Gung Hei Fat Choy, Happy New Year!
I just spent the past weekend cooking up a storm for Chinese New Year. It was the first time I cooked Chinese for my boyfriend’s family. How did it go? Well it was kind of a disaster. While the food tasted ok, the presentation left something to be desired. I was pretty disappointed with myself; however like all failures I have learned a few things for the future.
So out of my less than stellar cooking experience, I have come up with a few tips and tricks to succeed at the next Chinese recipe you (or I) try.
Evelyn’s 10 Tips for Chinese Cooking
- Prepare ahead – Chinese cooking tends to be very quick, but there is often a lot of prep work involved. Many of the ingredients need to be chopped or diced fairly small. It is a good idea to do this work ahead, not while you are cooking.
- Heat the right oil to the right temperature – This was one of my first mistakes in Chinese cooking. You need to use a light flavoured oil, such as vegetable or canola, for frying. Make sure that the oil is hot enough before you start cooking or the food will taste oily. You may want to invest in a splatter screen for high temperature frying.
- Always have ginger and garlic in the fridge – These are two staples that you will almost always need. Be sure to smash them with the flat of a knife before chopping or mincing to better release the flavour.
- Always have sesame oil and oyster sauce in the cupboard – Again two elements that you cannot be without.
- Buy fresh – Fresh ingredients are the key to success in all types of cooking, but especially in Southern Chinese cooking (most of what I do) as there are few heavy sauces and spices and the food is cooked for a short time. The flavour of each ingredient is important.
- Don’t be afraid of sugar – While too much sugar is bad for you, Chinese cooking often uses a little sprinkle of the white stuff to bring out flavour or to balance sour or salty flavours.
- Corn starch is your friend – Wondering how those sauces are always nice and thick? Mix a little warm water and corn (potato or rice) starch in a bowl. This will make sauces thick and not runny.
- Make your own stock – Many Chinese recipes will call for chicken or vegetable stock. It is always better if you can make your own, especially so that you can control the salt content. If you have to buy store bought broth, look for the no salt added option.
- Serve the food fresh – Sorry but most Chinese dishes cannot be made ahead of time. Vegetables need to be crisp and colourful and seafood fresh, soft and flavourful. Reheating these can result in epic failures (such as my own). Some food such as soups, stews, and barbecued and braised meats can be reheated if you must.
- Don’t forget the rice! – Rice is a staple of Chinese cooking (again Southern or Cantonese cooking especially). Invest in a good rice cooker and be sure to rinse your rice (long grain preferred).
Are there any tips you would add to this list? Share your experience with me!