In recent times, Chinese food’s gone from one of the world’s most loved culinary creations to one of the hardest to find in the USA.
Thanks to widespread lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, we’ve seen over 50% of Chinese restaurants across the nation close their doors for good during 2020.
So, now that it’s a little more difficult to get your hands on Chinese takeout whenever you want, and traveling to China is out of the question, why not master the ins-and-outs of Chinese cuisine, and make your own?
A Background to Chinese Cuisine
Chinese cooking’s extremely varied and you’ll come across many different varieties as you get to know more about this type of food. Cantonese or Guandong cuisine is most familiar to Westerners but there are also other types of Chinese meals influenced by Muslim, Halaal, south Asian, Szechuan, and Hunan cultures.
Authentic Chinese food has two main parts. The staple part of the dish is usually a carbohydrate like noodles, steamed buns, or rice.
Unlike in Western culture, the ts’ai, or vegetable and meat part of the dish, is more of an accent than the main event.
Xiaochi, or snacks, are one of the lesser-known types of Chinese food. These light meals are often portable and a popular choice for tourists and locals alike.
You’ll find these eats at street vendors and local restaurants alike, but each outlet usually only sells one kind of Xiaochi.
Basic Chinese Cooking Techniques
The real beauty of Chinese cooking lies in its simplicity. So, it’s one of the easier culinary arts for newbies to master.
These are some of the main techniques you’ll need to master if you want to learn Chinese cookery:
Stir-frying is one of the quickest and easiest ways to cook food. It’s best done on a gas stove, but you can use an electric hob if you heat it to a high temperature beforehand.
To ensure quick cooking times, you should slice all your ingredients thinly before you get started with a stir-fried dish. You’ll use a pre-heated wok coated with a dash of oil to prepare these meals.
You cook the meat or seafood portion of the meal first, then fry the vegetables and return the meat to the dish for a few minutes.
Deep-frying creates food with a crisp texture. You can use a deep fryer or a deep saucepan filled with oil to cook food this way.
You simply place the ingredients into the hot oil and leave them there until they’re done.
Cooking food in a bamboo steamer’s one of the healthiest ways to prepare meals. Steaming doesn’t destroy nutrients as fast as the other cooking techniques.
The result is a fresh, delicious, and healthy meal.
If you’re using a tiered steamer, always place items with the longest cooking time on the bottom layer. Keep the water boiling gently throughout the cooking process.
Dumplings are one of the best-known and best-loved steamed dishes in Chinese cuisine. Visit this website to find out more about where to get the best dumplings for your Chinese dishes.
This culinary technique is unique to Chinese cooking and is usually used for tougher cuts of meat.
How it works is that you brown the meat first, then add your spices and broth and cook it very slowly at a low temperature in a slow cooker.
These dishes take hours to prepare and you can serve them hot or cold.
Peking duck’s a good example of a Chinese dish made suing the roasting technique. In traditional Chinese cookery, the chef washes the meat, then places it over a fire so the skin becomes crispy.
After you’ve browned the outer layer, you place the meat in a roasting pan and leave it in a hot oven for a few hours until it’s cooked.
Braising involves placing a small amount of water or broth in a wok. Next, you cut all your meat and vegetables into equally-sized cubes and add everything to the wok.
The initial cooking phase takes place at high heat for a few minutes. all your ingredients and boil it together over high heat for a few minutes. Then you turn the heat down and simmer the ingredients together for about an hour until they’re done.
Common Chinese Ingredients
The above cooking techniques are well within the capabilities of the average chef, so what makes Chinese food so extraordinarily tasty? The secret lies in a host of spices and flavors that help every dish pop.
These are the main ones:
This heady drink hails from fermented rice and you can make it into a popular cooking sauce, called fermented black bean sauce, by boiling the following ingredients together:
- Dried chilies
- Soy sauce
- Brown sugar
- Cooking wine
On its own, rice wine has a nutty flavor that’s perfect for braising meat and vegetables.
This tasty addition to many Chinese dishes boasts a full range of Eastern flavors, namely sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami.
Star anise, cloves, ground cinnamon, Sichuan peppercorn, and fennel seeds are the main ingredients but you also find varieties with extra ingredients like ginger, licorice root, and nutmeg.
Peking duck gets its tangy taste and brilliant color from this spice.
Apart from these classics, there are a number of commercially-produced sauces for Chinese cooking like Hoisin sauce and Oyster sauce. Other important ingredients include rice vinegar, sesame oil, Sichuan peppercorn, soy sauce, and Zhenjiang vinegar.
Food for Thought
Are you ready to start cooking Chinese cuisine or would you rather try something a little more familiar at first? You’ll find there’s plenty on the menu when you browse our website.
Keep scrolling for more about food from all over the world and how to get your hands on some of it.