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Initial Preparation And Cooking Technique Chinese Cuisine

Cooking Technique Chinese Cuisine
Cutting Techniques

The cutting of various ingredients into different sizes, thicknesses, and shapes is an important element in Chinese cuisine. As mentioned earlier, the Chinese always cut their food into small neat pieces before cooking, partly because of fuel conservation; small pieces of food can be cooked quickly before the sticks of firewood burn out! And partly because, small pieces of food are easier to be served and eaten with chopsticks, since knives and carvers have never been used on Chinese tables. The fact that small pieces of food only require a short cooking time, thus retaining much of the natural flavors and nutritious value is an added bonus in Chinese cooking, which must be regarded as an incidental discovery.

1. The size and shape of the cut ingredient must, first of all, be suitable for the particular method of cooking. For instance, the ingredients for quick stir-frying should be cut into small, thin slices or shreds, never large thick chunks.

2. Learn and understand the character of the ingredients, their textures, and the color changes – an important factor that helps you to choose the appropriate cutting and cooking method. Tender ingredients can be cut thicken than tougher ones that require more cooking time and most meats change color when cooked (chicken and pork become paler, while beef and lamb tend to become darker after they are cooked)

3. The ingredients must be cut into pieces of uniform shape, size, and thickness – this is not only to create aesthetic harmony but because each piece must be cooked evenly, larger pieces will be undercooked and smaller ones overcooked.

4. Whenever possible, different ingredients for the same dish should be cut into pieces of the same shape and size, slices are matched with slices, shreds with shreds, cubes with cubes, chunks with chunks, and so on.

There are certain shapes, which are standard in Chinese cooking. Slice, Strip, Shred, Chunk, Piece, Dice, Cube, Grain, and Mince. The actual shape is decided by the character of the ingredient and the cooking method required.

SLICE: thin, flat pieces of the ingredient. Cut them by first cutting the ingredient into sections as required by the dimension of the slice, and then slice the sections according to the desired thickness. The required size is often decided by the cooking method.

STRIP, SHRED: Strips and shreds are similar – one is thicker, and the other is thinner. First, cut the ingredient into slices, then pile them on top of each other like a pack of playing cards and cut them into strips or shreds as desired.

CHUNK, PIECE: There are many kinds of chunks and pieces: diamond, hexagonal, rectangular, or wedge-shaped. Cut them by first cutting the ingredient into broad strips or sections, and then into smaller pieces as required.

DICE, CUBE: Diced cubes and small cubes are pieces cut from strips.

GRAIN, MINCE: Grains are finely chopped ingredients, and are cut from shreds. Mince is even finer and is cut by much chopping and pressings with the flat of the blade.

In addition to these, there are FLOWER–CUTTING and SCORING for thick pieces such as kidney, squid, and fish in order to allow more heat and sauce penetration.

A Chinese dish is usually made up of more than one ingredient because when a single item is served on its own, it lacks contrast, therefore there is no harmony. Some cooks like to mix contrasting flavors and unrelated textures; others prefer the matching of similar tastes and colors. Some wish the flavor of each ingredient to be preserved, while others believe in the infusion of flavors.

To start with, you first choose the ‘main’ ingredient, then decide which type or types of ‘supplementary’ ingredients will go best with it, bearing in mind the difference in color, flavor, texture, and so on. For instance, if the main ingredient is chicken breast, which is white in color and tender in texture, then one would choose as a supplementary ingredient something crisp like celery, which is also pale in color, or one would perhaps choose something more colorful like green or red peppers, with crisp or something soft like mushrooms.

By combining different supplementary ingredients with the main one, and by the addition of various seasonings, it is possible to produce almost an endless variety of dishes without resorting to unusual and exotic items. That is why a Chinese cook abroad can always produce a Chinese meal, even using only local ingredients. For the ‘Chineseness’ of the food depends entirely on how it is prepared and cooked, not what ingredient is used.

As mentioned earlier, the cutting of various ingredients into different sizes, thicknesses, and shapes is an important element in Chinese cuisine. The Chinese practice of cutting their food into small, neat pieces before cooking, partly because of fuel conservation and partly because small pieces of food are easier to be served and eaten with chopsticks, small pieces of food are easier to be served and eaten with chopsticks since knives and carvers have not been used in Chinese tables since ancient times. Of course, small pieces of food require only a short cooking time, thus retaining much of the natural flavors and nutritional value.

