Wok This Way: Cooking Chinese
Editor's Note: To non-SA Goons With Spoons visitors. This is a transcription of a forum post by Gravity84 and others. It is presented here as a learn to cook Chinese food portal/guide and may grow over time. The original post is full of questions, suggestions and back and forth discussions. This kind of thing is sadly not quite as fun on the more static wiki format but I've done my best to recreate what I can here.If you're interested in keeping up with us all more often I suggest registering at forums.somethingawful.com and coming to visit us in the GoonsWithSpoons forum.
As of right now this is NOT meant as a catch all category for chinese recipes (see The Chinese Category for that)
And now, over to Gravity84
Growing up Asian in the Silicon Valley during the dot-com era, I was exposed to a lot of really good Chinese food. Be it at a local joint with the family after church, at a family friend's banquet wedding, or at a friends house for dinner, by the time I moved away from home, I had some very high standards for Chinese food, and really wanted to be able to reproduce it myself.
- 1 Recipes and Guides
- 2 The Pantry:
- 3 Tools:
- 4 Slicing meat thin
- 5 Notes:
Recipes and Guides
Recipes without Photo(s):
These are other recipes contributed to the thread from a personal blog, go check them out.
- Cold Noodles
- Spareribs (紅燒排骨 Hong Shao Pai Gu)
- Onion Pancakes
- Yuan 汤圆 (Glutinous Rice Balls)
Sauces and Oils:
- Light soy sauce
- Most soy you buy in grocery stores is sort of halfway between a light and dark soy based more closely on a Japanese variety, a sort of jack of all trades master of none, soy. There really is a noticeable difference between light and dark soys. Light soys are thinner and are used mostly for adding salt and “umami” without adding color, great for light gravies, chicken or seafood dishes, or for dipping. It is a younger soy and the best quality ones (Touchōu) will come from a first pressing, very similar to extra virgin oils. Swirling a bottle will not result in heavy coating of the glass.
- Dark soy sauce
- Dark soy is an older, thicker soy. It usually has molasses added. Swirling a bottle will result in coloration and coating of the glass walls. It is usually added to beef and pork dishes due to its richer flavor and darker coloring.
for both light and dark soy I like Pearl River Bridge brand
- Oyster sauce
- A dark, viscous, savory sauce made from oysters. Used a lot in stir frys.
- Toasted sesame oil
- An aromatic flavoring oil usually used to finish a dish.
- Chili sesame oil
- Sesame oil infused with chilies.
- XO sauce
- A relative newcomer to Chinese cuisine. XO sauce is indicative of the Hong Kong style cooking. It is comprised of dried seafood such as abalone, scallops, and shrimp, cooked with chilies and aromatics in oil. It can be made at home, as well as bought in a jar. I have not made it myself, but plan to in the future. Due to the price of raw ingredients, most people may be better served buying it premade. Taste is salty, spicy, seafood-y.
- Fermented black beans
- Not to be confused with Latin American black beans, these are salted, fermented soy beans. Often comes in a jar or a can. Taste is sharp, salty, a bit pungent. You can also buy premixed “black bean sauce” but the flavor of these isn’t as good.
- Garlic chili paste
- chili garlic sauce, it is a fairly spicy fresh chili paste with garlic (hence the name). Used a lot in Sichuan food, as well as a table condiment. It is very similar to Sambal Oelek and can be used interchangeably.
- Shaoxing rice wine
- Chinese cooking wine, usually added to marinades as it tames rough gamy or fishy flavors. Oft substituted with dry sherry, I find that it is worth hunting for.
- Sichuan flower pepper, prickly ash
- Contrary to the name, flower peppers are not related to peppercorns or capsicum in any way. They are a member of the ash family and are “hot” in a different manner than both peppercorns and capsicum. They are tongue numbing. Flavor notes are like rounded citrus tones.
- Star Anise
- A star shaped spice that is very similar to anise in flavor (go figure).
- “Five spice blend”
- A blend of cloves, star anise, flower pepper, fennel seeds, and cinnamon. Can be bought as a preground blend, but is much better if you use whole spices and grind fresh each time you need it.
- Monosodium Glutamate. Makes Stuff Good. Contrary to what your crazy health nut aunt told you, MSG is no worse for you than salt. Also contrary to what she told you, they have also never conclusively shown that there is such thing as an MSG sensitivity.
- Not to mention glutamates are naturally found in things like mushrooms, meat, and seaweed, but “MSG sensitive” people don’t avoid those, do they? You can usually find MSG in little bottles or in plastic pouches at asian markets
While many people believe that monosodium glutamate (MSG) is the cause of these symptoms, an association has never been demonstrated under rigorously controlled conditions, even in studies with people who were convinced that they were sensitive to the compound.
- Like the French mirepoix, or the Spanish sofrito, the Chinese have an aromatic gastronomic trinity as well. Yuxiang consists of the blend of garlic, ginger, and scallions. In Sichuan food, the trinity is garlic, ginger, and chilies.
- The large, thin, carbon steel or cast iron cooking vessel of choice in much of Chinese cooking. Proper use of a wok implies face rippingly hot heat, therefore WOKS SHOULD NOT BE TEFLON COATED. Look for a wok that is thin and has a metal or wood handle, often welded or bolted to the wok body. Do not get a wok with a plastic handle. Woks are authentically round bottomed, however if you cannot use a wok ring, or must use an electric range, get a flat bottomed wok. Spergers will rant at you for it, but it's better than nothing, and certainly better than nonstick "woks". Like cast iron cookware, woks need to be seasoned. Watch this: []. The surface chemistry of proper wok seasoning requires oil to plasticize on the surface. Some methods tell you to just swirl oil around in the wok, dump excess, and heat to high temp for long periods of time, but this method results in an uneven seasoning (it will eventually even out over time, though). The oils will bead and harden into droplet like structures on the surface of the pan. With the paper towel method, you are constantly redistributing the oil across the surface of the pan in a thin layer, preventing the droplets from forming. You aren't actually baking the paper into the wok. A properly seasoned wok, used correctly, will be moderately nonstick. Things wont slide around like an ice rink as on Teflon, but you should have some nonstick properties. Use the highest intensity heat source you can. Many gas ranges have a “quick boil” burner, use that. Those with electric ranges, you may want to consider buying an outdoor setup. One way to get around lack of power is to cook in smaller batches and in steps, being sure to fully heat up the wok between batches/steps.
