Cheat Sheet

Chinese Cooking For Dummies

From Chinese Cooking For Dummies by Martin Yan

If you're in the mood for Chinese food, don't go out — try cooking it yourself! Cooking Chinese food at home can be quick, easy, and fun. To get started, you need to know the basic ingredients, tools, and techniques to make your Chinese cooking the best it can be.

Basic Tools for Chinese Cooking

In Chinese cooking (or any other cuisine), you can usually use the kitchen tools you already have. But some Chinese recipes do call for specialized tools, such as a claypot casserole. Other items, like a rice cooker or wok just make cooking easier. If you don't already have some of the utensils in this list, head to the cooking supply store — which is always a fun trip!

  • A wok that you've seasoned

  • A sharp chef's knife

  • A cutting board that you keep clean

  • A small spice grinder

  • A steamer

  • A strainer

  • Spatulas and ladles

  • A claypot casserole

  • An electric rice cooker

  • Chopsticks

Basic Ingredients for Chinese Cooking

Stock your pantry with basic ingredients for Chinese cooking so that you can whip up an authentic Chinese meal on a moment’s notice. Just add whatever fresh meat, fish, and produce you feel like — and before you know it, you’ll have a balanced, quick, and easy-to-make dish on your table.

Sauces and Condiments Spices and Seasonings
Prepared black bean sauce Chinese five-spice powder
Chile oil Chinese hot mustard
Chile paste or sauce Whole and crushed dried red chiles
Hoisin sauce Sichuan peppercorns
Oyster-flavored sauce Star anise
Plum sauce White pepper, ground
Rice vinegar Canned and Dried Ingredients
Rice wine (or dry sherry) Bamboo shoots
Sesame oil Broth (canned or homemade)
Soy sauce Cornstarch
Vegetable oil (peanut oil preferred) Dried black mushrooms
Noodles Long-grain rice
Cellophane or bean thread noodles Sesame seeds
Dried egg noodles (store in freezer if fresh) Straw mushrooms
Dried rice noodles Water chestnuts

Chinese Cooking Techniques

Chinese cooking involves all kinds of techniques from stir-frying to steaming to simmering. This table lists a variety of Chinese cooking techniques and what you use them for, and a few tips as well.

Technique The Results What You Need How Long? Tips
Stir-frying Crisp, brightly colored foods with lots of nutrition and flavor, but little fat A wok or large frying pan Lightning-quick — there’s not time. Have all your ingredients and sauces prepared ahead of time; cook ingredients in stages.
Steaming Healthful, almost fat-free foods whose fresh, natural flavors stand out An electric steamer; a wok or pan with a steamer rack Not too long — as long as it takes to fully cook the food Be careful when removing the steamer lid so you don’t get a painful steam burn.
Blanching Softened — not fully cooked — foods that are now ready for complete cooking via another method A wok or pot big enough to hold plenty of boiling water Brief — just a few minutes or long enough to soften Make sure to stop the cooking after removing the food the food by rinsing it with or plunging it into cold water.
Simmering Gently cooked, tender, juicy, and flavorful food A wok or pot that can hold enough water to cover the food A while — from a few minutes to more than an hour Gentle is the key word: After you bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat and gently cook the food until it’s done.
Braising Flavorful, tender, morsels from the toughest cuts of meats Same equipment as simmering A long time; normally a couple hours will do the trick Browning the meat first adds flavor and color; just be patient and don’t put too much meat in the pan at once.
Deep-frying Food that’s crisp and golden on the outside, tender and fully cooked on the inside An electric fryer; a large pan or wok with a flat bottom or a ring stand Not too long, because the quicker the food fries, the better the texture becomes Don’t let the oil temperature drop! Be careful working near the hot oil, too.
Roasting Foods with a crisp, caramelized exterior and juicy, tender flesh (but they get that texture from dry, circulating heat rather than from hot oil, as in deep-frying) An oven Depends on the food’s thickness, but generally a longer, less fuel-efficient method Make sure that air circulates around the food, and baste it with the marinade or pan juices to add flavor and keep it moist.
Smoking Foods with a distinctively smoky, aromatic flavor A wok, which easily turns into a smoker A longer, slower cooking method Choose from many flavoring agents, such as tea and rice, to flavor your smoke.
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