The size and shape of the cut ingredient must, first of all, be suitable for the particular method of cooking. For instance, ingredients for quick stir-frying should be cut into small, thin slices or shreds, never large, thick chunks. Learn and understand the character of the ingredients, their texture, and their color changes – an important factor that helps you to choose the appropriate cutting and cooking method. Tender ingredients can be cut thicker than tougher ones that require more cooking time, and most meats change color when cooked. Chicken and pork become paler while beef and lamb tend to go darker after being cooked.

After cooking, the next step in the preparation of food (usually applies to ingredients such as meats, poultry, and fish, not to vegetables) before the actual cooking is marinating. The basic method is to marinate the white meats and fish in salt, egg white, and corn flour, in order to preserve the natural delicate texture of the food when cooked in hot oil. For red meats the basic marinade usually consists of salt, sugar, soya sauce, rice wine, and corn flour, the purpose of this marinating is to tenderize and enhance the flavors of the meat.

When it comes to actual cooking, the two most important factors are the degree of heat and the duration of cooking. These two factors are so closely related to each other that it is very difficult to give a precise cooking time in most recipes since much depends on the size and condition of the ingredients, and above all, on the type of stove and cooking utensils used.

All in all, there are well over 50 different distinct methods of cooking in Chinese Cooking. They fall roughly into the following categories:

WATER COOKING: Boiling, poaching, and simmering.

OIL COOKING: Deep-frying, Shallow frying, stir-frying, and braising.

FIRE COOKING: Roasting, baking and barbecuing.

STEAM COOKING: Steaming.

COOKING METHODS

The Chinese divide the temperature of heat into ‘Military’ (high or fierce and medium) and ‘civil’ (low or gentle and weak). And proper control of temperature and cooking time is key to success or failure.

High or fierce heat is usually used for the quick cooking of tender foods. Different kinds of frying, steaming, instant boiling, etc., call for high heat.

Medium or moderate heat can be used for quick braising, steaming, and boiling.

Low or gentle heat is used for slow cooking allowing the flavors to penetrate through all the ingredients such as in roasting and simmering.

Weak heat is used for long cooking, turning hard ingredients soft. It is used for simmering, braising, and stewing.

Here are 25 commonly used methods in Chinese cooking. One dish may require one, two, or three methods; each will produce a different effect.

CHAUN: Quick or rapid boiling. This simple cooking method is often used for making soups. Bring the water or stock, boil over high heat, add the ingredients and seasonings, and serve as soon as the soup re-boils. No thickening agent is added and the vegetables will be crisp and fresh.

SHAU: Instant boiling or rinsing. Thinly sliced ingredients are dipped into boiling water for a second or two, occasionally drinking it as if rinsing, then serve with a sauce. This cooking method keeps the ingredients fresh and tender.

AO: Stewing or braising. Flavor a little hot oil with spring onions and ginger root, and then stir-fry the ingredients for a short time. Now add the stock or water and seasonings. Simmer over low heat. The food should be soft and tender.

HUI: Braising or Assembling. A method of cooking a dish that consists of several different ingredients. Stir-fry the ingredients first, add stock or water and seasonings, boil over high heat for a short while, then thicken the gravy before serving. Alternately, prepare the gravy first then add the partly cooked ingredients (deep fried or steamed) cook over low heat, thicken the gravy and serve.

BAN: Mixing salads. This method does not actually involve cooking, but simply calls for cutting the raw or cooking ingredients and dressing them with seasonings.

QIAND : Hot salads. Here the raw ingredients are parboiled or blanched first, then dressed with seasonings.

The difference between cold salad and hot salad dressing is as follows -

Cold Salad Dressing –  Soya sauce, vinegar, and sesame seed oil.

Hot Salad Dressing – Ginger shreds, Sichuan peppercorn, salt, sugar, and sesame seed oil.

YAN: Pickling. Pickle the food with salt and sugar or with salt and wine. Dishes are prepared this way to have a subtle fragrance and are crisp.

JIAN: Shallow frying. A flat-bottomed pan is used, with a little oil and medium or low heat. Seasonings are added when food is half done. The pan should be turned from time to time during cooking so that the heat is evenly distributed.

TA: Pan-frying. The ingredients are coated with batter and fried in a small amount of oil on both sides over low heat until done. The ingredients may be deep-fried first, and then finished off by pan-frying. Seasonings and sauce are added towards the end of cooking.

