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Smoky flavor in Chinese cooking


Doodad
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Ordered out last night from our favorite Chinese place. They, and some others I know, have a subtle smoky flavor in their Hunan/Schzechaun dishes that I can't replicate. I had Ma Po and the hint of smoke was great. What are they using? Some type of sesame oil I have not seen?

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Must be some ingredient. Other dishes do not have this component so I ruled out wok hei. I doubt they have segregated woks especially in this small hole in the strip center. (But they are good).

Could very well be chili oil. Brand or do you make your own? I can test.

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Szechuan peppercorns usually are pan-toasted before being ground. Could that be it?

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Was there any bacon-like pork used in the dishes you tried? There's a kind of ham that has an incredibly rich smoky tang that I'd never had until trying some here. It absolutely makes any dish it's used in. I use it to great effect in corn chowder fairly often, as a matter of fact.

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I'd suggest chilli oil or perhaps just roasted sesame oil.

I recently made my own chilli oil by heating dried chillis, Szechuan peppercorns and star anise in sunflower oil not having made it before I was unsure how long to cook for so just gently heated until the chillis went a dark brown (not burnt mind)this oil has a lovely subtle smokey taste

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It is a little hole in the wall in Alpharetta that used to be called Green Garden. Now Sake House for some reason and the menu has gotten way too ambitious, but the standard Chinese is still very good. On Old Milton Pkwy.

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My bet is that the chef used some dried chillies and deep fried them in oil. This adds a smoky heat which would not appear in the milder dishes (which would not have used the dried chillies). Rather than using the oil as Amy D suggested above, they tend to leave the chillies in the final dish: it is Szechuan after all.

edited to add:

Fuschia Dunlop talks about a smoked flavour (yan xiang wei xing) that is created by smoking salted meat or poultry over wood and leaves. Tea-smoked duck is a form of this. Other smoking ingredients include pine needles, rice straws, peanut husks, sawdust, or rice straw.

If you are interested in this form of cooking, I can totally recommend her book "Sichuan cookery."

Edited by nickrey (log)

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The link to Sichuan Cookery doesn't seem to work.

Try this one.

I also totally recommend it.

(Note that this book and Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cookery are the same. The first is the UK version; the second the USA version. Don't do what one friend did - bought the second because she liked the first so much!)

Edited by liuzhou (log)

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  • 6 months later...

i believe the smoky flavor comes from a well seasoned wok...you know like a 10 year old wok...coz they dont wash it with soap, just hot water and scrub it reaaaal good...then again, i could very well be wrong. but i do taste the smokiness in food in most restaurants that have been an establishment even before i was a twinkle in parent's eyes hehe, and it is a hit or miss with that flavor with newer places that have only been around for a few years.

...nice to be back on Egullet after a couple of years of reclusion... =)

...a little bit of this, and a little bit of that....*slurp......^_^.....ehh I think more fish sauce.

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i believe the smoky flavor comes from a well seasoned wok...you know like a 10 year old wok...coz they dont wash it with soap, just hot water and scrub it reaaaal good...then again, i could very well be wrong. but i do taste the smokiness in food in most restaurants that have been an establishment even before i was a twinkle in parent's eyes hehe, and it is a hit or miss with that flavor with newer places that have only been around for a few years.

...nice to be back on Egullet after a couple of years of reclusion... =)

I agree. I have read this in many excellent Chinese cookbooks and most of the Chinese cooks I know agree. I had a wonderfully seasoned Chinese wok - daily use (2 or 3 times a day) by three Chinese grad students who lived with me between 2000 and 2009). I loved to use it and was so proud of its patina and the smokey taste I achieved in my food. Then I rented briefly to a very young Chinese student who was grease phobic. She scoured my wonderful wok down to the bare metal (which then rusted) and told me that my previous students were not very clean in their cooking habits. I was heartbroken. Then I found out that she didn't know how to cook at all! Fortunately she didn't stay long and I am once again trying to season my wok to its previous glory, however, I do not use it frequently enough so it is taking a long time.

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