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My amateurish Chinese cooking journey


Jan Finster
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Following my thread about must haves for Chinese cooking (https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/62232-what-are-must-have-spices-oils-sauces-to-get-started-with-chinese-cooking/) here is my very first Chinese dish dip.

 

It is a scallion/ginger/garlic dip and I largely followed this gentleman's recipe (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mIaAMIUd6WQ&ab_channel=MadeWithLau)

 

 

[my ingredients: scallions, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, salt; but fried in olive oil [do not hit me for it 😉 ]]

 

I am not sure if I do something wrong, but it was "just ok". What is it supposed to taste like and what do you eat it with?

Somehow I probably would have preferred some sour taste [adding lemon juice or vinegar?] (?)

I have to admit (with considerable embarrassment) I abused it as dip for a German-Mexican-Chinese freestyle-fusion dish:

 

 

 

 

omad3.6.jpg

gingerscallion.jpg

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白切鸡 is mentioned in the video (but he also said it can go with anything). 白切鸡/白斩鸡 is a very popular dish in Guangdong. Every family has its own recipe, but they generally don't use garlic or vinegar, I think. Scallion, ginger, sesame oil seem essential. Other possible ingredients include coriander, light soy sauce, salt, chicken powder, sugar, ground white pepper, the water you just used to cook the chicken...

 

I quite like Cantonese cuisine. Many popular recipes are relatively simple and they tend to prefer 清淡原味.

 

By the way I highly recommend you take a look at an app called 下厨房 (Chinese only interface, available in Google Play Store). It is well loved by natives and laowais alike.

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He doesn't use garlic! And olive oil of course adds a special flavor note that might seem odd here.

 

But the main point I suspect is that learning just how to get ginger and scallions to release their flavor perfectly is an acquired skill. Always beware these videos with professional chefs who of course make it look so easy.

 

Also, he stressed the importance of sesame oil to make the taste right. Did you use pure dark sesame oil with a good fragrance?

 

Note too he uses it with a bland chicken, so the only flavoring comes from that sauce. And Cantonese tend to like sauces that don't overpower.

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On 6/3/2022 at 7:53 PM, 889 said:

He doesn't use garlic!

 

I noticed. But, I found some other recipes that added garlic, so I felt, a little garlic does not hurt.

 

On 6/3/2022 at 7:53 PM, 889 said:

he stressed the importance of sesame oil to make the taste right.

 

Yes, I used it. I still have a bottle of Yeo's sesame oil from my ex (https://www.amazon.com.au/Yeos-Sesame-Oil-Pure-150ml/dp/B003U2C8BY). To be honest, I am not sure I like sesame oil or it turned bad (it expired 2019 🙈)

 

You are certainly right, I should ideally try the gold standard first and then try to reproduce it. Like this, I do not really know if it is an acquired taste or if I am just a bad chef....

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I think you did a pretty good job for a first attempt!

 

I don’t like anything with a strong ginger flavor, so I can’t say much about this particular dipping sauce.

 

When I try to make a new dish, I’m a slave to the recipe. I want to know what it’s kind of supposed to taste like, before I try varying the recipe. I say “kind of supposed to taste like,” because cooking techniques are a big deal in Chinese cooking too. It isn’t just about the ingredients. Cooking techniques can make or break a recipe or anywhere in between.

 

The temperature of the cooking oil and size of the minced ginger matters. It’s probably better to cook the ginger a little more than a little less. I would cook the scallions as little as possible, straddling between barely raw and barely cooked. When scallions are overcooked, they lose that special something that they have, especially in dipping sauces. For minced garlic, I stir fry it in cooking oil passed fragrant to when most of the garlic starts to tan. This is what I look for regardless of the cooking temperature and size of the minced garlic.

 

It’s probably better for beginners to cook ingredients like this separately. Professionals have a precise sense of timing and cooking temperatures that beginners don’t. For example, if the scallions are added to the ginger too early, it’s a problem. The ginger can be undercooked and the scallions can be overcooked.

