Chinese Food Tips?Chinese
Posted 26 February 2002 - 11:24 AM
Posted 27 February 2002 - 03:39 AM
"Chinese food" it appears that you mean essentially the
food served in the many inexpensive Chinese carryout
restaurants in the US. And, my experience is that this
food is curiously uniform as if somewhere there were one
book on how to do
Shredded Pork with Garlic Sauce
Beef with Broccoli
General Tso's Chicken
Beef with Orange Flavor
This food also has some other advantages:
o Cost. It does appear that the ingredients for
this food are remarkably inexpensive. So,
don't need many truffles or much 'foie gras'.
o Popularity. These Chinese restaurants have had
a good and stable business going for years. At
lunch or dinner time, they commonly hand over
sacks with 1-4 dishes for $5 to $35, one sack
every minute or so. Although I live in a very
rural area of Upstate NY, I can think of at
least five of these restaurants close to me and
several more not much farther away. Curiously,
I believe I can think of more of these Chinese
restaurants near me than McDonald's, Wendy's
and Burger King restaurants combined.
o Ingredients. It does appear that nearly all
the ingredients these restaurants use are not
very difficult to get. These restaurants are
doing a lot with yellow globe onions, carrots,
celery, various forms of cabbage, broccoli,
beef, chicken, pork, eggs, corn starch, soy
sauce, garlic, ginger, white button mushrooms,
bean sprouts, canned water chestnuts, canned
bamboo shoots, canned straw mushrooms, chicken
broth, hot peppers, cooking oil, and long grain
white rice, and these ingredients are readily
available in the US in high quality at low
o Novelty. The food in these restaurants really
is quite different from other popular food in
the US. Maybe the food is not authentically
Chinese or the same as one would find in Taiwan
or China, but it is quite different from what
is in US or European cooking or in
o Labor. It is easy to watch the cooks at these
restaurants, and they do their work very
quickly. Sure, there is prior preparation, but
the effort is clearly not enormous. Net, the
labor required is comparatively small.
o Efficiency. And, beyond just what the
restaurants do, there is more efficiency in the
whole 'supply chain': Clearly the rice is
easier than the McDonald's hamburger buns.
And, the soy sauce is easier than the
McDonald's mustard, pickle, or catsup. The
efficiency is not uniform -- wood ears may be
harder than pickles. But, generally, there is
some good efficiency in this Chinese cooking.
Net, this cooking is doing a lot efficiently.
Sure, a suitable heat source would be good, but I believe
Metal Fusion, Inc.
712 St. George Ave.
Jefferson, LA 70121
Model No. 88 PKP
"FOR OUTDOOR USE ONLY".
"170,000 BTU CAST IRON BURNER".
I bought at Sam's Club a few years ago has power enough
and is suitable -- outdoors.
So, it would be good to have a good cookbook to show how
to cook such food at home.
And, this objective has been noticed: E.g., this
objective is mentioned prominently in
Linda Drachman, '365 Ways to Wok', ISBN
0-06-016643--6, HaprerCollins, New York, 1993.
But, I don't believe that in this book the author does
very well achieving this objective.
If you find a cookbook that explains what these Chinese
restaurants are doing, then by all means tell the world!
I have been able to find no such book.
The cookbooks want to be more authentic, and perhaps many
of them are, or want to be simplified to provide 'fast,
easy recipes you can prepare quickly and easily to feed
your whole hungry family and that they will all love' or
some such. Telling people how to do what the restaurants
do seems to be lost somewhere between the woks and the
It is easy to suspect that the restaurants are in
business based on what people think of the food being
sold while the cookbook publishers are in business based
on cover pictures, celebrity authors, various promises of
getting love and approval from happy family members,
etc., i.e., lots of things other than the food itself.
For the next book signing ceremony, I believe I would
like to pass up the signature and, instead, see the
author work directly from recipes in the book; then I
would like to taste the results.
