At first glance, the
typical Chinese recipe can seem a little overwhelming. Chinese recipes are
not known for having a short ingredient list. The typical dish may require
anywhere from ten to fifteen ingredients - more for festive specialties such
as Buddha Jumps Over the Wall. Beginning Chinese cooks can be forgiven for
concluding that a long ingredient list equals a recipe that a) takes too
much time to make, and b) is beyond their skill level.
because the average stir-fry can be whipped up quite quickly. The following
tips will help you quickly read through a recipe to determine how
much work is actually involved and whether you can adapt it to meet your
sure you understand the ingredient list
Most Chinese cookbook
recipes tend to follow a few
sauce" refers to light soy sauce. A recipe will state if
dark soy sauce is required.
vinegar refers to white rice vinegar. The recipe will specify if black or
red rice vinegar are to be used instead. Occasionally, a recipe may use the term
"brown" in place of "black" rice vinegar.
dry sherry is the common substitute for Chinese rice wine, recipes will
sometimes list only sherry without mentioning rice wine as a possibility. If a recipe calls for pale, dry sherry and you have a good Chinese rice wine on hand, feel free to
If cooking oil is
on the ingredient list, it's probably for stir-frying or deep-frying. Use either
peanut oil or vegetable oils such as canola.
cookbooks sometimes use British terms for ingredients: for example, groundnut
oil instead of peanut oil, and cornflour in place of cornstarch. Make sure
you know which ingredient is being called for before starting to cook.
Figure out which
ingredients are used in a marinade and/or sauce.
The Chinese almost never
fry meat without marinating it first. At the other end, it's common to
add a sauce to fried food in the final stages of cooking, often thickened
with a cornstarch and water mixture.
Figure out the secondary
This is the name I give to ingredients that are found in most Chinese
stir-fries but aren't essential to a specific recipe. For
and ginger is used to season cooking oil before
stir-frying, and green onion
is often stirred in near the end or added as a
garnish. While it would be rare to find a stir-fry recipe lacking any of
these ingredients, it's usually a small matter to alter the amount or leave
one out altogether.
Look for a Cornstarch and Water "Slurry"
you see cornstarch followed by water, there is a good chance the two will be
combined and added near the end as a thickener. Sometimes
the mix is called a "slurry." Don't add the two ingredients
straight into the wok, but combine and then add to the dish,
stirring quickly to thicken.
out the marinade, sauce, secondary ingredients, and thickener will make it
easier to organize the recipe.
try deconstructing the following recipe for Oyster Sauce Chicken:
1-1/2 tablespoons oil (cooking
8 chicken drumsticks, thighs, or a mixture of both
1/3 cup chicken broth (feel
free to use stock if you have it)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
3 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
mentions both options)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 cloves garlic, peeled and flattened
2 slices fresh ginger, flattened
1 teaspoon cornstarch (will
be mixed with the 1 teaspoon water)
1 teaspoon water
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
minced scallions (green
or spring onions) or cilantro (garnish)
Heat oil in a wok or large skillet. Add chicken (in batches if necessary) and brown well
on all sides. Meanwhile, combine remaining ingredients in a Dutch oven or flameproof
casserole and bring to a boil over high heat.
Transfer chicken to the casserole with a slotted spoon, draining excess oil. Turn to coat
with sauce. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, about 45 minutes until chicken is
tender and cooked through. Remove and discard garlic and ginger pieces.
Dissolve cornstarch in water and add to the sauce. Cook, stirring, until slightly
thickened. Stir in sesame oil just before removing from heat. Serve garnished with minced
scallions or cilantro. (This recipe is reprinted with permission from the newsletter
major problems here, but the
lengthy ingredient list can hide the fact that this is really an easy to
dish. Ingredients three
through nine are simply
to make a sauce - you don't even need to mince the garlic and ginger. The oil
is for stir-frying
the chicken, which is added to the sauce in a casserole dish and
heated through. All that remains is to add the cornstarch/water
mixture and drizzle in a bit of sesame oil at the
end - the garnish is optional. Simple!
One Final Tip: Visualize the Recipe as a Complete Meal
of preparing other dishes, it's often possible to rework a recipe, adding
meat or vegetables as necessary, and serving with rice or noodles. For
example, adapt the Oyster Sauce Chicken recipe by adding favorite vegetables to the
casserole, increasing the liquid as needed, and serving over
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