Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create an account.

Sign in to follow this  
Chris Amirault

Ingredient Sizing in Chinese Cooking

Recommended Posts

As I was digging through my leftover choi sum just now, I realized that I was having to bite the 3-4" pieces in half in order to eat them. This seems to run counter to the prevailing aesthetic in Chinese cookery, in which items are cut into bite-sized pieces.

So what's up? Why is choi sum cut that way? Are there other examples? And, in general, what are the aesthetic rules governing sizing?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes, and in particular I'd like to understand the seemingly universal dim sum custom of serving gai lan cut merely in half crossways, so that the pieces are at least 6" long. Is this just laziness on the part of the dim sum ladies? Would it be served this way at home?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Fat Guy   

Then again I've seen a lot of Chinese folks with mad chopstick and finger skillz. They can take anything from whole fish to bone-in birds and go to town on them without the aid of a knife. So maybe the whole "they cut it all up because they don't have knives at the table" thing is part myth?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My question might be better phrased in the following way.

Choi sum arrives at our table in 3-4" pieces. Gow choi fan (garlic chives) arrives at our table in 2" pieces. By most reasons I can imagine, it should be the other way around, so why are they cut to these sizes?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Beebs   

Sometimes I like to leave choi sum and gai lan in long, uncut pieces because it looks nicer that way, like little tree branches. Cutting them up makes the dish look too...stalk-y...if it's just a plate of gai lan on its own. Long pieces of veg don't really bother us much, we just gnaw and slurp them up.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
sheetz   

I've never given this much thought because that's just how I've always seen it done. :laugh: That said, vegetables are typically only cut up into bite sized pieces when they are stir fried. Gai lan and choi sum are normally poached so it may simply be a matter of convenience to cook them whole. Sometimes, but not always, they are cut into segments for plating.


Edited by sheetz (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Hest88   

Uh, gosh, I never thought about it much. Appearance, for banquets, is very important, of course, so some veggies are often left whole for that reason. However, even homey stir-fries aren't cut completely bite-sized if they're a leafy green unless it's at an inept restaurant.

The vegetable just loses its integrity. Ong choy and choi sum, for instance--two of my favorite stir-fried vegetables--might be trimmed down so you can sorta get them all in your mouth but they shouldn't be truly bite-sized or they're liable to lose that leaf to stalk ratio that's so important texturally.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Help me understand: how can a 1/2" diameter stalk of choi sum lose its integrity if it's cut in 2" lengths instead of 4" lengths? What does "integrity" mean in that context?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
heidih   

I think the key to what Hest88 said was: "liable to lose that leaf to stalk ratio that is so important texturally". When I had the pleasure of watching my Taiwanese neighbor cook dinner for her family as the children were playing, she would in fact cut the very thick parts of the gai lan stems on a bias and stir fry them first, but she said she left a portion of stem and the leaf whole as you wanted to experience the soft and the crunch in one taste. At dim sum, I agree that presentation is a factor- the whole leaves look so appealing even though you have you twirl and cram them in your mouth. Getting the plush leaf together with the chewier stem is part of the taste experience.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Beebs   

Another example is braised bok choy and large shitake mushrooms in brown sauce. The bok choy is left whole (or sliced in half length-wise, for the larger types), as are the mushrooms arranged over top. It's certainly not convenient to pick up entire slippery mushrooms & veg, shoving them into your mouth, but the dish is always prepared this way because it is aesthetically pleasing.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Hest88   

Help me understand: how can a 1/2" diameter stalk of choi sum lose its integrity if it's cut in 2" lengths instead of 4" lengths? What does "integrity" mean in that context?

What HeidiH pretty much said. It's getting the ideal ratio of crunch (from the stalk) to the softer flavor (from the leaves). It's not really scientific on my part; it's more subjective from years of cooking and personal preference.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
nakji   

Floss is a necessity for this very reason. Sometimes you just have to use your chopsticks and teeth to finesse the lot into your mouth. I think texture is an extremely important factor in Asian cuisines, and I find people don't seem to mind a bit more mouth work than we're necessarily comfortable with in the west. Meat often comes in small pieces on the bone where you need to use your chopsticks and teeth in harmony, too - it's not just a vegetable thing.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Dejah   

As posted above" because it is aesthetically pleasing", food in Chinese dishes is often left in whole stalks and large pieces. But, we are not supposed to put the whole mushroom or whole stalk of gai lan into our mouths at one time. We usually bite off a piece, and leave the rest in our rice bowl. When we have eaten what we have in our mmouths, we take another bite.

Sometimes, stalks of gai lan will be braised or steams whole, but once plated, kitchen scissors are used to cut them into more manageable lengths but still maintaining that whole-stalk appearance.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this  

  • Similar Content

    • By Chris Hennes
      I just got a copy of Grace Young's "Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge"—I enjoyed cooking from "Breath of a Wok" and wanted to continue on that path. Does anyone else have this book? Have you cooked anything from it?

      Here was dinner tonight:

      Spicy Dry-Fried Beef (p. 70)

      I undercooked the beef just a bit due to a waning propane supply (I use an outdoor propane-powered wok burner), but there's nothing to complain about here. It's a relatively mild dish that lets the flavors of the ingredients (and the wok) speak. Overall I liked it, at will probably make it again (hopefully with a full tank of gas).


    • By liuzhou
      We are all used to unami now. Maybe it's time to consider gan. Particularly found in teas, but also in other foods. An interesting article from a great magazine.
       
      Going, going gan
    • By liuzhou
      I’m an idiot. It’s official.
       
