Here are our favorite tips that aren’t always easy to find in cookbooks!
The key to successful healthy Chinese cooking is to prepare all the ingredients before starting to cook, and have them ready to hand. Stir frying in particular relies on quick cooking and so everything needs to be sliced, diced, chopped and arranged neatly in bowls ready for cooking.
“Meats often benefit from soaking in a marinade, and if you’re well prepared, you can do this earlier in the day before say, an evening meal, or even the day before” Daren Wilson, an editor at Write Any Papers, says. For the rest of us too busy to be so well prepared, a soak for between 15-30 minutes will still yield a delicious flavor and aroma. All sauces and spices needed for the cooking should also be ready and arrayed for use. These include ingredients such as peanut/vegetable oil, soy sauce, sesame oil, oyster sauce, salt, sugar, cornflower, rice wine, sherry, water etc.
The basic cooking techniques which we are probably all familiar with are also used for producing healthy Chinese food at home.
Typically, ingredients are tossed into a hot wok with a little oil and stirred constantly until cooked. The cooking time is short as the temperature is very high, and the ingredients are cooked quickly to retain their juices, flavor and nutrients.
Instead of maintaining the heat, the temperature is lowered and liquid is introduced into the wok to braise the ingredients. A lid is typically placed over the wok to retain steam.
Lots of oil is used so that the ingredients are completely submerged or covered in the very hot oil and cooked to a golden/brown color on the outside.
The ingredients are placed in a steamer or double boiler and cooked by exposure to hot steam. This is a very clean style of cooking and uses no oil. Sometimes, ingredients are fried or browned first before finishing off in the steamer.
Meat (typically) is roasted in an oven or barbeque, often after having being marinated in intensely flavored sauces. Meat can also be grilled in the same manner.
Sometimes, meat is first fried or braised and then cooked slowly in a soy-based sauce or stock, giving the end product a rich, red color. This is often done with pork, chicken and duck, and is surprisingly easy to do (although not necessarily as a quick “after work” preparation)!
For quick and simple Chinese food, stir frying is probably the most popular cooking method. In addition to being quick, stir frying maximizes nutrients, texture and flavor, and also uses a minimum of liquid. A good wok means that little oil is needed and so the end result is healthy and wholesome. But other methods can be used for quick and simple meals too … especially steaming.
How to Slice
Softer meats and vegetables can be sliced vertically, while harder ingredients can be sliced across the diagonal. A diagonal slice means that the surface area of the piece is larger and therefore able to absorb more flavors during the cooking and be exposed to heat more readily.
How to Cook Rice
Probably the easiest way to cook steamed rice is to use an electric rice cooker. We are not huge fans of electric rice cookers, although probably for no valid reason! We just prefer this method, often referred to as the “absorption method”. It’s dead simple and needs no specialist equipment. Your finger and a saucepan will do.
Use about half a cup of uncooked rice per person. Put the rice into a thick-bottomed saucepan with a heavy lid (for example, a Le Creuset cast iron enameled pot). Wash the rice about five times in fresh cold water or until the water appears significantly less cloudy. Stir the rice with a pair of chopsticks.
Once the rice is washed, pour cold water into the pot so that the depth of the water is approximately one index-finger digit above the level of the rice. Short grain rice needs less water than long grain rice, such as basmati. Place the pot onto the cooktop on high heat until steam appears from the under the lid, but don’t lift the lid and don’t stir the rice. Turn the heat down to the lowest setting, and cook the rice until no more steam appears from under the lid. Resist the temptation to check the rice. Let the rice sit for at least 5 minutes, preferably 10, before serving. The rice should be fluffy and not too sticky or wet.
How to use a wok?
The trick in using a wok is to ensure that the wok is hot before putting in any food. Put oil into the wok only when it is hot. Don’t overfill the wok, as the heat will dissipate too quickly and the food pieces won’t cook quickly. Overfilling a wok can turn a stir-fry into a braise, particularly if there is a buildup of excess liquid.
Another important tip is to cook different food types separately, especially if they are of different size or texture. For example, when preparing meat and vegetables, it is often better to cook the meat first, and then transfer it to a heated plate/bowl. The wok can be quickly wiped of any excess sauce or juices, ready to stir-fry the vegetables. The vegetables can be stir-fried and then added to the cooked meat. Lastly, toss any rice or noodles in the wok and mix the meat and vegetables once the rice/noodles are cooked.
How to Use Chopsticks
The trick with using chopsticks is to realize that the bottom chopstick should remain stationary and the other chopstick is moved to create the grip that holds the food.
Rest each chopstick on your 3rd and 4th finger respectively, using your thumb to act as a counterbalance on top of the two chopsticks, pressing against the base of the index finger. Move your 3rd finger slightly to separate the top chopstick, keeping a slight pressure using the thumb and allow food to be captured between the two chopsticks. Loose food such as rice can be scooped up using the chopsticks pressed together.
This is our foolproof method for using chopsticks without leaving your meal on your shirt or lap! Have fun. Practice …and impress your friends!
PS. A traditional superstition says that it is bad luck to drop one’s chopsticks …so hold tight!
Author’s bio: David Hoang works as a copywriter. He used to be a psychologist, but he decided to change his career. In this case, David has an opportunity to tell others how to behave in different difficult situations and how to get out of trouble.