 

I also recommend trying to stir fry on medium heat and stir frying for longer to accomplish the same thing. Stir frying on high heat is very unforgiving for beginners, especially when we’re talking about 15 sec for this and 20 sec for that. Things don’t get cooked the right amount and as uniformly.

 

Most recipes are very sensitive to the amount of sesame oil. A little goes a long way. I measure it exactly. For example, when I stir fry seedless cucumber, I put in only 0.25 tsp of sesame oil for a whole pound of cucumber. If you’re not sure that you like the amount of sesame oil in the dipping-sauce recipe, you could start with maybe half and give it a taste test. You could always add more afterwards.

 

I’m guessing that a sour taste isn’t what needs to be added to your dipping sauce. But, I don’t know.

 

I think it’s okay to cook in olive oil, as long as you don’t mind or notice the bit of olive taste. You’d probably be far from the only person who cooks Chinese food in olive oil. I tend to buy into the idea that it’s the healthiest cooking oil. Having said that, I personally don’t want the bit of olive taste in olive oil or the bit of peanut taste in peanut oil, which is popular amongst Chinese cooks.

 

So, I’ve chosen safflower oil, which has a neutral taste. It has similar health properties as olive oil in terms of omega 3/6/9. It also costs less than olive oil. (For deep frying at high temperature, I use “light taste” olive oil, which has less olive taste than extra-virgin olive oil and a very high smoke point.)

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On 6/4/2022 at 10:13 AM, MTH123 said:

The temperature of the cooking oil and size of the minced ginger matters. It’s probably better to cook the ginger a little more than a little less. I would cook the scallions as little as possible, straddling between barely raw and barely cooked. When scallions are overcooked, they lose that special something that they have, especially in dipping sauces. For minced garlic, I stir fry it in cooking oil passed fragrant to when most of the garlic starts to tan. This is what I look for regardless of the cooking temperature and size of the minced garlic.

 

 

 

It’s probably better for beginners to cook ingredients like this separately. Professionals have a precise sense of timing and cooking temperatures that beginners don’t. For example, if the scallions are added to the ginger too early, it’s a problem. The ginger can be undercooked and the scallions can be overcooked.

 

This is great advice. I noticed with frying garlic that there is indeed a sweet spot and a "too much" (overfried). So, I guess with ginger it is the same. I have not really paid too much attention to frying ginger before. I did start out only frying ginger like the gentleman in the video recommends, but I have not tasted it before adding the scallion.

 

Also, what others have said about it tasting "mild" or "bland" on purpose it probably true. What else should I expect with "only" scallions, ginger and sesame oil? 

 

Today, I tried it again and a night in the fridge had a positive effect as it seems (or my expectations are lower now 😉

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On 6/3/2022 at 12:40 PM, Publius said:

By the way I highly recommend you take a look at an app called 下厨房 (Chinese only interface, available in Google Play Store). It is well loved by natives and laowais alike.

I used it a lot and often found it useful. Always checked there when trying to understand a new recipe or technique. 

 

The best recipe tip I can give you as an entry-level Chinese home cook is to read several recipes before you start. Research ingredients and methods. Then choose one and follow it. Follow it closely the first time you make it. Follow it literally; follow it slavishly. Don't get artistic or inventive or creative or decide to blend a little of this recipe and a little of that recipe or substitute a couple ingredients to "improve it" or "spice it up" by adding this or that. 

 

Be methodical and mechanical until you can reproduce the recipe reliably. If you were an apprentice, that's what your teacher would demand. After that, long after, you can take liberties with the basic recipe if you wish. 

 

Big Recipe Caution: Youtube is full to the gills of poor, misleading, stupid, crappy, insane recipe videos. You need to be extremely selective and extremely critical in deciding what to use from there, if anything. Youtube people have no scruples. Some ditzy girl with a winning smile can pretend to be your instructor when she has never made the dish before in her life. Or some glamor guy, ditto. Having the Youtube pulpit confers a degree of expertise that they do not possess. Do not follow their advice blindly. 

