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An Introduction To Chinese Cuisine

All about Chinese Cuisine
Chinese cuisine is widely seen as representing one of the richest and most diverse culinary heritages in the world. It originated in different regions of China and has been introduced to other parts of the world – from Southeast Asia to North America and Western Europe. As one travels around the world today, one cannot help being impressed by the extent to which Chinese food and cooking has been established in almost every corner of the earth.  So, what is it that has caused this sudden success of Chinese cuisine? The answer lies in the unique traditions and techniques of Chinese cooking, and in the appeal of Chinese food and flavors to the palate.

Also Chinese food can be extremely economical as well as being highly nutritious, because, most ingredients are cut into small pieces, and then quickly cooked so as to retain their natural goodness. However, one of the main reasons for the popularity of the cuisine is the large scale migration of the Chinese people to other parts of the world. Originally, the migration was to escape religious persecution, Later on it was the effect of communism and today it is probably for economic reasons. These migrants took with them their culture, art, music and of course their food. They settled in various capital cities and spread out from there. They originally lived in ghetto like conditions called Chinatowns. It was from here that the popularity of the cuisine developed. It was simple and economical to operate a Chinese food service facility. Minimum investment on equipment and the fact that they modified the taste to suit the local palate, made the cuisine acceptable.

Moreover, the use of local available ingredients also increased its popularity. That is why the Chinese food you get in Kolkata is different from the one you get in London and that is different from the Chinese cuisine of San Francisco !!!...and they are all different from what you get in China itself. Yet they are all called Chinese Cuisine! Why? The answer is that as long as you stick to the principles of Chinese cuisine and stay within the prescribed parameters and framework ….you are cooking Chinese food.

Chinese cuisine includes styles originating from the diverse regions of China as well as from Chinese people in other parts of the world.

History of Chinese cuisine in China stretches back for thousands of years and has changed from period to period and region to region. Obviously, Chinese culinary art has gone through thousands of years of refinement and development, but the Chinese unique way of cooking and preparing food, remains basically unchanged. Archaeological finds of the bronze age (around 1850 BC) indicate that the Chinese had utensils such as a bronze CLEAVER shaped knife for cutting up foods into small pieces and cooking them in animal fat, using a bronze pot similar to the modern wok. There is data to prove that as long ago as the ZHOU dynasty (12th C BC) the Chinese used soya sauce, vinegar, rice wine, fruit jam and spices as seasonings in the cooking and that elaborate and complicated cooking methods were already being employed.

It has been recorded that the importance of heat application and blending of different flavors were emphasized in Chinese cooking; and the uses of high, moderate or low heat, the blending of sour, piquant, salty, bitter or sweet flavors were all given their correct application in order to achieve a harmonious whole. This theory of harmony is one of the main characteristics of Chinese cuisine of this day.

Chinese society greatly valued gastronomy and developed an extensive study of the subject based on its traditional medical beliefs.

Chinese food has its roots in its ancient culture. Food is prepared and eaten not just for sustenance. There is a whole philosophy that is involved in their cooking. The selected food is not just for the body, but also for the mind. The ultimate aim of Chinese cooking and eating is, to create a Healthy Mind in Healthy Body.

Trade and cultural exchange between China and the outside world took place as early as the time of the Roman Empire and over the past centuries, foreign influence and modern technology has affected nearly all walks of everyday life in China, except one, namely, the Culinary Art of China. In fact, foreign foodstuffs have been introduced in China since the dawn of history, but they all became integral parts of Chinese food.

The Main Characteristics/Principles 

There exists a certain ‘uniqueness’ that distinguishes Chinese cooking from other food cultures. To start with, there is the Chinese division when preparing and serving food, between ‘FAN’ (grain & other starch food) and ‘CAI’ (meat and vegetable dishes). Grains in various forms of rice or wheat flours (bread, pancakes, noodles or dumplings) make up the FAN half of the meal. Vegetables and meat (including poultry, meat seafood and fish) cut up and mixed in various combinations into individual dishes constitute the CAI part. A balanced meal must have an appropriate amount of both FAN & CAI. There is no prescribed ratio, but the elements must be there. It is in combining various ingredients and the lending of different flavors for the preparation of CAI, that lies the fine art and skill of Chinese cuisine.

