08- Kitchen Equipment

Serves: 5



For stir-frying:
A skillet or pan about 12 inches in diameter, of metal thin enough so that ingredients can heat up quickly. It should be sufficiently deep and wide so that food won't scatter over the stove during the vigors of stir-frying. (Some cooks prefer French-type iron skillets because of their rounded sides. The more seasoned by use these are, the better their surfaces are smoother and food isn't apt to stick.) The pan must have a cover. If it doesn't, a tin or enamel saucepan lid that fits snugly will do.

For deep-frying:
A pan large enough to hold several inches of oil, deep enough for the ingredients to float when done. (An inside wire basket, though not necessary, is an added convenience.)

For steaming:
A covered pot large enough to hold a heatproof dish on a rack and still permit the steam to circulate freely between food and lid. The lid should be as close-fitting as possible. (See BACKGROUND, 04- Kitchen Equipment, NOTE:.. and HOW-TO, _Steamers: To make your own) For slow-cooking: a large pot, either of heavy metal or of earthenware to hold the heat evenly and well. It must have a cover. (An asbestos pad is useful in keeping heat at a minimum.)

NOTE: Pressure cookers are not recommended. They cook foods too quickly for the seasonings to permeate and the sauces to color. Their vents also tend to become clogged by the thick gravies. When used without the pressure, however, these pots are excellent. They're made of heavy metal, have snug covers and need less water their lids can be removed from time to time for basting or turning the ingredients.

For cooking rice:
A tall and deep-rather than shallow and wide-pan which gives even heat and has a tight-fitting lid. (The high sides will keep the rice from boiling over.) Brass and copper pots conduct heat most evenly, but a heavy-bottomed aluminum one will also do. (Copper-bottomed pans, however, don't heat evenly and often cause rice to burn.) Since rice doubles in quantity when cooked, the pot should be large enough to permit such expansion. A two-quart pot is a good family size. (Always use the same pot in cooking rice to get consistent results from the same amount of water, the same amount of heat.)

For chafing-dish cookery:
A standard chafing dish, but a very large one. A good-size soup pot set on a hot plate can substitute.

For cutting:
A long, heavy chef's knife with triangular blade and straight edge. (Straight blades cut faster than curved ones.) It must always be kept razor-sharp, or else it will bruise the ingredients. Also essential is a good, solid cutting board, the thicker the better. (The Chinese use a block from a tropical tree that's about 15 inches in diameter, 6 inches thick. This must be rubbed down at first with pork fat or beef fat to prevent drying and cracking. Later, constant usage will keep it moist.)

For stir-frying:
A small shovel-like spatula or pancake turner to flip ingredients quickly and rapidly. The shorter the blade, the more maneuverable the spatula. A 3-inch blade is best. A metal spoon with a heatproof handle can be substituted. (Although wooden spoons are recommended for other uses, they are not suitable for stir-frying. They tend to absorb too much flavor from the liquids.)

For stirring, tasting, ladling:
A variety of spoons, dippers and ladles. (The Chinese use wooden and porcelain implements rather than metal, except in stir-frying, because contact with metal changes the taste of food. Also, wooden and porcelain spoons don't burn the tongue or bruise the ingredients.)

For washing and draining vegetables, rice, noodles, etc.:
The standard variety of sieves and colanders.

For draining oil from deep-fried foods:
A deep-frying basket, strainer or slotted spoon. (The Chinese use shallow round brass mesh strainers with long bamboo handles, which come in a wide range of sizes. Their shallowness makes it easy to lift whole ducks and chickens out of the hot oil. They also can double as sieves.)

For pastries, wanton, etc.:
A rolling pin. (The Chinese cut a section from a new broom or mop handle and sandpaper it to a fine smooth finish.)

The Chinese use three basic utensils-the wok, the cleaver-knife and chopsticks-of such versatility that with these alone just about any dish can be turned out in short order. Each is inexpensive and simple to use all are available in Chinese hardware and food shops. Although not essential, they can add to both cooking pleasure and efficiency.

