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jerobi

Chinese Food Tips?

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jerobi   

I'm interested in giving Chinese food a whirl.  How do you guys prepare it?  Any quick recipes for lo mein and Gen. Tso's chicken?

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project   

From your mention of "lo mein and Gen. Tso's chicken", by

"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

etc.

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.

         Interesting.

    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

         prices.

    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

         corresponding cookbooks.

    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

that

    King Kooker

    Manufactured by

    Metal Fusion, Inc.

    712 St. George Ave.

    Jefferson, LA 70121

    (504) 736-0201

    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

bookstores.

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

restaurants.

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

         vegetables.

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

this book.

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

week.

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

night.

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

the writing.

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.

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OK, had to jump in (briefly) on this one -- sorry it's a little OT from the original post.  I don't know how the restaurants make their sauce, but my Mom (a Chinese immigrant) doesn't really make a separate thickened sauce.  Her usual stir-fry "recipe" involves dusting chicken chunks with cornstarch, making a slurry of soy, sherry, broth or water, sesame oil, and a little more cornstarch, tossing the chicken with the wok with garlic, green onion, and ginger and veggies stir-fried in another pan, then stirring in the slurry at the last minute and stirring until it thickens a bit.

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.

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lullyloo   

Chocokitty, me and my momma do the same with the cornstarch (I think it keeps the chicken juicier inside, rather than becoming sort of stewed in its own juice) and then it makes a nice gravy when you add it at the end with the other liquids.

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project   

Watching the cooks in some of the restaurants, I have

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.

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jhlurie   

project sort of already asked this... but are we talking about "American Chinese"--in other words that list of dishes mostly Cantonese in origin, but even in the cases where they are NOT they've been filtered down to us via Cantonese immigrants?

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?

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jerobi   

To start, yes.  I was just interested in cooking some dumbed-down Chinese food in a similar fashion to how they do it in the States.

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Wilfrid   

I was thinking about jerobi's original post.  I eat Lo Mein, but have never made it or read a recipe.  However, it seems an easy dish to break down into its conceptual parts and reassemble.  Here goes:

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. :smile:

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tommy   
In lo mein?!

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).

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.

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I'm sorry tommy. I forgot you are ignorant. :raz:

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.

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Wilfrid   

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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tommy   
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?

let's just say i like the sex pistols more than chinese food generally speaking.  number 1 though?  pu-leeze.  :wink:

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