The other distinctive feature of Chinese cuisine is the harmonious blending of colors, aromas, flavors, shapes and texture in one single dish. The principle of blending complimentary or contrasting colors and flavors is a fundamental one – the different ingredients must not be mixed indiscriminately. The matching of flavors should follow a set pattern and is controlled and not casual.

The cutting of ingredients is another important element of Chinese cooking in order to achieve the proper effect. Slices are matched with slices, shreds with shreds, cubes with cubes, chunks with chunks and so on.

The principle of HTST or High Temperature, Short Time, is yet another distinct feature. This helps retain the texture, color, flavor and the nutritive value of the food.

Another important principle of Chinese cooking is the attention paid to mis-en-place. Foods are matched and cut correctly and more importantly, evenly. This ensures even cooking in the minimum time.

And finally, the Chinese do put a lot of emphasis on the final appearance of the dish. Garnish does not play an important role and is not really required. They depend on the selection of the ingredients to provide variety in color, texture and flavors in the same dish. They do not rely on elaborate vegetable ‘flowers’ and such to enhance the appearance of the dish.

Mis en place and pre preparation is crucially important. This is not only for the sake of appearance but also because ingredients of the same size and shape require about the same amount of time in cooking. This complexity of interrelated element of colors, flavors and shapes in Chinese cooking is reinforced by yet another feature: TEXTURE. A dish may have just one, or several textures, such as tenderness, crispiness, crunchiness, smoothness and softness. The textures to be avoided are: sogginess, stringiness and hardness. The selection of different textures in one single dish is an integral part of blending of flavors and colors. The desired texture or textures in any dish can only be achieved by using the right cooking methods. In all different methods of cooking, the correct degree of heat and duration of cooking time are of vital importance.

Regional Cooking Styles

Looking at the map of China, it is not difficult to understand why there should be such a rich variety of different styles throughout the land. There is no official classification of various regional cuisines in China, but it is generally agreed that SICHUAN in west, SHANDONG/PEKING in North, CANTON in the south and JIANGSU/SHANGHAI in the east represents the four major regional cooking styles of China. In addition, four more provinces ZHEJIANG, FUKIEN, ANHUI in the east and HUNAN in the west are usually included while one talks of the “Big Eight” distinguished schools of cuisine in China.

North China: evidence shows that in about 5000 BC, the inhabitants of North China had begun to farm, settle down, make painted pottery, eating and cooking vessels. Traces of early Chinese culture have been found at sites that lie along the valley of the yellow river, which is why the area is sometimes described as the “Cradle of Chinese Civilization”. The noblemen and imperial families live a luxurious life. The chefs invented and perfected many of the classic Chinese dishes, which were passed down through centuries and moved to the capital, Peking. These recipes are still in use today, with very little changes.

West China: Sichuan/ Szechwan is one of the richest lands of China. Owing to its geographical position it was practically inaccessible from the rest of China until recently, therefore it developed a very distinct style of cooking.

High mountains, fending off the cold air from the world, encircle the basin, so Sichuan has hot summers and mild winters. It is virtually frost free with abundant rainfall in winters and spring. Plant growth continues the whole year round. One of China’s important rice bowls, the Sichuan Basin also yields a wealth of subtropical products, including silk, fruit and tea, all which have earned Sichuan the name “Land of Abundance”.

The cuisine of Sichuan has a wide fan following both at home and abroad. Its richly flavored and pungent food is particularly popular in the Indian Subcontinent.

Hot chilies are used not to paralyze the tongue but to stimulate the palate. One of the characteristics of Sichuan cuisine is that each dish usually contains a number of different flavors such as sweet, sour, bitter and hot, salty, aromatic and fragrant. When the palate is stimulated by mildly hot chilies, it becomes more sensitive and capable of taking in several different flavors simultaneously.