One of the differences is illustrated by the two dishes
you mentioned "lo mein and Gen. Tso's chicken". The
first has long been common in the US but is regarded as a
terrible US distortion of some of Cantonese cooking and,
therefore, not worthy of instruction. Still, "millions"
of orders have been served to customers that return for
more. For General Tso's chicken, that appears to be a
speciality of the restaurants, and just how they do it
has been regarded as too commercial or some such for the
books. Still, the dish is darned popular in the
Broadly there are other differences:
o Sauce Volume. The restaurants typically
include a lot of sauce. For eating with rice
the sauce is convenient as a way to flavor the
rice. The cookbook recipes usually provide
much less sauce. Possibly one reason for all
the sauce from the restaurants is some
requirement from their business liability
insurance: To be protected, the rule seems to
be that just before the dish comes from the wok
the last time, all the solids will be fully
submerged in boiling water-based sauce. There
are some exceptions: E.g., maybe the chicken
pieces in General Tso's chicken were deep fried
and the sauce was boiling and then the two were
combined. And, maybe the broccoli was also
added separately -- but, in my watching the
cooks, it appears that the broccoli was also
parboiled separately before being combined.
Also, we can begin to see that these
restaurants seem to be moving away from fresh
pork: So, they want to provide stir-fry dishes
where the pork was previously roasted. Having
the fresh pork stir-fried in some oil and then
submerged in boiling sauce should be sufficient
for all purposes except possibly for convincing
a skeptical jury -- so, the pork gets cooked
three times: (1) roasted, (2) stir-fried, and
(3) boiled. So, the pork gets overcooked, beef
and chicken become more popular, and Sam's Club
is selling whole pork loins, very well trimmed,
for 1.99 dollars a pound. Hmm?
o Oil Content. The cookbooks commonly have us
stir-frying vegetables in oil, lots of oil,
even 1 C of oil just for a little broccoli, and
including the oil in the dish. While the
restaurants did get some bad publicity a few
years ago from using far too much oil, my
observation is that they have greatly
reduced the amount of oil to reasonable
levels and to far below what is in many of
the cookbook recipes.
o Poaching. Many of the cookbooks seem to ask us
to stir-fry the vegetables, including broccoli,
while my observation of the restaurants is that
they usually parboil the main collection of
So, there is mystery here. Or, the question millions, or
perhaps at least thousands, of US carryout customers are
asking: "How'd they DO that?".
For just some recipes, there is
Joyce Chen, 'Joyce Chen Cook Book', J. B.
Lippincott, Philadelphia, 1962.
The Moo Shi Pork there is easy to do, tastes good,
and is similar to, generally drier than, generally
better tasting than, what is in the restaurants.
But, mostly what the restaurants are doing is not in
Of course, could go to the people with a high interest in
helping people cook such dishes. So, we should go to the
Web site of, say, Kikkoman? Did that. Found lots of
'fast, easy tasty delicious recipes to perk-up the
lagging appetites of your whole family', lots of roast
ham with maple syrup and soy sauce, Fajitas and soy
sauce, etc., but not a hint about anything that would
keep one of these restaurants in business even for a
Of course, it is easy just to take some soy sauce,
chicken stock, dry sherry, rice vinegar, corn starch,
etc., and start improvising stir-fry sauce. The
cookbooks say to use dry sherry; it's tough to believe
that the restaurants use any of it; but, I bought some.
Hmm. My experience is that it is easy to get (1) far too
much salt from the soy sauce, (2) a flavor that is
comparable to but a less good than the average dishwater,
(3) canned chicken broth that is not so good, and (4) a
corn starch thickened sauce the 'breaks', that is, thins
out, soon after the dish is assembled. The Web site for
Argo gives a long list of reasons a corn starch sauce
will 'break', but I have yet to find any discussion of
sauces breaking or how to avoid it in the Chinese
cookbooks. I am beginning to conclude that the
restaurants are not using Argo corn starch! In my last
experiment, my 'stir-fry' sauce thickened with Argo corn
starch was fine in my stainless steel pot, for over 30
minutes -- no evidence of breaking at all. And, the
sauce had nice color and was glossy. Then, when I
combined with the stir-fried chicken and the poached
broccoli, BOOM, the sauce leached color from the
broccoli, turned a color a good match for dishwater, got
cloudy, tasted awful, and 'broke' into cloudy thinness.