 

I try to stay as far away from Youtube as possible, especially the English language videos when wanting to know about Chinese food. So often the authors are clueless, criminally clueless, but they come across as knowing their stuff thanks to the "magic" of video. 

 

Stick with one or two sources, from cooks whom you trust. Read written recipes first. Use them the most. Refer to a video if necessary for some small point of technique, such as how fast or slow to stir the sauce in step 3. A picture of that works better than words. 

 

People posting their recipe videos to Youtube have no conscience, zero. They make shit up on the fly to try and appear cool. They want "likes" and they want "subscriptions" and they want "Patreon support" in the form of money, and they want product endorsements. They want popularity. They are dangerous. Beware. 

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On 6/3/2022 at 8:56 PM, 889 said:

After he stressed it'd taste like nothing without sesame oil you used a bottle of three-year-old oil that's been sitting who-knows-where?

 

You didn't invite guests over, I hope.

 

🤣

To test your hypothesis, I bought new sesame oil today. It is cold pressed "western" sesame oil, looks like olive oil and tastes very pleasant :)

mazola_sesamoel.png

 

My old (revolting) one is brown and probably toasted/roasted (?).

Pure Sesame Oil – Yeo's

 

Which type are you guys typically using?

 

Sesame Facts | Kadoya Sesame Mills Incorporated

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On 6/4/2022 at 2:21 PM, abcdefg said:

I try to stay as far away from Youtube as possible, especially the English language videos when wanting to know about Chinese food. So often the authors are clueless, criminally clueless, but they come across as knowing their stuff thanks to the "magic" of video. 

 

Stick with one or two sources, from cooks whom you trust. Read written recipes first. Use them the most. Refer to a video if necessary for some small point of technique, such as how fast or slow to stir the sauce in step 3. A picture of that works better than words.

I know. Youtube looks good. Who knows how it tastes. But it does inspire me more than a book.

 

Any recommendations?

 

I enjoy the following:

https://www.youtube.com/c/MagicIngredients

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCg0m_Ah8P_MQbnn77-vYnYw

https://www.youtube.com/c/MadeWithLau

https://www.youtube.com/c/SchoolofWok

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCeI7ky_Q3SLRRH5Ro-TPzJg

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCV-s8tichDSSc19lUw08kXQ [only for entertainment. I would not follow the recipes]

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On 6/4/2022 at 9:13 AM, Jan Finster said:

Which type are you guys typically using?

 

I use more toasted than untoasted. I use it as a condiment, not as a cooking oil. With very few exceptions, only a little bit, usually near the end of the recipe. 

 

 

 

 

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On 6/4/2022 at 5:05 AM, Jan Finster said:

So, I guess with ginger it is the same. I have not really paid too much attention to frying ginger before. I did start out only frying ginger like the gentleman in the video recommends, but I have not tasted it before adding the scallion

 

If you like eating the ginger itself, then you probably want to cook it until it doesn’t look raw. I bet there are some people out there who like well-cooked or even crispy ginger strips. So, how much you cook it depends on the recipe and personal preference.

 

I almost never eat the ginger itself. I use a technique to get a bunch of flavor out of the ginger and into the cooking oil. I slice the ginger, cook it in cooking oil until its partially dark brown, and remove it. This leaves ginger-flavored cooking oil.

On 6/4/2022 at 5:05 AM, Jan Finster said:

Also, what others have said about it tasting "mild" or "bland" on purpose it probably true. What else should I expect with "only" scallions, ginger and sesame oil? 

 

I’m not the right person to answer this question, because I don’t like ginger that much. Scallions are usually only enhancers. They are easily all-but-drowned-out by a much stronger ingredient like ginger. I would go with a version of the recipe that has as many scallions as possible. Sesame oil is also normally an enhancer, but it’s easy to put too much in and have its distinctive fragrance become overpowering. The recipe has a lot of sesame oil. It has way more than I would dip boiled chicken in and I love sesame oil. This dipping sauce is for people who have an above-average love for ginger and sesame oil.