East China: The Yangtze, China’s longest river (about 500km in length), which traverses the width of China from west to east flows through China’s leading agricultural regions – Sichuan and Hunan (on the upper reaches), Hubei and Jiangzi (on the middle reaches), Jiangsu and Zhejiang (on the lower), which contains some of the most fertile land in China.

Both wheat and rice are grown here, as well as other crops, which include – barley, corn, sweet potatoes, peanuts and soya beans. Fisheries abound in the multitude of lakes and other tributaries and deep-sea fishing has long been established in the coastal province and Jiangsu and Zhejiang. The areas that cover the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze are traditionally referred to as ‘Land of Fish and Rice’, and is collectively known as Jiangnan (“JIANG” means “great river” referring to the Yangtze and “NAN” referring to the south), and it boasts a number of distinctive cooking styles.

The Yangtze River delta has its own cooking style known as HUAIYANG with the culinary center in Shanghai, that is China’s largest city, which lies on the Yangtze estuary. South East China has always been regarded as the most culturally developed and economically prosperous region. Both Nanjing in Jiangsu and Hangzhou in Zhejiang have been China’s capital of several dynasties; other culinary centers are to be located in YANGZHOU (Yangchow), SUZHOU and ZHENJIANG. Yangchow fried rice; chow mein (open fried noodles), wantons, spring rolls, dumplings and many other Cantonese dim sum dishes have all originated from here.

South China: The Pearl River delta, is the home of the most famous of all Chinese cooking styles. Unfortunately the reputation of Cantonese cuisine has been badly damaged by a so-called ‘chop suey’ food outside China. Authentic Cantonese food has no rival, and has greater variety of food than any other school, because Canton was the first Chinese port open for trade, therefore foreign influence are particularly stronger in its cooking.

Fisheries play a major role in the economy, Rice is dominant food grain; the other crops are tea, tobacco, peanut, sugarcane, and sub tropical fruits such as bananas, pineapples, oranges, tangerines and lychees.

The Moslem cuisine: The Chinese Moslem known as “HUI”, though Chinese speaking are distinguished from the Chinese by their affiliation with the Sunni branch of Islam. One theory is that they are descendants of the Moslems who settled in China in the 13th. century and adopted the Chinese language and culture.

There are nearly 5 million Hui widely distributed throughout almost every province in China, but their traditional areas of settlement is in the North-West. They form the Chinese Moslem School, together with two other national minorities: the UYGOR group in XINJIANG (4 million, virtually all Moslems); and about 1.5 million MONGOLS who are traditionally nomadic, and therefore, like the Moslem do not eat pork. Their daily diet consists of beef, mutton, milk and butter, items an average Chinese has no taste for.

The Vegetarian cuisine: Chinese vegetarians are not allowed anything remotely associated with animals; apart from egg and milk. They obtain their proteins mainly from soya beans and its byproducts such as bean curd (tofu) and nuts and fungi.

Chinese vegetarian has a long history; its origin can be traced to as far back as around 500 BC, when the TAOIST SCHOOL of thought developed the hygienic and nutritional science of fruit and vegetables. Some centuries later, when Buddhism, which abhors the killing of any living creature and the eating of flesh in any form, was introduced into China from India, this philosophy was readily grafted into TAOIST school of Cooking and a new form of vegetarianism was born.

Apart from the extensive use of fresh and dehydrated vegetables, the vegetarian chefs have developed a new art by creating food that has become known as imitation meats. These imitation pork, chicken, fish and prawn and so on bare an amazing resemblance to their fleshy counterpart in form and texture, though not quite in flavor.

1. Sichuan cuisine: It has bold flavours, particularly the pungency and spiciness resulting from liberal use of garlic and chili peppers as well as the unique flavor of the Sichuan pepper. Abundant rice and vegetables are produced from the fertile Sichuan Basin. Beef is somewhat more common in Sichuan cuisine than it is in other Chinese cuisines, some of the popular dishes: Kung Pao chicken, tea smoked duck, shredded pork in garlic sauce, Sichuan hot pot, sliced beef/ beef tripe/ ox tongue in chilli sauce.