The Wok Spatula
- It is useful to have a proper wok spatula. They have longer handles and are made out of wood or metal. I like using wood ones. The bottom edge is curved like the bottom of a wok, and the surface area of the spoon section is large, allowing for efficient stirring.
- You can also use your wok to steam. In order to do this you will need to pick up a bamboo steamer. They are pretty cheap at Asian markets. Unless you can get profuse amounts of steam, you really shouldn't stack these any higher than 2 or 3, as the temperature of the air/steam will drop the higher you go in the stack. Relatively recently, food celebrities warn against the use of bamboo steamers, worrying about cross contamination. I say they are just being dumb. Bamboo steamers in use are constantly full of 212F steam, and you should be washing them afterwards. Just spray down with a star san solution after, wipe it down, and let it dry.
Slicing meat thin
- When I was learning how to cook Chinese food, one of the first things I had to figure out was how to get meat sliced thinly. My favorite Chinese places growing up had meat that was nearly ribbon thin. As I started figuring out techniques and recipes, one thing that escaped me was how to get the meat as succulent as the best restaurants I’ve been to. One part of this succulence is cooking the meat as quickly as you can, achieved not only with infernal heat but with thinly slicing the meat as well (there are other tricks, too). In order to slice meat thin, place it in the freezer for half an hour to 45 min. The meat should be slushy and hard, but still pliable, and not frozen through. Then use a cleaver and slice against the grain.
The usual marinade
- Many stir fried meat dishes start out the same way. Slice meat thinly then marinate in a mixture of shaoxing wine, light (or dark) soy, sesame oil, cornstarch, a bit of baking soda (optional), and minced garlic and ginger. Baking soda is optional. It helps to tenderize the meat. I only use it with tougher cuts of beef and pork, I don't bother with tender cuts or chicken and seafood. The meat should not be swimming in marinade, actually, it should be quite dry. I never measure this step, but if I had to just estimate right now, for about a half pound of meat I’d say: 1 tsp cornstarch, a pinch of baking soda (if used), a small splash of soy, small splash of sesame, small splash of shaoxing, 1 minced clove garlic and an equal size piece of ginger, minced. If you are cooking chicken or seafood, use light soy. Use dark for beef and pork. Mix through. Marinate for 15-30 min.
Mise en place
- A French term meaning “everything in place,” I would say that it is one of the most important things to making good Chinese food. Mise en place in this context means to have all of the ingredients for a certain dish prepped and chopped and ready to be cooked, all easily accessible and within reach before you even start heating the wok. Many stir fried dishes should take less than 3 minutes to make once you start cooking. Stopping to chop something or find a bottle of sauce could prove to be detrimental to your attempt. I go so far as to take all the lids off the bottles and jars and put spoons in the jars before I start cooking, so I don’t have to leave the wok at all.
Ready…set…go! The usual method
- Fire it up! Turn on your hood vent. Put a dry wok on a burner set to its highest setting. Let it heat up. It will smoke. It may even start to glow red. That is fine. When ready to cook add a neutral oil like grapeseed, canola, or peanut. Do not be shy. Swirl in wok. It, too, will begin to ripple and smoke almost instantly. Place meat into wok, distributing across the bottom into a small layer and let sear for a little bit. Scrape your wooden or metal spatula across the bottom to dislodge all the meat. With your other hand, toss the meat with the wok using flick of the wrist. Repeat until meat is mid rare. Depending on heat source intensity, you may want to pause in between tossing to get some char. You may also want to reserve the meat and let the wok get hot again before moving on. Add fleshy vegetables like onions, bell peppers, etc. Repeat tossing motion. Veg should be cooked through, but should still be very toothsome. If you reserved meat, reserve veg, too and bring the wok back up to smoking temperature. Replace both meat and veg. Add sauces. Toss. Add leafy veg like cilantro, scallions, or chives. Toss. Serve.
Keep trying and eventually you should look like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYAew58LXkU#t=2m18s
Cleaning the wok
- Cleaning a wok is easy. Put it on the heat, bring to excessive smoke point. Pour in about a cup of water. Swirl, scrape with spatula or use a bamboo brush: Go to Chinatown/Asian market, they're like 3bux. The bristles are rigid and will dislodge food, are soft enough to not damage the seasoning, and will not melt like plastic. Once the surface is smooth, dump water, put back on burner to dry thoroughly. Pour a bit of oil in pan and wipe entire surface with paper towel to distribute evenly. It is not important to cook in the oil, as with seasoning, but you just want to put a thin layer across the surface to prevent rust from forming in scratches that may have formed. Let the wok cool, and store. Like other cast iron cookware, never use soap on a wok, and for the love of all that is holy NEVER PUT A WOK IN THE DISHWASHER.
I'll keep updating this thread with some recipes and ingredients as we move along, but this should be a good starting point. I'm by no means an expert, I just really love Chinese food, and love to cook, and like to think I've got a good grasp on a lot of the techniques. I would love to see your recipes and techniques here, too.