If you are just starting to learn Chinese cooking, you may get confused by such terms as sautéing, marinade, stir-fry and deep-fry. In this article, you will be introduced to four basic Chinese cooking methods; frying, steaming, smoking, and roasting.
Chinese cooking uses many methods of frying, including deep-frying, dry deep-frying, clear deep-frying, quick-frying, and of course, stir-frying.
In deep-frying (zha), ingredients are fried in four to six cups of vegetable or peanut oil over high heat.
In dry deep-frying (gan zha), foods are given a thick coating of cornstarch before being fried. They come out very crispy outside and tender inside.
In clear deep-frying (qing zha), the foods are not coated with cornstarch before being cooked.
In quick-frying (bao), foods are deep-fried in very hot oil over high heat, and then the oil is poured out and seasonings are added to the food, which is left in the wok.
When stir-frying (chao), ingredients are cut into small cubes, strips, shreds, or slices and cooked over high heat in a few tablespoons of very hot oil in a wok. The technique of stir-frying involves using a flat scoop to toss and turn the ingredients so they cook evenly in the oil. Sometimes, the wok is also shaken. Stir-frying usually takes only a few minutes. The food must be removed as soon as it is cooked to guarantee its fresh flavor and crunchy-tender texture.
Chinese cooking uses two methods of steaming, which is cooking foods over, not in, liquids.
In basic steaming (zheng), the ingredients are placed in a heat-proof container with a seasoned sauce. Then the bamboo or metal container is placed in a wok partially filled with water and set over high heat. The food cooks quickly in the vapor and is removed when barely done. The food is fresh and tender.
Zheng dun steaming
Another form of steaming involves placing one tightly-closed pot inside a larger pot (zheng dun). In this method, the ingredients, a seasoned sauce, and a large amount of stock go into one pot, which must have a tight-fitting lid. The pot is half immersed in boiling water in another larger pot and steams for two or three hours. The food is very soft.
Chinese cooking treats smoking and roasting similarly. In smoking (xun), foods are partially cooked and then cured in smoke coming from burning wood or peanut shells.
In roasting (kao), raw ingredients are marinated in seasonings before being roasted in an oven or barbecued over direct heat from a coal or charcoal burner. Thickening the liquids in the pan into a sauce or gravy is often the last step in a recipe. Sauces are made by stirring a mixture of cornstarch that has been dissolved in an equal amount of water into the liquid and cooking it until it thickens. Sauces help blend the flavors of all the ingredients, impart an added aroma, and give the dish a shiny, glistening finish.