2. Hunan cuisine: also known as Xiang cuisine, consists of the cuisines of the Xiang River region, Dongting Lake, and western Hunan province in China. This cuisine is well known for its hot spicy flavour, fresh aroma and deep colour. Common cooking techniques include stewing, frying, pot-roasting, braising, and smoking. Due to the high agricultural output of the region, ingredients for Hunan dishes are many and varied. Some popular dishes: Beer duck, Cured ham with cowpeas, Dry-wok chicken, Spare ribs steamed in bamboo. Steamed fish head in chili sauce.

3. Cantonese/Guangdong cuisine: Its prominence outside China is due to the large number of emigrants from Guangdong. It has long been a trading port and many imported foods and ingredients are used in Cantonese cuisine. Besides pork, beef and chicken, Cantonese cuisine incorporates almost all edible meats, including offal, chicken feet, duck's tongue, snakes, and snails.

For many traditional Cantonese cooks, the flavours of a finished dish should be well balanced and not greasy. Apart from that, spices should be used in modest amounts to avoid overwhelming the flavours of the primary ingredients, and these ingredients in turn should be at the peak of their freshness and quality.

In Cantonese cuisine, a number of ingredients such as spring onion sugar, salt soy sauce, rice wine, cornstarch, vinegar, scallion oil, and sesame oil, suffice to enhance flavour, although garlic is heavily used in some dishes, especially those in which internal organs, which may emit unpleasant odours. Ginger, chili peppers, five-spice powder, powdered black pepper, star anise and a few other spices are also used, but often sparingly.

Some popular dishes: Sweet and sour pork, Congee with lean pork and century egg, Chinese steamed eggs, Cantonese fried rice , Steamed spare ribs with fermented black beans and chili pepper.

4. Fujian/Min cuisine: is one of the native Chinese cuisines derived from the native cooking style of Fujian province in China, Fujian-style cuisine is known to be light but flavourful, soft, and tender, as well as retaining the original flavour of the main ingredients instead of masking them.

A variety of local fish, shellfish and turtles, edible mushrooms and bamboo shoots, provided by the coastal and mountainous regions of Fujian. The most commonly employed cooking techniques in the region's cuisine include braising, stewing, steaming and boiling. Unique seasoning from Fujian include fish sauce, shrimp paste, sugar, Shacha sauce, and preserved apricot. Some popular dishes: Oyster omelette, Fragrant snails in wine, Meat strips with green pepper, Buddha Jumps Over the Wall, Drunken ribs.

5. Jiangsu cuisine: Jiangsu cuisine is sometimes simply called Su cuisine, In general, Jiangsu cuisine's texture is characterised as soft, but not to the point of mushy or falling apart. For example, the meat tastes quite soft but would not separate from the bone when picked up. Being near the coast, fish is a very common ingredient in cooking. Other characteristics include the strict selection of ingredients according to the seasons, with emphasis on the matching colour and shape of each dish and using soup to improve flavour.

Some popular dishes: Fried gluten balls, Ji-yu soup, Braised spare ribs.

6. Zhejiang cuisine: In general, Zhejiang-style food is not greasy but has a fresh and soft flavour with a mellow fragrance. Use of fresh water fish, bamboo shoots. Zhejiang cuisine specializes in quick-frying, stir-frying, deep-frying, simmering and steaming, obtaining the natural flavor and taste. Zhejiang cuisine is best represented by Hangzhou dishes, including Hangzhou roast chicken (commonly known as Beggar's chicken), Dongpo pork, west lake fish in vinegar sauce, Songsao Shredded Fish soup.

7. Anhui cuisine: is known for its use of wild herbs, from both the land and the sea, and simple methods of preparation. Braising and stewing are common cooking techniques. Frying and stir frying are used much less frequently in Anhui cuisine than in other Chinese culinary traditions. Anhui cuisine consists of three styles: the Yangtze River region, Huai River region, and southern Anhuiregion. Anhui has ample uncultivated fields and forests, so the wild herbs used in the region's cuisine are readily available. Some popular dishes: Hongzhang Chop suey, Roast Duck, Egg Dumplings, Imperial Goose.

