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Basic cooking equipment for Chinese recipes


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There may already be a thread on this topic but I couldn't find it (in the 5 minutes I looked!) so here goes.

A friend recently asked me what special equipment she should acquire to be able to make most Chinese recipes. I immediately thought "wok" but then Ah Leung does all his recipes without a wok. That lead to me to re-think and I came up with the following list of items which are more a list of questions:

1. Gas vs electric

2. wok

3. rice cooker

4. deep-fryer

5. bamboo basket for steaming

6. clay cooking pot for braising

7. food processor

8. etc.

Presumably none of these are absolutely necessary (except maybe the gas, though some cook books try to get around this as well). I wonder what your opinion is on these items, as well as others I have probably forgotten. I guess that the answer depends on the chef!


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As you suggest, none of those items are necessary, and in terms of gas vs electric, it's not what you have, but what you do with it that counts.

Growing up, a rice cooker was very convenient in my family because we cooked rice twice a day, and it allowed us kids to cook rice in preparation for our parents' arrival home.

The only thing not on your list that I really do like having is one of those mesh strainer things. It looks like this http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Spider_(cooking).JPG

It's great not just for when cooking Chinese dishes, but also for making any kind of fried food.

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Thank you Prasantrin for your rapid reply.

I agree with the interest of a rice cooker especially if the person is going to make several dishes since she doesn't need to worry about the rice at the last moment.

I also agree with the need for mesh strainer but I think that many people have an equivalent even if it doesn't have a bamboo or wooden handle.

I'm a little more circumspect relative to an electric stove, though I must admit I have never used one to make a stir-fry. From what I read, it is not simple, and apparently the electric wok is not the solution either. To me, this is the most delicate point relative to kitchen material.

Have a good day.

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In my experience the quality of ingredients and the proper techniques are vastly more important than equipment. Steamers can be improvised, clay pots are nice for a few items but you can work around it, and rice can be cooked on the stovetop with little effort. Investing in a a few basic texts, and a trip to a well stocked Asian market will take you far.

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I have been living in China for the last 13 years and have never seen anyone use a bamboo steamer at home. They are only used in restaurants.

And I've never seen a food processor. Or a deep fryer .

You need a wok, a good solid chopping board, a good sharp cleaver or two, a rice cooker and away you go.

Gas is much better if you have the choice.

...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.


The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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If investing in a chopping board, consider the heavy, somewhat expensive but hygienically sound SANITUFF rubber board used in foodservice. Will last for years, can be laid over sink in approprite sizes, wash and cut as you work.


For a rice cooker, a small inexpensive $20-35 one works just as well for an ordinary family with ordinary needs as the fancy $100-200 ones.

The microwave is a supremely wonderful rice cooker used in conjunction with corningware-type 2 or 3 quart covered baking casserole; 1000 watt machine set to half power to avoid boilovers. Some brands even have a rice setting. Wash rice, use quite a bit less water, 1:1.2, go up as you feel your way/rice type, punch in 2222 or 3333 [4444 for converted], and come back. I cook rice with it 365 days.

If money is not an issue, and the wiring is up to it [please check with electrician, heavy amperage draw on 110v], the COOKTEK induction standalone wok is excellent, professional quality, 3.5kW. Will support 14 inch wok. No flames, no fuss.

Countertop & portable, no installation cost. c. $1500

With this one, you will have NO problem with great temperatures AND superb temperature control PLUS you do not heat up your kitchen too much. What you should try to avoid is wok hei, flaming the food in the wok [to the extent restaurants do; a little flame contained within the base of the bowl is fine] . That requires special wall shielding and fireproofing, and really is overkill.


What is needed in Chinese cooking or Asian where there is frying of whole fish or fish parts, or any frying and sauteeing of spices, especially in temperate lands where homes are shut during winter is a VENT better than what is normally supplied in most kitchens, ideally coupled with an air-to-air heat exchanger to prevent energy loss. Asian cooking strength vents go up from 1200 cu.ft./min. I am not an expert here, but an indoor air quality consultant would be the best person to advise.

How many air changes does that house or living space have per hour, how tightly is it sealed dring winter, how much is it used for entertainment, these are significant issues. For example, if your friend is a professional, and the house is used as an entertainment space that has professional repercussions, then cooking smells that linger or pervade are a very bad idea. These are factors that need to be taken into account. Similarly, grease splatters on walls and into vents. That is why the Cooktek is favorite of mine because it can be moved and areas around it thoroughly cleaned. It doubles as a great sukiyaki, mongolian whatever, ca be moved into a dning space without much hassle.