      A couple of weeks back, on another thread, the subject of celtuce and its leafing tops came up (somewhat off-topic). Someone said that the tops are difficult to find in Asian markets and I replied that I also find the tops difficult to find here in China. Nonsense. They are very easy to find. They just go under a completely different name from the stems – something which had slipped my very slippery mind.
       
      So, here on-topic is some celtuce space.
       
      First, for those who don’t know what celtuce is, let me say it is a variety of lettuce which looks nothing like a lettuce. It is very popular in southern mainland China and Taiwan. It is also known in English as stem lettuce, celery lettuce, asparagus lettuce, or Chinese lettuce. In Chinese it is 莴笋 wō sǔn or 莴苣 wō jù, although the latter can simply mean lettuce of any variety.

      Lactuca sativa var. asparagina is 'celtuce' for the technically minded.
       

       
      Those in the picture are about 40 cm (15.7 inches) long and have a maximum diameter of 5 cm (2 inches). The stems are usually peeled, sliced and used in various stir fries, although they can also be braised, roasted etc. The taste is somewhere between lettuce and celery, hence the name. The texture is more like the latter.
       
      The leafing tops are, as I said, sold separately and under a completely different name. They are 油麦菜 yóu mài cài.
       

       
      These taste similar to Romaine lettuce and can be eaten raw in salads. In Chinese cuisine,  they are usually briefly stir fried with garlic until they wilt and served as a green vegetable – sometimes with oyster sauce.
       
      If you can find either the stems or leaves in your Asian market, I strongly recommend giving them a try.
    • By Duvel
      “… and so it begins!”
       
      Welcome to “Tales from the Fragrant Harbour”!
      In the next couple of days I am hoping to take you to a little excursion to Hong Kong to explore the local food and food culture as well as maybe a little bit more about my personal culinary background. I hope I can give you a good impression of what life is like on this side of the globe and am looking very forward to answering questions, engaging in spirited discussions and just can share a bit of my everyday life with you. Before starting with the regular revealing shots of my fridge’s content and some more information on myself, I’d like to start this blog and a slightly different place.
      For today's night, I ‘d like to report back from Chiba city, close to Tokyo, Japan. It’s my last day of a three day business trip and it’s a special day here in Japan: “Doyou no ushi no hi”. The “midsummer day of the ox”, which is actually one of the earlier (successful) attempts of a clever marketing stunt.  As sales of the traditional winter dish “Unagi” (grilled eel with sweet soy sauce) plummeted in summer, a clever merchant took advantage of the folk tale that food items starting with the letter “U” (like ume = sour plum and uri = gourd) dispel the summer heat, so he introduced “Unagi” as a new dish best enjoyed on this day. It was successful, and even in the supermarkets the sell Unagi-Don and related foods. Of course, I could not resist to take advantage and requested tonight dinner featuring eel. Thnaks to our kind production plant colleagues, I had what I was craving …
      (of course the rest of the food was not half as bad)

      Todays suggestion: Unagi (grilled eel) and the fitting Sake !
       

      For starters: Seeweed (upper left), raw baby mackerel with ginger (upper right) and sea snails. I did not care for the algae, but the little fishes were very tasty.
       

      Sahimi: Sea bream, Tuna and clam ...
       

      Tempura: Shrimp, Okra, Cod and Mioga (young pickled ginger sprouts).
       

      Shioyaki Ayu: salt-grilled river fish. I like this one a lot. I particularly enjoy the fixed shape mimicking the swimming motion. The best was the tail fin
       

      Wagyu: "nuff said ...
       

      Gourd. With a kind of jellied Oden stock. Nice !
       

      Unagi with Sansho (mountain pepper)
       

      So, so good. Rich and fat and sweet and smoky. I could eat a looooot of that ...
       

      Chawan Mushi:steamed egg custard. A bit overcooked. My Japanese hosts very surprised when I told them that I find it to be cooked at to high temperatures (causing the custard to loose it's silkiness), but they agreed.
       

      Part of the experience was of course the Sake. I enjoyed it a lot but whether this is the one to augment the taste of the Unagi I could not tell ...
       

      More Unagi (hey it's only twice per year) ...
       

      Miso soup with clams ...
       

      Tiramisu.
       

      Outside view of the restaurant. Very casual!
      On the way home I enjoyed a local IPA. Craft beer is a big thing in Japan at the moment (as probably anywhere else in the world), so at 29 oC in front of the train station I had this. Very fruity …

       
      When I came back to the hotel, the turn down service had made my bed and placed a little Origami crane on my pillow. You just have to love this attention to detail.

    • By Soul_Venom
      The best Chinese food restaurant I have ever been to is a place called the Imperial Buffet in Aberdeen SD. Their General Tso's is unlike the Tso's anywhere else. The closes comparison I could make is the Orange Chicken at the Panda Garden only 3x better. Their Lo-Mein Noodles are done with the skill of a master Italian pasta chef & perfectly seasoned. They also used to do a mean fried squid. I say used to because they had it when I lived in Aberdeen from 02-04 but didn't when I visited in 15'. One of their other discontinued specialties was a dish advertised as 'Golden Fried Cauliflower'. Note, this was NOT a breaded product. The cauliflower was cooked as though it had been boiled perfectly. It was not greasy as I recall but was a golden orange color as was the sauce it was evidently cooked in. I never could identify the flavors in that sauce. I wish I could describe it better but it has been well over a decade since I had it. Is anyone familiar with it or something similar? I can't seem to find anything like it online & all my searches just bring up links to breaded deep-fried crap.
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×