.


At that point I'm generally able to make small modifications and adjustments to improve it, given my ready supply of fresh local ingredients. Recipes that really turn out great usually showcase a single item harvested and purchased in its prime. If the dish comes out real good, then the next time around I make photos and share the process here on the forum. I want to be sure the meals I post here are reproducible, and not just a one-time lucky fluke.


I've found over the years that every now and then I can find a real good recipe for a Chinese dish in English, such as something from Fuchsia Dunlop or Martin Yan, but that these are the exception rather than the rule. Much of what I find when searching out Chinese recipes in English has been modified for western tastes and loses authenticity by virtue of that adaptation. (I admit to exaggerating slightly here to make the point.)


So thanks again for asking. When you move to Hangzhou, you will probably be able to do something similar, enjoy the process, and post the results here for the benefit of others.

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I've had mixed results myself with English language Chinese recipes, including from such icons as Dunlop. Looking forward to being fluent enough to read Chinese language recipes! 


Agree with you on the local merchants as being experts. Just like you look for a restaurant with a line of locals, you should trust those same locals to know how to make their ingredients shine! 


Do you find Chinese recipes suffer from spice deficiencies? One thing that has always driven me insane is my inability to trust English recipes for their spice (and other flavorings) measurements. Dunlop's spicy SIchuanese dishes are one example, as they never seem to get even halfway to the temperatures of Chengdu dishes. This not only applies to things like chillis, but also to soy sauce and other ingredients. This is true when I use American or European recipes, too, but has always been a particular obstacle in making Chinese dishes as I haven't figured out the palate yet. 

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Do you find Chinese recipes suffer from spice deficiencies? One thing that has always driven me insane is my inability to trust English recipes for their spice (and other flavorings) measurements.


To be honest, that's something I struggle with too, even here using Chinese recipes. The best way I've found to get a handle on it is to watch someone who is an old hand in the kitchen and then imitate. What they usually do is taste as they go along and adjust the seasoning on the fly instead of relying on precise initial amounts. They will also often say, "A little more or less hot pepper is OK, but whatever you do don't over-salt it." Or something along those lines. Lets me know what's critical and what's not.


I've also been surprised that some Yunnan recipes call for very simple flavors with minimal seasoning (in order to let the main ingredients shine) while others call for several dense layers of spices applied on top of each other. The complexity of the desired taste varies a whole lot.


And finally, there's no substitute for having eaten that dish several times before and having attempted making it previously with varying degrees of success. Many of the recipe that I post here are ones that I have messed up the first time or two I tried. Then made adjustments and corrections until I got them pretty much right. 

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Agreed, there is no substitute for tasting! I suffer from over zealous tasting while I cook, but my problems always arise when I try to create a recipe that I've yet to try, or that I'm not sure about cooking. This is especially problematic with something like curry or stews which often mellow out or transform after cooking for awhile. I've taken to doubling or tripling spices and such, but there is always the worry about imposing my own taste profile on a dish.

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