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10 Things You Need To Know About Asian Cooking (Chinese Food)

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If you want to cook asian food, most specifically Chinese food, yourself and are totally a beginner, you might find it hard where to start. Whether you want to know how to mix rice wine and vinegar yourself, or what sauce to use..OR you just want to pull together a decent asian meal, here are some basics for you! 

#1 Chinese food won’t taste authentic if you don’t know how to work through some flavour combinations.

Cooking Chinese food won’t need more than 10 ingredients, actually it needs fewer than that. Some must have staples are rice vinegar, sesame oil, good soy sauce (light or dark), oyster sauce, and shaoxing wine. Then when it comes to fresh produce, the must haves are coriander, ginger, spring onions, chillies, and garlic. 

Chinese cooking is more than the ingredients you add in! It’s more about layering the flavours to create savoury sweet, or sweet and sour and vice versa. This what makes asian food supreme.

#2 Avoid sauces that are overloaded with MSG or salt.

A good rule of thumb when choosing for sauces to use in cooking Chinese food is to avoid the sauces that are overloaded with MSG. Of course, you can’t taste test each of them and you can’t find an entirely clean one but you can check for the label or ask someone to avoid those that has overall salty flavor. If you can get real soybeans that have been fermented, it will be good.

 

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#3 Don’t be afraid to use MSG when seasoning.

You can treat MSG as a natural occurring salt and there’s that umami taste (the fifth taste that’s characterized with inherent savouriness and has been described as brothy or meaty) that’s associated with it! Most people are afraid of using MSG but for me, my grandma lived to her 80’s and was an MSG lover and I too, turned a blind eye if I want to make my meal tastier. You can’t be 100% healthy all the time - 80/20 rule applies! 80% clean, 20% the not so healthy stuff.

#4 Seasonality and freshness of ingredients is important

Chinese cooking reflects the season! In the summer, Chinese have more raw dishes as they see it as healthier for summer and for cleansing too. In winter, on the other hand, they go for saltier, oilier dishes and of course more stews. Moreover, in Chinese cooking or in asian cooking as a whole, freshness of ingredients is important and Chinese are obsessed with it. If not fresh, ingredients won’t last in the wok, and when you served them, they start to wilt.

#5 Light and dark soy sauce, when to use them 

Light soy sauce is saltier and is best for seasoning. It’s the first fermentation of soybeans so it’s lighter in color. On the other hand, dark soy sauce is not as salty and is mostly used for marinating and braised dishes - overall dark soy sauce is used to add richness of flavour and color. It’s fermented longer so it’s darker, and thicker.

#6 You need a chopping board, a good ol’ chef’s knife, a steamer and a wok!

When cooking Chinese food, a wok is a must have! There are lots of variety including  aluminium wok, non-stick coated wok, and stainless steel wok but I would recommend you choose a carbon steel wok. It heats up well and retains heat effectively as it’s made from carbon steel. Overall, a good wok can be heated up to 400 degrees and with deep sides and a shallow base. That’s what you need to look out for in a wok. 

On top of wok, you need a cleaver (chef’s knife), good chopping board, and a steamer.

#7 Don’t cook all ingredients in the wok at the same time

A common mistake when cooking in a wok is throwing everything and cooking them all the same time. Well I tell you! It’s NOT - you gotta give each of the ingredients some love. The vegetables, ginger and all. It’s about cooking one ingredient at a time in the wok before the blend together later with seasoning. Before you cook, make sure your wok is hot enough, then heat the oil first (very important), next comes your spices, then your main ingredients, and then all the sauces and seasoning. Popular cooking method when it comes to Chinese cooking is stir frying. You just need to practice, repetition is the key.

#8 Make good use of water

When cooking Chinese food, water is your best friend. Use it for steaming, for cooking vegetables if you want to bring out the best of it. So this is a top tip - make good use of water.

#9 Cooking the perfect rice

Rice is a staple in asian cooking so it’s good if you know how to cook rice. A tip to cook perfect rice -- wash it, add water twice the volume of grains, and then cook it for 15 minutes. Now to make it clear the washing of rice isn’t about the cleanliness only or whatnot - it’s more about keeping the rice flavor. Washing the rice means rinsing away the extra starch that’ll make your rice taste old and claggy.

#10 Mushrooms are the best meat substitute

Cooking Chinese food almost always involves mushrooms. In fact, it’s the best meat substitute. So if you’re a vegetarian and want to cook asian meals, mushroom is the way to go. You can choose from mushrooms like oyster mushrooms, king trumpet mushrooms, Chinese mushrooms, shiitake mushroom those are the most highly recommended.

AND there’s tofu!. Another good substitute for meat. You have fresh tofu, fried tofu, silken tofu, or smoked tofu depends on your taste.

So there you have it! Cooking Chinese food isn’t as hard, you just need to know the basics such as the ones mentioned here and you’re all set! You can look for any Chinese food recipe you can try at home or any asian food recipes for that matter.