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Chinese Cooking Techniques

Chinese cooking has developed many methods and techniques that take advantage of the wide range of foods and ingredients available. Cooking temperatures and cooking methods are as important as the ingredients that form the dish. Each technique is chosen carefully. The nature of the ingredients, the degree of heat, and timing are considered; certain techniques seal in juices, others importantly affect flavour, etc..

Stir Fry 炒

Stir Fry

Stir frying is the classic Chinese cooking method; quick cook over high heat in a small amount of oil, toss and turn the food when it cooks. In stir frying, the food should always be in motion. Spread it around the pan or up the sides of the wok, then toss it together again in the centre and repeat. This method allows meats to stay juicy and flavourful, vegetables to come out tender-crisp.

There are variations, of course, but the basic pattern for many Chinese dishes is to pre-heat the pan or wok (a drop of water will sizzle when it's hot enough), add the oil and heat it, stir fry the meat, remove it, stir fry the vegetables, return the meat to the pan, add sauce and seasonings, thicken the sauce and serve. Since stir frying is a last-minute operation, one or two stir fry dishes in one meal is the rule.

Speed is essential in preparing many Chinese dishes. All ingredients should he on hand before stir frying is begun. Meat and vegetables should be thinly sliced or cut into small cubes. Before the oil is introduced the pan should be heated sufficiently so that the oil is free-flowing, and then the ingredients added, and stirred vigorously and continuously during the entire cooking period. The highest heat obtainable must be used, while constantly stirring, since stir-fry dishes can be ruined in a matter of seconds. Burned spots in the pan should be wiped with a paper towel and the pan re-oiled for further use. This rapid form of cooking leaves comparatively little sauce. Since stir-frying requires only a few minutes, such dishes are usually the last to be prepared; obviously, they are at their best when served immediately from the pan. Recommended cooking times are only approximate. Stir frying preserves colour, texture, and taste as well as nutritional values.

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Deep Frying 炸

Deep Fry

Some of the most delectable Chinese hors d'oeuvres are deep fried. Certain main dishes also call for meats to be deep fried for a crunchy coating, then stir fried to combine them with vegetables and flavourings . The oil must be at the right temperature to cook food properly. The most food-proof method is to use a thermostatically controlled electric fryer. If you deep fry in your wok or pot, use a frying thermometer, or test the oil before adding food by dropping in a small piece of meat or vegetable. If it sizzles and skates around the surface of the oil, the temperature is right. If it sinks, the oil is not hot enough. If it browns too quickly, and the oil smokes, the temperature is too high. Oil can be reduced if you strain it and add fresh oil each time. Keep a separate batch for frying fish and seafood.

Deep frying is another common method of Chinese food preparation. For this a deep fryer or a deep saucepan with a wire basket which fits inside it, is most convenient. Chinese cooks use two temperatures of oil for deep frying. In general, when the oil begins to smoke, it is ready to fry pork and beef, the tougher meats. When the oil begins to bubble, which is at a temperature slightly lower, it is suitable for chicken and kidneys. To secure the most tender results, it is important to observe the oil temperature as given in the recipe. Chinese cooks use vegetable oil and lard. Either peanut or sesame oil, or other prepared vegetable oils are suitable.

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Shallow Frying 煎

Shallow Fry

Shallow frying requires medium heat and a longer cooking time than deep frying. After heating sufficient oil to cover the entire bottom of the pan, ingredients are spread evenly in the pan and allowed to fry slowly for a few minutes, turned over once or twice, browning both sides. This technique seals in juices in meats and is particularly useful for the final cooking of pre-fried or pre-boiled foods.

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Steaming 蒸

Steaming

The Chinese steam their food in woven bamboo trays that stack one atop the other. The beauty of this system is that several foods cook at one time, saving fuel. All sorts of foods are steamed: meats, fish, dumplings, buns stuffed with meat or a sweet bean paste-bread! For best results, the water should be boiling when the food goes into the steamer and the flame should be high enough to keep it boiling.

After a high heat has brought the water to a boil, and the ingredients inserted, the heat is lowered as the steaming process begins (to avoid vibrations and a burned pot). If the food has been placed initially on a serving platter, there will be no need to transfer it to another platter for serving at the table. Once cooked, food should not be left in the steamer unless the heat has been turned off before cooking is complete, after which the cooking process continues for a few minutes. Thus overcooking is avoided.

Steaming preserves flavours and food nutrients through the use of steam temperature rather than higher temperatures that destroy or leach these values in discarded boiling water. Several tiers can be used in the steamer to cook different foods simultaneously. Cooking time usually varies between 15 to 30 minutes for meat patties but can range from 20 minutes to 5 hours (which may require more water), depending upon the type of food to be steamed. However, meats cooked in this fashion must be of top quality. Chinese steamed foods are to be consumed right away - these foods are delicate and cooked to perfection. Reheating leftover steamed meats, steamed fish and seafoods often become soggy and limp and lose flavor upon reheating.

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Boiling 煲

In parboiling, ingredients are cut and washed first, then put in a large pot in which they can float freely, over high heat. Vegetables to be eaten crisp, like broccoli, are removed from the water just before they come to a full boil; those that cannot be eaten raw or take a long time to cook should remain in the pot for whatever time is required after boiling starts. Slow and prolonged boiling destroys flavour to some degree and certainly much nutritional value is lost in the boiling water that is discarded. Parboiled ingredients are poured with the water into a colander, rinsed or soaked in cold water until thoroughly cooled, and used as the recipe directs, or in salads. Parboiled vegetables are often used in banquet dishes where time may be limited. For full boiling, as in preparing soups, the Chinese employ a slow simmering process. As soon as the water boils, the heat is turned low and the soup allowed to simmer for whatever period of time is necessary. However, preparing soups by rapid boiling in which intense heat is used will result in the same preservation of color, texture, shape, and nutrition as in tossed cooking.

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