8. Shangdong cuisine: is derived from the native cooking style of Shandong, a northern coastal province of China. It is known for its light aroma, freshness and rich taste. It puts emphasis on two types of broths, light and milky. Both broths are seasoned with scallions and goes well with the freshness of seafood. The cuisine as it is known today was created during the Yuan Dynasty. It gradually spread to northern and northeastern China, Beijing, Tianjin, and the emperor's palace, where it influenced imperial food. Shandong cuisine is primarily made up of eastern Shandong and Jinan dishes.

Peking/ Beijing cuisine is quite a different matter – it is not a separate regional school, but rather the combination of all China’s regional style of cooking. Being the capital of China for many centuries Peking (or Beijing as it is now called) occupies a unique position in the development of Chinese culinary art.

Beijing has been the Chinese capital city for centuries, in turn, also greatly influenced other Chinese cuisines, the Chinese Imperial cuisine, and the Chinese aristocrat cuisine. Some generalization of Beijing cuisine can be characterized as follows: Foods that originated in Beijing are often snacks rather than full courses, and they are typically sold by little shops or street vendors. There is emphasis on dark soy paste, sesame paste, sesame oil, and scallions, and fermented tofu is often served as a condiment. In regards to cooking methods, all methods relating to the different ways of frying are often used. There is a lesser emphasis on rice as an accompaniment than in many other areas of China, as local rice production is limited by the relatively dry climate.

Peking cuisine can be explained as: the culmination of many inventions and performances of the generations of important chefs of different dynasties, which ruled in Peking for nearly a millennium and the grass root dishes of the local people of Shangdong and Hubei together with all the culinary contributions from the far off regions and provinces of China.

Peking cooking is in short, the top table of Chinese culinary art. Finally, the central province HUBEI in the middle reaches Yangtze River has a distinct style of cooking, known as “The Province of Thousand Lakes” as well as “Land of Fish and Rice”. One of Hubei’s specialties is its fish cookery.

Equipment

UTENSILS: The Chinese batterie de cuisine consists of very few basic implements. To start with, only four of the most rudimentary implements are essential to cook Chinese food, i.e. knife, chopping block, wok and stirrer.

The Chinese cooking utensils are ancient designs, they are made of basic and inexpensive material, and they have been in continuous use for several thousand years.

CLEAVER : The Chinese cleaver is an all purpose cook’s knife that is used for slicing, shredding, peeling, pounding, crushing, chopping and even for transporting cut food from the chopping board or to a plate directly to the wok.

A Chinese cleaver may appear to be hefty, gleaming ominously sharp. But in reality it is quite light, steady and not at all dangerous to use, provided you handle it correctly and with care. Cleavers are available in a variety of materials and weight. They all have a blade of about 8 - 9 inches (20 - 23 cms) long and 3 - 4 inches (8 - 10 cms) wide. The heaviest, weighing almost 2 lb. (1 kg) called CHOPPER, is really meant for the professionals and is excellent for chopping bones such as poultry drumsticks, pork spare ribs. The smaller and much lighter SLICER with a thinner and sharper blade is convenient for slicing meat and vegetables. But most Chinese cooks prefer a medium weight, dual purpose cleaver known as THE CIVIL AND MILITARY KNIFE (wen-wu dao in Chinese). The lighter, front half of the blade is used for slicing, shredding and scoring etc, and the heavier, rear half of the blade for chopping and so on.

The Chinese cook uses the back of the blade as a pounder and tenderizer and the flat side of the blade for crushing and transporting: the end of the handle acts as a pestle for grinding spices etc. The blades of the knife should be made of tempered carbon steel with wooden handle. Stainless steel cleavers with metal handle may look good, but require more frequent sharpening also the handle gets slippery; therefore they are less satisfactory for both safety and steadiness.

Always keep your knife blade sharp and clean. To prevent it rusting and getting it stained, wipe it dry with cloth or kitchen paper after use. Sharpen it frequently on a fine fine-grained whet stone.  After cleaning the blade and wiping it dry, hang the cleaver by the handle to keep the blade becoming dulled on other metals in the drawer.