 

On 6/4/2022 at 5:05 AM, Jan Finster said:

Today, I tried it again and a night in the fridge had a positive effect as it seems (or my expectations are lower now 😉

 

It may have had a positive effect. Quite a bit of salt was added at the end. For most foods, it’s better to put salt in earlier. It dissolves, mixes in, and enhances other ingredients. The right amount of salt at the right time can do wonders for a recipe. I’ll put in another plug for the great book Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat.

 

On 6/4/2022 at 9:13 AM, Jan Finster said:

Which type are you guys typically using?

 

Sesame Facts | Kadoya Sesame Mills Incorporated

 

I didn’t know there were so many choices. I use the one that matches the one in the link below.

  

https://thewoksoflife.com/chinese-ingredients-glossary/chinese-sauces-vinegars-oils/

 

 

On 6/4/2022 at 9:19 AM, Jan Finster said:

I know. Youtube looks good. Who knows how it tastes. But it does inspire me more than a book.

 

Any recommendations?

 

abcdefg provides great advice. But, it is tempting to just go to YouTube, because it helps to see how people prepare and cook Chinese food. When I first started trying to upgrade my Chinese cooking a few years ago, I spent a lot of time on YouTube. I had a pretty good idea what I was looking for, because I had been cooking Chinese food my whole life at between an average and below average level and since I had eaten at plenty of great Chinese restaurants in Asia.

 

I found some decent stuff on YouTube. But, I eventually switched to great cookbooks, which I have found to be far better. Identifying great cookbooks is a whole separate topic. Back to YouTube, the most interesting channels I found off the top of my head were:

 

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3HjB3X8jeENm46HCkI0Inw (Souped Up Recipes)

https://www.youtube.com/c/ChineseCookingDemystified

https://www.youtube.com/c/SpiceNPans

 

They did a good combination of spelling out recipes and showing cooking techniques. By spelling out recipes, I mean telling actual amounts of ingredients. I thought the recipes were good for good Chinese home cooks like my mom and her friends. Actually, my mom and her friends were all better. I wanted better recipes, so I moved on to cookbooks. Here’s a hint. I wouldn’t bother with any YouTube channel that doesn’t have any recipes with Shaoxing Wine. It’s a quick way to weed out channels that aren’t very good, and it’ll save you a lot of time.

 

Beyond YouTube, there is one truly spectacular website. The recipes vary between gourmet and home cooking. It’s by the absolutely fantastic James-Beard-award-winning cookbook author Carolyn Phillips:

 

https://carolynjphillips.blogspot.com/

 

Another helpful website is below. Its recipes are about the same level as the YouTube channels I listed further above. It’s more useful, because it’s easier to navigate a well laid out website. It has a great section on ingredients and which brands to buy. The link above that included for sesame oil is from this website.

 

https://thewoksoflife.com/

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About ginger (slightly oversimplified): Either cut it into extremely thin slivers or a fine dice so that it disappears into the dish as it cooks or slice it in larger "coins" so that you can fish them out at the end. Nothing worse than biting into a big piece of ginger thinking its a carrot. I cut the ginger on a bias so that the oval-shaped coins are larger than they would be if cut straight across; makes them easier to identify and remove after they have worked their magic. I take them out at the end the same way I discard a cinnamon stick or a bay leaf. Or a 八角 star anise.

 

Peel ginger with the back of a spoon. When cooking soups and stews, and removing the ginger at the end, no need to peel it. Just wash it well. Smashing it with the flat of your knife 菜刀 is often enough; don't always need to chop it. (Similar technique to garlic.)

 

Chinese cooking has two kinds of ginger. "Fresh ginger" 生姜 which is recently-dug ginger root, young, tender and full of juice. Good with bland Cantonese chicken dishes. Good in salads. Good with steamed fish. The kind more commonly seen in the US (I don't know about Europe) is "old ginger" 老姜, which is air dried and cured. More concentrated flavor. Fibrous and tough. 

 

792810659_shengjiang-Copysmall.thumb.PNG.79e65d5eebacedaa1438717c5a10e614.PNG1988999482_laojiang-Copysmall.thumb.PNG.e7cc7cdf0fdbf755cfcef8c872296099.PNG

 

This video describes cutting ginger for Chinese recipes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cCK60lhnjIM . It is also often grated. Especially useful in that form for marinades. 