Flush, slosh, slosh. The septic tank bugs ate well that
Clearly, for an answer, one solution would be to get (1)
someone good with both English and the Chinese spoken by
the cooks, (2) some of the cooks, (3) a capable careful
Westerner that wants to learn, and (4) a cookbook writer,
and, then, with this crew, teach and practice over and
over until the Westerner can reproduce the dishes and the
writer can describe the work clearly enough for other
Westerners to be able to reproduce the dishes just from
Sounds like a book for the series 'Dummies'. And, maybe
there is one.
Or, maybe the main cookbook has already been written, by
the insurance companies as in "This is what we are
willing to write liability insurance on." which would
help explain why the food is so similar.
Posted 27 February 2002 - 06:56 AM
I'll see if I can get more details from her if you'd like, although we all know that Mom's don't measure.
Posted 27 February 2002 - 08:46 AM
Posted 27 February 2002 - 10:39 PM
seen them poach the vegetables and remove them to drain;
stir-fry the meat and remove it to drain; make a sauce,
bring it to a boil, add the meat and vegetables, heat
through, toss, and serve.
I made the sauce separately partly to try to discover
just when, and, thus, possibly, why my sauce was
breaking. So, I discovered that the sauce ingredients
per se resulted in a glossy stable sauce and what caused
the sauce to 'break' was from the addition of some of the
solids, the oil on the solids, or some such. For which
solids, issues of temperature changes, etc., have not
diagnosed that yet.
So, additional investigation would be to make a sauce and
add just poached broccoli and see if the sauce breaks.
Stir fry some chicken, with or without a corn starch
breading, add it to the sauce, and see if the sauce
breaks. Try something other than Argo corn starch. Etc.
Thought that maybe the sauce broke because of a salt
concentration problem: That is, there is salt in the soy
sauce and, thus, in the stir-fry sauce. And, there is no
salt in vegetables but there is a lot of water in
vegetables. So, water from the vegetables will diffuse
into the salty sauce in an attempt to dilute the salt.
In this way, the sauce is getting a dose of vegetable
juice AFTER it has formed its thickening structures with
the corn starch. So, maybe this late dose of vegetable
juice is the problem.
So, one solution might be to poach the broccoli in very
salty water and, thus, get the vegetable juice out before
adding the poached broccoli to the corn starch thickened
sauce -- tried that, and it didn't work.
Or, maybe the trick is to have all the solids boiling in
the sauce, all the juices in the meat and vegetables in
equilibrium with the sauce, and THEN to add the corn
starch to thicken everything that is there and after
equilibrium has been obtained. I may have tried that --
can try it again.
For measurements, for small quantities of sauce, I tend
to believe that the measurements in many of the Chinese
cookbooks are okay. But, they use 1 T of this, 2 T of
that, 2 t of some other thing, etc. and, therefore, get a
small volume of sauce. For a 1 quart serving, the
restaurants seem to be making 1 C or more of sauce.
My trials of just taking the 1 T of this, etc., and
multiplying to get 1 C or 2 C of sauce results in a
wildly too salty sauce. I read the labels on all the
several different kinds and brands of soy sauce I have,
and the salt content does not vary enormously; so,
changing soy sauce won't seriously reduce this wild
excess of salt.
One suggestion is "for more sauce, just add more chicken
broth". I don't think that this is a good solution --
there's more to it than that.
So, I just started improvising stir-fry sauce mixtures
using the usual suspects -- chicken broth, soy sauce,
vinegar, sugar, dry sherry, sesame oil, minced garlic,
minced ginger, hot pepper flakes, etc.
I can go back and do some more, but I got off onto to
other projects -- that have been more successful!
And I guess it would have helped if the last time the
canned chicken broth didn't smell like sulphur.