CHOPPING BLOCK: The traditional Chinese chopping block is a cross section tree trunk. Made of hardwood, they range from about 12 inches (30 cm.) in diameter and 2 inches (5 cm.) thick, to giant ones up to 20 inches (50 cm.) by 6 – 8 inches (15 – 20 cm.). The ideal size should be about 16 inches (40 cm.) in diameter and at least 3 – 4 in (7 – 10 cms.) thick to be of real use.

To prevent it from splitting, season a new block with a liberal dose of vegetable oil on both sides. Let the wood absorb as much oil as it will take, and sponge the block with salt and water and dry it thoroughly. Never soak the block in water nor wash it with any detergent – after each use, just scrape it clean with the blade of your cleaver, then wipe the surface with a sponge or cloth wrung out in plain hot water. Always stand the block on its side when not in use.

In a professional kitchen, the health regulations specify that you must never cut your raw ingredients and cooked food on the same surface. In other words, you should use a different block or board for the two types of food for hygienic reasons.

WOK: The Chinese cooking utensils known as ‘WOK’ is the ‘POT’ or ‘PAN’. The wok was designed with a rounded bottom to fit snugly over a traditional Chinese braizer or stove, which burned wood, charcoal or coal. It conducts and retains heat evenly and because of its shape, the food always returns to the center of the wok where the heat is most intense that is why it is ideally suited for quick stir-frying.

Of course the wok is far more versatile than just a frying pan, it is also ideal for deep frying; its conical shape requires far less oil than a flat-bottomed deep-fryer, and has more depth (which means more heat) and more frying surface (which means that more food can be cooked more quickly at one go). Furthermore, since the wok has a large capacity on the upper end and as the oil level rises when the raw ingredients are added to it, there is little chance for the oil to overflow and cause the pan to catch fire as often is the case with the conventional deep fryer.

Besides being a frying pan (deep or shallow), a wok is also used for braising, steaming, boiling, and even smoking – in other words the whole spectrum of Chinese cooking method can be executed in one single use utensil. Basically there are only two different types of wok – the DOUBLE HANDLED WOK with two handles on two opposite sides, and the frying pan type SINGLE HANDLED WOK. Both types are usually made of light weight iron or carbonized steel, and the diameter ranges from about 12 – 18 inches (32 – 46cms.).

The single handled wok may appear to be unsteady and slightly tipped to one side, but in fact it is quite safe and much easier to handle particularly for quick stir-frying, since it offers you plenty of leverage of tilting and tossing. The disadvantages of using a double handled wok is that you need strong wrist and oven gloves to lift it, as the metal handles get very hot even if they are reinforced with heat resistant plastic or wood.

A dome shaped lid would be another useful item for certain braising and steaming dishes. Wok lids are usually made of light metal such as aluminium, with a wooden or plastic knob on top as a handle. The dome shape allows the cooking of a whole chicken or duck in a wok and the natural curve will guide the condensation inside the lid, sliding down along the edge, rather than dropping down directly onto the food that is being cooked.

Materials

The most common materials used in making woks today are carbon steel and cast iron. Although the latter was the most common type used in the past, cooks tend to be divided on whether carbon steel or cast iron woks are superior.

Carbon Steel: Currently, carbon steel is the most widely used material, being relatively inexpensive compared with other materials, relatively light in weight, providing quick heat conduction, and having reasonable durability. Their light weight makes them easier to lift and quicker to heat. Carbon steel woks, however, tend to be more difficult to season than those made of cast-iron. Carbon steel woks vary widely in price, style, and quality, which is based on ply and forming technique. The best quality woks are almost always hand-made, being pounded into shape by hand ("hand hammered") from two or more sheets of carbon steel which are shaped into final form by a ring-forming or hand-forging process.

