The cuisine of China includes the world's most ancient methods of meal preparation, with techniques uniquely its own.
Most recipes do not require the use of any special Chinese utensils or a lot
of knowledge in food preparation procedures, but a familiarity with the
basics of Chinese cooking will help. Your success in learning to cook a
Chinese meal will prove to you that Chinese cooking is a simple and logical process.
You may find that some ingredients are new to you, and even hard to find
at your local market, don't let this stop you. Chinese cuisine is versatile and very adaptable.
Over thousands of years, the Chinese people have learned to use what ever is available.
So, make substitutions, an understanding of the ingredients being substituted and
common sense is all that is needed.
There are, however, some ingredients that can not be interchanged. Fortunately many of these items
are canned, bottled or dried, and can be found in many markets, mail order and on line.
Indispensable fresh items are few, with the exceptions of green onions, garlic and ginger root.
The following ingredients are often listed in most Chinese recipes;
Thin soy, which is just regular soy sauce. Black soy, or thick soy, is rarely used, but nice to have on hand.
Black peppercorns and a peppermill. Rice Wine or dry sherry, rice vinegar, cornstarch, sesame oil, sugar, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, black beans, five spice powder, red and black vinegars, sesame paste
and dried ingredients such as mushrooms, tree leaf fungus and lily buds.
There are many different kinds of woks on the market; woks made of stainless steel,
aluminum, copper, electric and some with non-stick surfaces.
BUT....the simplest and probably the least costly is a carbon steel wok,
which is to me the best and most authentic. The wok you buy should be 14 inches
in diameter and be made of 14 gauge steel. Although the most common woks have round bottoms,
the design of the stove forces the need for them to set on a ring, between the heat and the wok bottom,
which results in a loss of heat-- the most crucial element in wok cooking.
I myself don't feel comfortable with this. It is not just the loss of heat, it is the safety factor that also comes into play.
All that being said, you should buy a flat bottom wok, which sets right on the heat source. A new wok
must be seasoned before it can be used. Follow the manufacturers' directions that come with the wok.
Once this has been done the wok should never be washed with soap or detergent. A carbon steel wok
will tarnish with use, but use will also make it better. You'll have a kitchen friend for life and find many other uses for a wok than just cooking Chinese recipes.
The Chinese style of serving suggests that there be one new dish for each person at the table.
Soup is almost always served, but in the middle or at the end of the meal, because it is intended to
be a beverage and a palate cleanser between courses. Dining Chinese style is meant to be a communal experience.
No matter what the menu, the crucial part of an enjoyable Chinese meal is the careful planning of each dish.
Good Chinese chefs, no matter how many helpers they have, consider the organization of their meals
the most important. The kitchen of a Chinese restaurant is a fascinating place to visit. During slack periods everyone is busy slicing and chopping fresh vegetables, cutting and cleaning meats and seafood, tending to soups, roasting ducks and chickens, crushing garlic and mincing ginger. When the customers orders begin, the chef takes over, combining and cooking what was prepared eariler. Because of careful organization, a Chinese restaurant can prepare a lot of dishes in a very short time.
The demands of your kitchen won't be the same, but attention to planning and organization should be practiced in your kitchen. It is the only way to avoid chaos.
Successful organization of a Chinese dinner depends solely on the way you organize each dish.
Since stir frying is the most popular method of preparation, and it can also be the trickiest,
always read the recipe through and follow closely. Advance preparation, where possible takes
a good part of the work load from the cook, after all, the cook wants to enjoy the meal too.