OR, a FLAT induction surface + the DEMEYERE FOOTED ROUND-BOTTOMED WOK created FOR INDUCTION is definitely a cheaper solution but the Demeyre metal has an upper temperature limit of 450C. Is that enough? The experts here can weigh in. A FLAT induction surface gives you many more options than a dedicated woksurface.

Edited by v. gautam (log)
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Thanks to all for the fast feedback => Some comments and a question.

heidh: complete agreement on quality ingredients and proper techniques; I will certainly insist on that with my beginning friend

liuzhou: thanks for your interesting experience; I am curious as to how steaming is done in China

gautam: thanks for chopping board and rice cooker suggestions; will hold off recommending the $1500 induction standalone wok to my beginning friend!

QUESTION: does anyone have experience stir-frying with an electric stove?

Thanks again

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I have mise en place cups because of all the prepped ingredients, but re-purposed yogurt containers or whatever would work as well.

QUESTION: does anyone have experience stir-frying with an electric stove?

My Dad always used to try in Canada, and he'd get really frustrated. Of course, electric heat is not as responsive as gas, and it's difficult to go from really strong heat to low heat. You can use two burners set to different heats if you don't mind having an open burner and switching pots around. My Dad felt that you couldn't get an electric burner hot enough, so he would pre-heat the burner, then put on a heavy cast-iron pan that he hoped would retain more heat, pre-heat that, and then start frying. But once it was hot, it would stay that way. I'm not sure how successful this was.

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I am curious as to how steaming is done in China

Not much is steamed in domestic kitchens.

When food, usually fish, is steamed it is usually done on a regular plate balanced on a trivet inside the wok.

Most rice cookers come with metal steamers which can be balanced on top of the rice, but they are seldom actually used, in my experience.

Restaurants and roadside snack places steam bread, stuffed buns etc in the bamboo steamers.

...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.


The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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Electric stove: I cooked on an electric stove in college. I got very good at balancing my round-bottom wok while stir-frying in it. Not something I'd recommend--due to liability issues!--but for me there was no way I was giving up my wok, no matter how non-ideal it was, and I was too lazy to drag out the wok ring unless I was steaming something. Which brings me to:

Steaming: Yeah, my parents and I never used a bamboo steamer. Steaming meant using the wok ring to stablize the wok, and putting a plate on top of a metal trivel inside the wok.

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Electric is fantastic for stir-frying and so is a flat bottomed thingie like a pressure cooker bottom. A cheap aluminum one, 6 qt, may be bought in a junkyard, perfectly serviceable, for $2-5. I hesitate about Aluminum because of the acidic wine & sauces. A 6 qt stainless steel cooker is not very expensive these days, even $30 or less in sales. A flatter, wider shape raher than deeper is one to look for.

It is better than a wok ON flat-coil ELECTRIC in the right hands. Plastic handles, high sides, great stability, good thick bottom, non-reactive, convenient puorability when dish finished, rinse/wash fast and ready for new dish. People says it sticks, not really true, just scrape a little with spatula, wash while hot, wipe with towel. I wish I could come and show you how to cook well with one! Some immigrant Chinese families I have known cook with pressure cooker bottoms to superb effect, which is where i learnt this trick!! They steam with pressure cookers as well & make broth!

I have cooked in a professional Thai-Chinese-Lao take out restaurant on the master blasters for long, with the professional pressures of long lines in a college town, 3 pm-10 pm, day in and out, multiple dishes, switching from Thai to Chinese to Lao, wet to dry, rice, noodle, curries, wetter Lao dishes, so I think i can speak from a wide range of restaurant and home experience, equipment, technique, prep work etc.

The thing with a flat coil stove is to leave it on high, and move your cooker on and off the coils to a cold coil not in use.Your mise en place needs to be perfect, and work space uncluttered, and no one bugging the cook. If one starts small, like 1 stir fry, 1 soup, rice and then slowly move up as confidence is gained, then things become manageable.

Forget about the round and flat Chinese spatulas in a pressure cooker. Get high quality stainless ladle type things that fit your hands, about $7 at Target. These are not round, bow shape, but sort of like the cupped palm of your hand in outline; they move well within the coninesofthe cooker and wok for that matter. And maybe 1 good SS spatula with thin edges, fairly long stem, wood handles, similar price. But as with everything YMMV.