 

Back to Youtube for a minute. Another problem with these videos is that they tend to be too democratic. Most are pitched at the lowest common denominator. They will be criticized as "elitist" and downvoted as "over my head" if they don't assume the viewer knows nothing. They won't get "likes", the channel won't garner many subscribers. 

 

So they may be suitable for gaining a toehold in a subject about which you know zero, and I have used them for that. Later it becomes more difficult to find ones that are worth the viewing time. Difficult to "skim" them like you might speed through a written recipe to see whether or not they are at an appropriate level. Sometimes I watch them first at 1.5 times normal playback speed. 

 

Each Youtube video is a miniature popularity contest and marketing effort. The author is hoping to get Amazon commissions and Patreon dollars and become an "Influencer" with desirable perks from a sponsoring brand. This all too often makes them whores, despite their protestations. I'm not opposed to people being fairly compensated for value delivered, but I don't want it to get in the way of imparting information. 

 

 

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@abcdefgGreat, informative and helpful post! Thank you! The rest of this post is for everyone out there.

 

To make "extremely thin slivers" (or what I call "paper-thin cuts"), you need an extremely sharp knife, and you need to have a cutting technique that enables you to cut paper-thin. I'm not this good. The cutting technique is a skill in-and-of-itself. How to find a knife (or sharpen an existing knife) that can do this is a whole separate topic. How to be able to cut like this using a great knife is also a whole separate topic. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to do this.

 

I like the fine-diced idea much better and think it would work better for me in terms of getting ginger to "melt" into a dish. I know of multiple chopping techniques, which aren't too, too hard to do. I'm also thinking about trying a little food processor or juicing machine.

 

Otherwise, I'll fall back to the "coin" cut method, which I already know how to do and like. But, it only applies to stir-fry dishes or other dishes involving cooking oil.

 

Sometimes I feel like I'm able to get away with cheating with ground ginger, depending on the recipe. In those cases, I use a conversion of 1 Tbsp of grated ginger to 0.25 tsp of ground ginger.

 

abcdefg, this is the first post where the @ way of addressing people showed up. I couldn't figure out how to make it happen again. Would you please tell me how to do it?

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On 6/11/2022 at 3:31 PM, MTH123 said:

abcdefg, this is the first post where the @ way of addressing people showed up. I couldn't figure out how to make it happen again. Would you please tell me how to do it?

 

Sure, I'll be glad to. Type the @ symbol on your keyboard and a dropdown menu will automatically appear. Type the first few letters of the name of the person you would like to quote and the list will become more specific. Once you see the name you are looking for, just click it. Then it becomes part of the post and that person is also notified that he or she has been quoted. That way they will see what you have to say and be able to reply.  

 

BTW, I wanted to say that I'm very glad you came along when you did. The "food and drink" section has been kind of inactive since I moved from China back to the US. Hope you can breathe some new life into it. I'm currently not able to do much Chinese cooking. 

 

https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/forum/11-food-and-drink/ 

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On 6/11/2022 at 4:08 PM, abcdefg said:

BTW, I wanted to say that I'm very glad you came along when you did. The "food and drink" section has been kind of inactive since I moved from China back to the US. Hope you can breathe some new life into it. I'm currently not able to do much Chinese cooking. 

 

Really? Whoa. I'll try some. Ever since I retired a few years ago, my biggest projects have been 1) upgrading my Chinese cooking to sometimes even a semi-gourmet level (like Lion's Head Soup) on top of normal home cooking and 2) learning what people are actually saying in Chinese TV dramas. I only say that I"ll try some, because I haven't stuck to any particular schedule in my retired life. I'm all over the place, especially in these early years of trying to figure out retired life and having some kind of decent plans for my biggest projects, lol. There are so very many things I want to do that I never did before I retired. Again, I will think about ways to contribute to this "food and drink" section. Regardless, you've done such a great job in this section! Super kudos to you!

 

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