TIE-PAN: Sticking frying. This is basically a form of shallow frying, but only one side is fried, the food is not turned over so that one side is golden brown and the other side is soft and tender.

ZHA: Deep frying. Food is fried in a large quantity of oil over high or medium heat. There are different variations of deep-frying.

1. Neat deep-frying:  The raw ingredients are not coated with batter or flour.

2. Dry deep-frying: Raw ingredients are coated with dry flour or breadcrumbs.

3. Soft deep-frying: Raw ingredients are coated with batter, first and then deep-fried for crispiness.

LIU Sauté: This is a special technique, which involves two stages of cooking. First deep-fry, quick or rapidly boil steam, or boil the ingredients until done, then mix with seasonings to make a sauce. Next either.

1. Dark brown sauté: Pour the sauce over the cooked foods and serve.

2. Slippery sauté: Stir-fry the raw ingredients and pour the sauce over halfway through cooking, stirring constantly until done.

3. Soft sauté: Steam or boil the ingredients and then, while they are still hot, add a thin and delicate sauce.

CHAO Stir-frying: Stir-fry the ingredients in a little hot oil over very high heat. This method is widely used and has many variations:

a. Pure stir-frying: The raw ingredients are not marinated nor coated with a batter, they are just stir-fried in hot oil, and seasonings are added towards the end of cooking. Most vegetables are cooked in this way.

b. Braising stir-frying: The main and supplementary ingredients are cooked in this way, separately at first and then brought together with the addition of seasoning and stock or a thickening agent (usually cornflour mixed with water), and braised very quickly over high heat.

c. Twice-cooked stir-frying: One ingredient has been previously cooked and is here cut into smaller pieces and stir-fried with other ingredients and seasonings.

BAO Rapid stir-frying: Another form of stir-frying, the ingredient or ingredients have been deep-fried or rapidly boiled first, they are then quickly stir-fried over very high heat for a short period of time. Variations in this method include rapid stir-frying in oil, rapid stir-frying in bean sauce, and rapid stir-frying with spring onions.

PENG Quick braising: This is one of the important cooking techniques and is always used with deep-frying. The ingredients are cut into small pieces and deep fried first, then taken out of the oil and a sauce is added. While the sauce is hot stir-fry over high heat and remove the wok from the heat and combine stirring a few more times before serving.

DUN Slow cooking: There are two kinds of slow cooking in water. Slow cooking in water is a form of stewing, slow cooking out of water involves a double boiling technique. When the pot that contains the food is immersed in a large pot of boiling water.

MEN Slow braising: The food must be fried first (lightly browned) then all the ingredients (seasonings etc) are in a tightly covered pot and simmered over very low heat slowly like a casserole.

LU Soya stewing: A soya gravy is made first, the ingredients are stewed in this gravy over low heat.

JIANG A soya braising: The difference between soya stewing and soya braising is that the ingredients are marinated first in the sauce in which it is cooked, with additional stock and water. The sauce is reduced or thickened and is served with the dish.

SHAO Red cooking: In this widely used method of cooking the meat is cut into small chunks, then fried, deep fried, parboiled, or steamed until half has done. Seasonings (Soya sauce, wine, ginger, and sugar, etc.) stock, or water are then added to it, the whole thing is brought to a boil and simmered until done.

PA Braising in the sauce: In this method, a little oil is first flavored with spring onions and/or ginger root, the ingredients are then placed in the wok/pot and simmered until done.

ZHU Boiling: Boil the ingredients directly in water over low heat.

ZHENG Steaming: Another widely used method in China not only for cooking but also for treating raw ingredients before cooking by other methods, or to keep food warm after they have been cooked.

KAO Roasting: The ingredients are first marinated or treated then either cooked in an oven or over an open fire like barbequing.

SHUN Smoking: Cooking with heat and smoke from burning materials such as sawdust, tea leaves, cypress branches, bamboo leaves, or granulated sugar.

Learn these methods carefully and practice with different ingredients for each method, bear in mind that certain food may or may not be suitable for a particular cooking method.

The most important point to remember is cooking time. Even a slight variation in time or temperature will lead to different results. So you should use your own eyes, nose, and ears while cooking. Once you have learned to control the temperature and cooking time, you should be able to judge the precise moment when a dish a done.

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