Tried using Kitchen Basics Chicken Stock: It seems like
a good chicken STOCK -- maybe an excellent chicken stock
-- but not nearly the same as the light chicken broth of
the inexpensive Chinese restaurants.
Also, have wondered what the source is of the several
chickens one of my local restaurants has simmering in
their main broth supply: They may be using inexpensive
'spent' laying hens -- they will be very lean and very
inexpensive, and possibly have better flavor, but I know
of no sources.
Next time, I plan to make my own chicken broth: Get an
Oven-Stuffer, remove the breast and thigh meat, toss the
rest into a stock pot, cook until the meat is done,
remove the meat from the bones, toss the bones, skin,
scraps back into the stock pot, simmer for a few hours,
strain, heat to 180 F to sterilize, chill, remove the
fat, and call the result chicken broth. Use the raw meat
for some purposes, possibly Chinese, and the cooked
chicken for other purposes, possibly chicken soup.
Chicken soup will deserve a chicken STOCK complete with
onions, carrots, celery, leeks, etc., but it may be
possible to add those to some of the broth later.
Posted 28 February 2002 - 12:01 AM
http://lifestyle.nin.../aww....e_1.asp This one is a bit commercial with product recommendations etc..http://members.ozema...go/chinese.html Wait 'til you hear this..
http://www.sh.com/dish/delicacy.htm Full of instructions like "Kill and clean the chicken, cut off its feet".
- Frank Zappa
Posted 28 February 2002 - 08:54 AM
jerobi, there's nothing wrong with those... but from what I've come to undersand true Chinese cuisine is a literally bottomless well. Although most of the technique is common, the iterations are almost infinite.
So I guess I'm asking for you to be more specific. Are Lo mein and Gen. Tso's chicken really your exact objectives?
Posted 28 February 2002 - 12:55 PM
Posted 28 February 2002 - 01:41 PM
Go to a Chinese food store and buy some dried noodles of the right kind of thickness. While you're there, pick up a tin of bamboo shoots and a tin of water chestnuts. Boil your noodles until they're soft as you like them, and set them aside in a colander to drain thoroughly. Meantime, gently fry some chopped onions and minced or crushed garlic in vegetable oil (or maybe sesame oil). Why not add some fresh grated ginger root, or a pinch of ginger powder? When the onions are cooked, but not brown, add your protein: finely chopped chicken, shrimp, some good ham, whatever. Let this start to cook in the oil. Now add some soy sauce (a light one I would think). Then add the noodles, together with a few bamboo shoots and water chestnut slices - not too much, just to add a bit of crunch. Check the seasoning (may not need salt, as the soy sauce is very salty). Toss all together. Throw in a few peas if you like. The noodles should take on a very light brown colour from the sauce.
I should have thought that gives you a decent Lo Mein. I haven't written in the proprtions of ingredients, because I demonstrate that by making shapes with my hands and fingers, and can't figure out how to get that into a message.
Posted 28 February 2002 - 02:03 PM
ummm, no? well, yeah! i mean, how else can you get that think sauciness that i suppose doesn't exist in lo mein (i don't remember the last time i've had it, so i'm probably thinking of something else).
In lo mein?!
damn you people, you *know* i don't know anything about chinese food! why am i ever here?!?!?!?! i'm going back to the other thread to argue about Never Mind the Bullocks with Wilfrid.
Posted 28 February 2002 - 02:06 PM
The "sauce" on lo mein gets its slickness from the starch of the noodles. Once you stir the noodles into the other ingredients it'll naturally thicken a little without having to add cornstarch.
Posted 28 February 2002 - 02:35 PM
Now, what's Tommy got against the Sex Pistols?
Posted 28 February 2002 - 02:37 PM
let's just say i like the sex pistols more than chinese food generally speaking. number 1 though? pu-leeze.
Remember, I'm just guessing how to make lo mein. I think cooking down the onions and stuff with the soya sauce would add a little stickiness too.
Now, what's Tommy got against the Sex Pistols?
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