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Volume II
February 28, 2005

20 Tips to Chinese Meals

  • Try to vary the meat and vegetables in a dish, so that there is an interesting variety of flavors, textures, and colors. Prepare everything before you start cooking: meat, vegetables, and sauces. 
  • Wash green, leafy vegetables ahead of time. This gives them more time to drain so they will not be too wet when you stir-fry.
  • While it's nice to own one, you don't need a cleaver to cook Chinese food.
  • Place all the cut vegetables on a tray or cooking sheet. That way, you won't forget anything. Just be careful not to mix them up, as cooking times will vary among vegetables.
  • Drain tofu before using, as this allows it to absorb the other flavors in the dish.
  • Marinate fresh meat.
  • Always cut beef across the grain.
  • Cut the meat into uniform pieces so that it will cook more evenly. If you're not using a recipe, a general rule is to cut everything into bite-sized pieces.
  • When adding oil for stir-frying, drizzle the oil down the sides of the wok.
  • When deep-frying, to tell if the oil is hot enough, simply stick a chopstick in the wok. When the oil sizzles all around it, you can begin adding the food.
  • Don't use dark soy sauce unless the recipe specifically calls for it. When a recipe simply says to add soy or soya sauce, use light soy sauce or one of the Japanese brands such as Kikkoman.
  • If preparing stir-fried meat and vegetables, stir-fry the meat first and set it aside. Usually you will return it to the wok with a sauce during the final stages of cooking. 
  • When stir-frying vegetables, cook the toughest and thickest vegetables for a longer period than the softer, leafy vegetables. Vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, and cabbage need to be cooked longer than bok choy, which in turn is cooked longer than snow peas or bean sprouts.
  • If you are uncertain in what order to cook vegetables, simply stir-fry them separately. Never overcook.
  • Once you've gained a bit of experience and can "guestimate" amounts such as one teaspoon or two tablespoons, try storing sauces in plastic containers similar to the syrup dispensers used in restaurants. This cuts down on the amount of washing up after each meal.  Just be sure to label each of the containers!
  • Always use fresh ginger, not powdered.
  • If desired, use sugar as a substitute for MSG (Monosodium Glutamate).
  • The formula for mixing cornstarch and water is 1 to 2 or 1 to 4: for example, 1 tablespoon of cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of water
  • Taste the dish and adjust the seasonings as desired.
  • Finally, remember that, in the immortal words of one of my favorite cooking teachers: "the two most important things about Chinese cooking are a hot stove and a sharp knife."

**Rhonda Parkinson offers this helpful advice in the article Twenty Tips for Cooking Chinese Food.

* DVO welcomes your kitchen hints and cooking or nutrition questions! Email us and we'll post your hints and Q/A's in upcoming newsletters! *

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