Cast Iron: Two types of cast iron woks can be found in the market. Chinese-made cast iron woks are very thin (3 mm (0.12 in)), weighing only a little more than a carbon steel wok of similar size, while cast iron woks typically produced in the West tend to be much thicker (9 mm (0.35 in)), and very heavy. Because of the thickness of the cast iron, Western-style cast iron woks take much longer to bring up to cooking temperature, and its weight also makes stir-frying and bao techniques difficult.

Cast iron woks form a more stable carbonized layer of seasoning which makes it less prone to food sticking on the pan. While cast iron woks are superior to carbon steel woks in heat retention and uniform heat distribution, they respond slowly to heat adjustments and are slow to cool once taken off the fire. Because of this, food cooked in a cast iron wok must be promptly removed from the wok as soon as it is done to prevent overcooking. Chinese-style cast iron woks, although relatively light, are fragile and are prone to shattering if dropped or mishandled.

Non-stick: Steel woks coated with non-stick coatings such as PFA and Teflon, a development originated in Western countries, are now popular in Asia as well. These woks cannot be used with metal utensils, and foods cooked in non-stick woks tend to retain juices instead of browning in the pan. As they necessarily lack the carbonizing or seasoning of the classic steel or iron wok, non-stick woks do not impart the distinctive taste or sensation of "wok hei." The newest non stick coatings will withstand temperatures of up to 260 °C (500 °F), sufficient for stir-frying. Woks are also now being introduced with clad or five-layer construction, which sandwich a thick layer of aluminium or copper between two sheets of stainless steel. Clad woks can cost five to ten times the price of a traditional carbon steel or cast-iron wok, yet cook no better; for this reason they are not used in most professional restaurant kitchens. Clad woks are also slower to heat than traditional woks and not nearly as efficient for stir-frying.

Aluminium: Woks can also be made from aluminium. Although an excellent conductor of heat, it has somewhat inferior thermal capacity as cast iron or carbon steel, it loses heat to convection much faster than carbon steel, and it may be constructed much thinner than cast iron. Although anodized aluminium alloys can stand up to constant use, plain aluminium woks are too soft and damage easily. Aluminium is mostly used for wok lids.

Handles: The handles for woks come in two styles: loops and stick. Loop handles mounted on opposite sides of the wok are typical in southern China. The twin small loop handles are the most common handle type for woks of all types and materials, and are usually made of bare metal. Cooks needing to hold the wok to toss the food in cooking do so by holding a loop handle with a thick towel. Cooking with the tossing action in loop-handled woks requires a large amount of hand, arm and wrist strength. Loop handles typically come in pairs on the wok and are riveted, welded or extended from the wok basin.

Stick handles are long, made of steel, and are usually welded or riveted to the wok basin, or are an actual direct extension of the metal of the basin. Stick handles are popular in northern China, where food in the wok is frequently turned with a tossing motion of the arm and wrist when stir-frying food. The classic stick handle is made of hollow hammered steel, but other materials may be used, including wood or plastic-covered hand grips. Because of their popularity in northern China, stick-handled woks are often referred to as "pao woks" or "Peking pans". Stick handles are normally not found on cast iron woks since the wok is either too heavy for the handle or the metal is too thin to handle the tensile stress exerted by the handle. Larger diameter woks with stick-type handles frequently incorporate a "helper" handle consisting of a loop on the opposite side of the wok, which aids in handling.

STIRRER: Some wok sets often consist of a pair of stirrers in the shape of a ladle and a spatula, made of iron and stainless steel, both have a long handle with wooden tip. Of the two, the ladle or scooper is more versatile. It is an indispensable utensil in the professional kitchen, since it is used for adding ingredients and seasonings to the wok, besides being a stirrer and scooper during cooking as well as transferring food from the wok to serving dish or bowl. It is also a measure for the cook, as the standard ladle will hold 6 fl oz. (180 ml or 2/3 cup) liquid, slightly smaller than the rice bowl.

The spatula or shovel has a rounded end to match the contours of the wok, therefore it can be very useful for scraping and lifting fried food from the bottom of the wok such as when cooking a whole fish etc. Sometimes it is used in conjunction with the ladle for stir-frying, rather like when you are mixing and tossing a salad with a pair of spoon and fork.

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