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 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
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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