Tired of takeout? Learn how to make authentic Chinese food at home with our tips and tricks.
Chinese cooking involves fresh ingredients with delicious sauces that transport you to a different place without leaving your house. It looks simple enough, but cooking Chinese can be a very intricate process. Especially if you are just starting out in your journey.
Chinese cooking involves a little skill, some key pieces of equipment, good ingredients and a whole lot of patience.
There are electric woks and they work very well. But I think an old fashioned Wok works better than any electric wok out there. It is a simple wok with a heavy bottom and wooden handle. You can find them in most Chinese markets and they are actually cheaper than most other varieties.
Before you can use the wok though, you will need to pre-season it. Seasoning your wok will start a process that will create a non-stick layer. Every time you cook on it, the oils will season it more. It takes around 11 uses to fully season a wok.
Pre-seasoning can be pretty simple. You will first need to clean your wok in a sink of soapy water. Scrub the inside of the wok with a scouring pad and then completely rinse, making sure all the manufacturer’s oils are completely removed.
After you are finished rinsing, completely dry your wok with a dry towel. Then place the wok on the stove over med-high heat to evaporate any left over water.
How to Season Your Wok
You are now ready to season your wok. You first need to pick an oil with a high-smoke point. You can use peanut oil to help bring out the flavor in your Chinese food.
Preheat your wok until a drop of water dissolves immediately. When that happens you are ready to apply the oil.
Add about two tablespoons to the wok and then using a towel and tongs, apply the oil to the bottom and insides of the wok. Once done wipe away any excess, turn the stove off and allow the wok to cool.
Store it in a dry place and it will be ready to use when the time comes.
Bamboo steamers are a must if you want to cook dumplings and dim sum. The lidded bamboo basket sits in pan of simmering water.
Not only is it an easy way to steam veggies, shrimp, dumplings and fish, it is a very economical way because most steamers are cheap.
You will need a good, sharp knife to chop vegetables, meat and other ingredients like scallions and garlic. While I am all about saving money, you do not want to skimp on your knife.
I have been using Cutco knives since college, and I love their lifetime warranty. If they are a bit out of your budget right now, I highly suggest using a moderately priced one that can be sharpened.
Wooden Spatula and Slotted Spoon
Ingredients are very crucial to Chinese cooking. You should only using the freshest ingredients.
While it may be easier and tempting to stock up ingredients for a couple of recipes, you really shouldn’t do that. A lot of ingredients for cooking Chinese food don’t keep well and you may end up wasting more money when you’re trying to save money.
Some basic pantry ingredients you need and can stock up on are:
- Soy sauce
- Sesame oil
- Chili garlic sauce
- Corn starch
- Rice vinegar
- Egg noodles
- Jasmine rice
- Rice noodles
It’s always fun to explore new ingredients at local Chinese food grocery stores as well!
Chinese Cooking Techniques
Stir frying is where your wok comes in handy thanks to its shape. You will need to prep all of your ingredients before you start because it is a quick process and can burn easily because you are using a high heat. Meat and vegetables should be cut uniform to allow for even cooking.
Once everything is prepared, heat your wok until it is almost smoking. This prevents the food from tasting greasy, which can be pretty gross.
Add your ingredients and swirl them around. Use your spatula to give everything a good toss, taking care to keep things moving. You don’t want the ingredients to sit to long because that will cause them to stick and ruin your meal.
Deep frying is used for things like wontons and egg rolls. While you can most certainly deep fry in your wok, I wouldn’t recommend it.
If you can afford one I would get a deep fryer. If you can’t, use a large pot with a heavy bottom. Again, the oil should be hot or your food will end up super greasy because it will absorb the oil while trying to cook.
I always test for readiness by dropping a piece of the dough into the fryer. When bubbles rise around it, I know that it is ready.
You can also make foods that are traditionally deep fried in the air fryer for a lighter option.
I already explained the use of a steamer. It is a very handy kitchen gadget to have.
Line the bottom of your steamer with leaves. I suggest lettuce or cabbage. After you have it lined, lay your food on top of the leaves. Don’t over fill because it can cause your food to stick together.
Find a pot your steamer can fit into snugly, but don’t put it in yet. Your wok would be perfect for this. Fill it with a couple inches of water or flavored broth if you are making chicken/pork dumplings.
Bring the water to a simmer, not a boil, then place the steamer in the wok. Let the simmering water perform its magic. You can check its process occasionally and you may notice your leaves are wilting – that is fine.
Continue steaming until food is cooked through. Normally between 15-30 minutes, depending on what you are cooking. Shrimp and fish will cook faster than pork and chicken.
Cooking Chinese food can be an amazing experience. It is way better than takeout and will save you a lot of money! Check out some of our favorite Chinese food recipes below.