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Learning to cook Chinese food

Madame Yee Yo, the author of You Can Cook Anything Chinese: Simpler and Surer by Eleven Cooking Methods describes the main techniques for preparing Chinese food. The following two recipes use three of these methods: stir-frying, steaming, and smoking.

Chinese stir-fried vegetables+

Stir Frying
For stir frying, use a vegetable oil such as canola, corn or soybean. Sesame oil is used mostly for garnish and not for cooking. Stir frying is done at the highest temperature setting of the stove. If the stove is electric, preheat the burner to red-hot before using the wok. Place some oil on the wok and heat it until almost smoking. Add the food and stir thoroughly by scooping and turning the food. You must hear a loud sizzle when the food is added to the wok, otherwise, the oil is not hot enough. Stir frying is done in small batches to avoid over-crowding. Vegetables are cooked first and set aside. Then the meat is stir fried and the vegetables are returned to the wok for the final tossing of all the ingredients. Remove the food from the wok as soon as cooking is finished, and serve immediately.

  Chinese stir frying
Stir Frying
  Antonio cooking with Madame Yee Yo
Antonio cooking with Madame Yee Yo

Stir-fried vegetables with bean threads
Some Chinese vegetarian dishes have such a hearty texture that they are sometimes mistaken for meat dishes. The following recipe uses a variety of vegetables, which may be substituted depending on what you have available.

6 dried mushrooms
1/4 cup lotus seeds
2 oz. bundle of bean threads
1/4 cup lotus root slices
1 carrot, sliced
1 stem of broccoli, sliced
8 ears of baby corn
1/4 cup snow peas
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons of oil for frying

Soak the lotus seeds and the dried mushrooms in warm water for 30 minutes. Drain and discard the tough stems of the mushrooms. Cut the mushrooms, if large.
Soak the bean threads in warm water for 5 minutes. Drain and cut into 3-inch sections.
Heat oil in wok over high flame. Fry the lotus seeds and mushrooms for half a minute. Add the other vegetables in the order listed. Stir after each addition.
Add the soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil. Stir until the liquid boils. Stir in bean threads. Serve hot or cold.

Curing was the principal method of preserving meat and fish before the invention of refrigeration. In modern times, the meat is first marinated with salt and placed in plastic bags for several days in the refrigerator.

Smoked Chicken
This recipe for smoked chicken starts by marinating the chicken, then steaming it, and finally smoking it. Rub a roaster weighing 3 or 4 pounds inside and out with a mixture of 3 tablespoons of salt and 1 tablespoon of ground Sichuan peppercorns. Place the chicken in a plastic bag with breast side down. Put the remaining salt and pepper inside the cavity over the thick part of the breast. Close the bag, place it on a pan to hold any leakage, and store it in the refrigerator for three days.

Chinese Smoked Chicken

In a steamer, bring water to a boil. Rinse the marinated chicken thoroughly. Place it in a bowl, breast side up, and put it in the steamer. Cover, and steam for 45 minutes. Drain and discard liquid.

The process of smoking can be done on the stove top with the smoke of brown sugar as follows: 1) Line the bottom of a wok with foil and spread 1/4 cup of brown sugar on it. 2) Place a wire cake cooling rack over the sugar, and place the food to be smoked on the rack. The food should not have direct contact with the sugar. 3) Cover the wok tightly, and stuff any crevices between the lid and the wok with damp paper towels to keep the smoke in.

Chinese smoking method

Turn the burner to medium. You should be able to smell the smoke after a couple of minutes. If not, turn the heat higher. After 10 minutes, turn the burner off and keep the wok covered for another 10 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate and brush the skin with sesame oil. When cool, chop the chicken and arrange the pieces on a serving platter garnished with lettuce and parsley.

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