Using Chinese kitchen equipment is not as terrifying as some people may think. Although some equipment may look rather unusual, these tools help tremendously in the preparation of some of the most delicious Chinese dishes. This article highlights many popular kitchen equipment found in a Chinese kitchen. As the world becomes more global and reaching out to many parts of the world, we can find increasing international cooking tools in our local grocery stores without venturing to Chinatown or an Asian grocery store (though one can find more options at better prices in the latter). So sit back and learn how you can enrich your kitchen knowledge!
Wok Cantonese word for pot and arguably the most important tool in the Chinese kitchen. Traditional wok is round-bottomed and used for cooking over an open flame. The sides of wok are hugged by the flames thus becomes the perfect heat conductor. Flat-bottomed woks are designed for cooking over kitchen stoves. Regardless the shape, the most important thing we need to ensure is that as much as the wok’s surface area as possible is in contact with the heat source-- ideal for stir-frying.
Cooking utensil used typically in stir-frying are chopsticks, wooden, plastic or metal spoons and spatulas and tongs. If you don’t have a wok, GET ONE or a shallow non-stick frying pan should suffice for stir-frying.
Steamer No dim sum eating experience is complete without this tool. It’s a brilliantly simple way of steaming- a lidded bamboo basket set over a pan of boiling water. Another modern option is steamer made from aluminum. I guess the Chinese has figured out how to create the best steamers over the centuries. The traditional bamboo steamer has a slightly dome shaped lid that absorbs any condensation so that no liquid drips down to waterlog the food. The steamers can be stacked and some have lacings/ strings on the sides to tie them together. Unfortunately, bamboo steamers cannot last as long as the aluminum ones but they are cheap to replace!
Steamers are used to steam a variety of foods- from dim sum to veggies to meats to fish. They can be used to reheat food and are easy to clean and store. They are light in weight and come in a variety of sizes.
Utensils Besides the common tongs, spatulas, spoons, ladles, measuring cups and jugs, scales, knives, peelers, prep bowls, saucepans of varying sizes, stockpots with lids, the Chinese kitchen is no stranger to:
- Strainer/ sieve Approximately 4 inches in diameter, it is used to strain chili flakes or bits of food from oil
- Chef’s wooden chopsticks At least 6 inches in length, these chopsticks are great for retrieving ingredients in deep wok filled with deep-frying oil
- Spider Approximately 5 inches in diameter, one uses it to scoop and drain food
- Mortar and pestle Granite is more common in the Chinese kitchen versus the more fragile porcelain and clay versions. Larger ones are recommended as you can pound large food items in a go. If you want a faster alternative, then opt for a food processor
- Chinese cleaver Make way for the next big thing in Iron Chef! This knife is awesome for chopping some of the hardest meat and cracking bones. Select a cleaver with a comfortable grip, weight and size. You may want to go for a wooden handle as the metal one can become slippery when your hands are wet
Now that you know what tools to use, go, yes GO and purchase your very own set of Chinese kitchen equipment.
Chinese cooking relies on few simple set of cooking techniques. When master them, one can prepare dozens of Chinese food. The techniques are:
- Blanching in boiling water or hot oil for a few seconds
- Braising in seasoned liquids for long period of time
- Deep-frying to achieve crispy, light texture on the outside while keeping the inside moist and tender
- Marinating to add flavor, tenderize and/or intensify the food
- Pan-frying is best used with flat-bottomed wok to cook larger pieces of food in more oil than stir-frying
- Red cooking, another style of braising but utilizing Chinese ingredients in the braising liquid. Some of these ingredients are soy sauce, Chinese rice wine, brown or rock sugar, star anise, ginger, garlic and dried tangerine peel
- Roasting over large charcoal or wood burning ovens to create the crispy, browned surface (like char siu!)
- Shallow-frying differs from pan-frying. Uses less oil so that food is partially submerge
- Simmering food to gently cook food below the boiling point
- Steaming over boiling water
- Stir-frying embodies the essence of quick, efficient Chinese cooking. Cook food quickly over high heat
- Wok-smoking to flavor food with aromatic ingredients such as tea, brown sugar and spices
Next to mastering the cooking techniques, the equally important skill is knowing how to use a knife to prepare the ingredients. Here are some common knife techniques.
- Matchstick and julienne cutting
- Cubing and dicing
- Roll-cutting, good for cutting long cylindrical veggies like carrots and celery and exposing more surface area
PS: Don’t forget to check out my recipes for stir-fries and curries! Like stir-fried beef with veggies.
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