The Wok:
This is an all-purpose thin-metal cooking pan which looks like an inverted coolie hat because of its flared sides and rounded bottom. (Originally these rounded bottoms fitted into old Chinese stoves. For modern stoves they're sold with a metal ring or collar, usually made of tin, which keeps the wok level, prevents tipping.) Woks are made of various metals: iron, copper, brass, aluminum and stainless steel. Thin tempered iron is best because it permits the most intense heat, the fastest cooking. It does need to be seasoned, however. (See HOW-TO, _Wok: To treat a new one.) The wok lid, usually made of aluminum, has high sloped sides, is flat on top. The wok itself has squared-off handles.

The wok's versatility seems limitless: it's shallow enough for pan-frying, deep enough for parboiling, simmering, braising, deep-frying and steaming. (It can be converted into a first-class steamer simply by setting a round wire cake rack firmly on the bottom and adding a few inches of boiling water.)

The wok's versatility extends to non-Chinese cooking as well. Small woks are fine for rolling and turning individual French omelets larger woks, for Southern-Fried Chicken. The largest ones can be filled with charcoal and used as outdoor grills.

The wok is ideal for stir-frying. Its thin metal heats quickly. Its spherical shape and high smooth sides distribute the heat evenly, permit ingredients to be stirred vigorously without spilling. It also provides maximum cooking surface, requires less oil and, with its rounded sides, makes food easy to remove when done.

Woks come in a variety of sizes, with the 12-inch or 14-inch considered a good family size. Its spherical shape makes it adaptable for one, four and sometimes even eight people. Most Chinese kitchens have two woks: a large one for rice, a smaller one for meat, fish and vegetables.

Also available in Chinese hardware and food stores are inexpensive iron spatulas, designed to be used with the wok. Their blades have a rounded rather than a flat surface so they can slide easily around the sides of the pot and turn the food over. The blade is non-flexible and sturdy, making it excellent for stir-frying heavier ingredients. The spatula is often used in conjunction with a matching ladle. The ladle not only holds liquid seasonings, but can also be used with the spatula in a lifting, dropping, stir-frying motion that resembles tossing a salad.

The Cleaver-Knife:
This all-purpose Chinese cutting tool looks like a butcher's cleaver. It has a cylindrical wooden handle and a rectangular blade made of tempered steel. (This is preferable to stainless steel, which is a harder metal and therefore more difficult to sharpen. Tempered steel will rust, however, unless thoroughly dried after each use and rubbed lightly with vegetable oil from time to time.) The blade is about 3 by 8 inches, the handle about 4 inches long. The cleaver-knife comes in two weights. The lighter version is used for slicing softer meats and vegetables. The heavier cleaver-knife is more versatile: it performs these functions and can also chop bones and lobster and crab shells, disjoint poultry and mince meat. (The top of its blade, being blunt and thick, can even be used for mashing.) With either type of cleaver-knife, the flat side of the blade is used for transferring chopped foods from board to bowl it is also fine for pounding and tenderizing meat, for crushing garlic, ginger and radishes.

These can be used to replace spoons, forks, wire whisks, ladles and egg beaters. For cooking, bamboo and wooden chopsticks are best because of their ability to withstand high temperatures. (Metal-tipped chopsticks conduct too much heat, plastic ones can't take much heat at all.) Single chopsticks are ideal for every kind of beating, piercing, stirring or mixing. A pair of chopsticks can be used to add ingredients to the pan, lift a morsel out to see if it's done, and remove ingredients when they are ready.

In deep-frying, chopsticks are excellent for shaking off excess oil and for keeping batter-coated foods from sticking together. In stir-frying, they're fine for keeping the ingredients constantly moving, for turning the individual pieces over so they'll cook evenly and besides, they don't bruise the softer foods. Chopsticks are easy to keep clean, never go out of commission and rarely break. At first, using chopsticks may seem awkward, but with practice they become, in effect, extensions of the fingers.

NOTE: For steaming, the Chinese use special steamer pans set in tiers, one atop the other, over boiling water. The metal pans are perforated, the bamboo have lattice-work bottoms which permit the rising steam to pass through them. (A layer of cloth is usually placed in each tray to soak up excess moisture and to keep the smaller ingredients from slipping through. The cloth is always dampened first to make it more absorbent.) A lid set on the top pan contains the steam. As many units are used as there are foods to be cooked, making this an ingenious way to steam several dishes simultaneously, using the same boiling water and the same heat.

The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook. ©1994 by Gloria Bley Miller.

This 08- Kitchen Equipment recipe is from the Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook Cookbook. Download this Cookbook today.

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