Are you fond of a sneaky Chinese Takeaway? It is one of the most popular cuisines in the UK. What you may not know is that cooking your favourite Chinese dishes at home is fairly quick and easy even if you have minimal cooking skills and no recipe book. As you can see from the various Chinese recipes on the blog, most of the recipes are not really a recipe. You can easily swap the ingredients and just use what you have in the fridge and the store cupboard. Once you have a few of the basic techniques down, you can cook a multitude of dishes and create a meal in minutes.
In order to cook Chinese at home, you need some staple ingredients and some basic equipment.
A nice curved wok is essential for almost all Chinese cooking. One that is made from hammered carbon steel is the best choice as it will heat quickly and evenly. You need to season these woks by wiping it with some oil and heating it up. This will evenly create a non stick coating on your wok. Also hammered woks have dimples. The dimples allow you to keep cooked food on the side of the wok so that you can add raw ingredients in the hot centre. Always pick a wok with a lid as this helps with cooking and steaming. You can also get a non stick wok that is easy to cook with and easy to clean too.
If you don’t have a wok, you can use a large frying pan too.
Lots of Chinese dishes, like bao, fish, vegetables, dumplings, and rice are steamed. A bamboo steamer makes the task easy with the additional advantage of making you look like a pro when you have guests over to sample your creations.
Spatula and Cooking Chopsticks
A specially designed wok spatula is essential for working with the rounded edges of a wok or if you want to cook like the pros, they like to use a round ladel. Cooking chopsticks are far longer than the regular variety and make stirring and adding/removing items really easy.
You will find a Chinese cleaver a great addition to your kitchen for more than just Chinese dishes. Use your cleaver to chop ingredients, peel vegetables, smash garlic, scale fish and tenderise meat. It really is the one essential piece of kitchen equipment that every Chinese kitchen has.
You’ll be using lots of hot oil to deep fry food, using a wire skimmer (or sometimes called a spider) makes drainign the fried food very easy. Not only do you leave the oil behind, you reduce the likelihood of oil burns on your hands.
Most Chinese foods use a lot of common ingredients. Here are some staples you should have in your pantry:
Soy sauce comes in several varieties. Light soy is most commonly used for cooking. Some recipes call for dark soy and this mainly for the colour. Dark soy has more taste, is thicker, and has less salt than typical soy sauce. The richer taste comes from the extra molasses or sugar that is added during the fermenting process. You can use either the Chinese, Korean or Japanese soy interchangeably.
Rice Wine and Rice Vinegar
You need both for Chinese cooking. Rice vinegar is used quite often in vegetable dishes, some fish, and for salads.
Rice wine is used when frying vegetables or braising meat. Pale dry sherry can be substituted for rice wine.
Shitake mushrooms seem to make their way into a huge percentage of Chinese dishes. Buying dried shitakes is the easiest way to have them on hand when the urge to cook Chinese hits. They just take a few minutes to rehydrate when you want to use them in a dish.
Five Spice Powder
Five spice powder is the most distinctive Chinese spice flavour and is used in a majority of dishes from roasted pork ribs to soups. Five spice powder consists of Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, cinnamon, cloves and fennel. (Sometimes black pepper and ground ginger added as well.) You can make your own or you can buy this mix ready to use.
Fermented Black Beans (Douchi)
These are fermented dried soybeans which have a very concentrated flavour. This is the main flavour component in a Chicken in Black Bean sauce.
Peanut oil or cold pressed rapeseed oil works best as both are flavourless and have a very high burning point.
One of the more fun ways to learn to cook a Chinese is through a bit of trial and error. Do a search of menus at nearby Chinese restaurant on a site like Hungry House. Decide on a dish that you would like to make based on what you have on hand. One bonus is that most of the menus you’ll find will have all of the ingredients listed.
Try starting off by cooking your favorite takeaway meal. Some stir fries are very easy to cook. Sweet and Sour pork is a bit more involved as there are a few stages. You have to batter and fry the pork before you make the sauce that coats it. Once you’ve made yoru own, you won’t be ordering takeaway too often.
- Almost all meat that is fried is marinated first. Soy, ginger, and garlic is a good marinade. Any typical marinade works as well.
- Most sauces are thickened with a small amount of corn flour mixed with cold water.
- You will typically season the oil with ginger and garlic before adding the meat and vegetables.
- Spring onions or green onions are added just before the meal is finished cooking.
- Don’t be afraid to add or substitute vegetables.