For grating ginger, a simple flat steel grater with large and small holes: small holes grate, large ones make larger nice shreds for sushi pickles, Thai & Chinese dishes. Don't waste money on fancy stuff. Cleaver = Dexter Russell carbon steel. Not necessary.

Some will disagree vehemently, but this could be tried as an experiment:

1. Velveting in simmering water: excellent with chicken breast that many Americans love; avoids frenetic activity, heat and one element of stir frying, so you just need to focus on the vegetbles and sauce

2. Slippery coating: another technique where only the vegetable component is stir fried, usually vegetables like cauliflower that take a slightly longer time to cook than, say, leafy greens. Thinly sliced meat that has been marinated is scattered over the veg, during the covered steaming phase. They both finish together, the coat sealing the meat, making it very tender plus adding thickening to the veg./liquid. Finish with seasoning sauces or not. Quite low-fat & healthy everyday home-style, far removed from restaurant greasy glop.

People really have little idea just how much oil goes into their favorite take away Chinese or Thai items. By contrast, home cooking may taste pallid at first, lacking that typical restaurant taste. Gradually, a new appreciation might dawn on how that food SHOULD taste like. Even Ms. Dunlop occasionally is not shy with deep frying as a preliminary and with using fats with a generous hand; but for most of history, being able to afford much cooking fat was difficult on an everyday basis for most people.

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You need a wok, a good solid chopping board, a good sharp cleaver or two, a rice cooker and away you go.


The only one to mention THE most important tool.


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You need a wok, a good solid chopping board, a good sharp cleaver or two, a rice cooker and away you go.


The only one to mention THE most important tool.


I think that was implied within "good sharp cleaver".. no need for knives if you know how to use your cleaver

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Back before the dawn of ...when I was living "light" as a bachelor and didn't want to encumber myself with a whole lot of accouterments, I had a good 12" fry pan, a 1 qt. pot, a 3 qt. pot, a medium wt.cleaver and a whole lot of creativity. Some of my best cooking chops were learned then.

Ps: a frypan on a cherry-red hot electric burner will do better than a wok over a domestic gas burner any old day. To control the heat, just move the frypan off and on the burner :hmmm::raz::blink:

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the only electric stove i have ever tried stir fry with is an induction hotplate. mine is just a portable number, which i use outside as fumes and smells disperse quickly. also, i much prefer this to gas, of all things because temperature control is so responsive. mine wasn't anywhere as expensive as the one mentioned earlier - it was about AUD250. if finances allow, i wouldn't mind another one.

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3.5 kW is extreme, for professional use, the electric induction equivalent of the monster gas burners in restaurants. There is even a 5 kW version in the pipeline. These have massive current draws, and work best on 220/240 Volt/3phase lines, not usually available in US homes. The ampere draw is huge, 1200-3000 amps at 110v. This is rugged professional equipment that will deliver destructive heat for stir-frying at the same level as a gas burner without the fuss, for those who fancy a "professional result" in their kitchen. that was the point being made.

Not at all necessary for the normal, sane home cook!! Most good flat induction surfaces upto 1.8kW will deliver high heat. You pay from USD 60-1000, Chinese to US manufacture for moveable cooktop, flat or curved. The difference is in the quality and longevity. A mid-range product, as you suggest, is indeed the best [even the only feasible] solution for most normal households and budgets.

Restaurant supply stores have good deals from time to time. GALA SOURCE used to have excellent heavy duty triple ply SS frying pans for around USD 40-50, one of the best kept secrets in a world of Cuisinart & AllClad. I mention this here because these are some of the best home stir fry utensils possible. I do not see them around any more. But these below are the next best and not a bad price for the quality:


For the genteman who is advising his friend, electric + the patio or large steel table Tarhong wok stove, copper being my preference below, at $80, is another option:


Such a wokstove adds flexibility and fun to cooking "Chinese Style" inasmuch as it satisfies the romantic imagination of some and gives doctors and firemen something to look forward to, in their otherwise humdrum existence.

Good just as the wok stove is, one can tweak it with a 0-30 psi gas regulator + 10-14 feet metallized gas tubing purchased separately, distancing the propane cylinder well away from the business end for extra safety.

Similar supply stores located nationwide for are good for deals on cleavers, cutting boards, woks and most other things. Find the best prices on the net & ask them to match.

Edited by v. gautam (log)
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