Love Affair with Chinese Cooking: Common Ingredients and Cooking Tips

Chinese-Spices-Kwikwok-Milwaukee-WIThe Chinese have a passionate love affair with their food and beverages that few other peoples have exhibited through the years.

Such love affair is evident in so many ways from their use of traditional ingredients including fresh fruits, vegetable and seafood, both the familiar and the unfamiliar to Westerners, to their use of traditional cooking styles according to the Eight Great Traditions like Hunan, Sichuan and Cantonese.

Love Affair with Garlic and Ginger

Of all the ingredients in Chinese cuisine, garlic and ginger are the most beloved among professional chefs and amateur cooks alike for good reasons.

Both ingredients bring out the flavors in the dishes’ main ingredients while also adding health benefits including lessening inflammation brought by certain diseases, reducing the risks for chronic degenerative illnesses, and even warding off cancer, among others. Suffice it to say that both garlic and ginger have their culinary and curative qualities that the Chinese people have taken advantage of for centuries.

Garlic is believed to have originated from the Siberian desert of Russia before spreading throughout Asia, the Mediterranean and then Europe. Ginger has been used since ancient times by the Chinese; experts say that the Chinese have been using the slightly spicy root since 3,000 B.C. with its possible origins somewhere in Southeast Asia.

Both garlic and ginger have been proven beneficial for good health because of their abundant contents of vitamins including Vitamin C, A and D, among other nutrients. Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners then use both foods as ingredients in their potions.

In the kitchen, garlic’s pungent odor is an essential part of northern-style cuisines particularly Sichuan, which is well-known for its incendiary flavors. Ginger is a favorite ingredient in Cantonese cuisine, which is well-known for its subtle seasoning, flavorful sauces (i.e., plum sauce) and stewed dishes while Sichuan cooks also love ginger in their dishes (i.e., hot and sour soup).

In almost all types of Chinese cuisine, garlic and ginger are used to add delectable aromas and flavors to the oil used in stir-fried vegetables, seafood and meat.

Ginger, which comes in many forms from fresh and ground to pickled and preserved, should be stored in the refrigerator’s vegetable crisper section for longevity. Garlic need not be refrigerated but it should be stored in a cool, dry place.

Chinese Food Cooking Tips

Each of the regional cuisines in Chinese cuisine like Beijing, Fujian and Shandong has its own unique cooking styles. But these cuisines also have several similarities that we now know as the Chinese cooking styles exemplified by the following cooking tips.

  • Prepare all the necessary ingredients and tools before cooking – the vegetables washed, the meat cut, and the sauces mixed, for example. Chinese cooking typically involves fast cooking such as in stir-frying so having the ingredients at the ready is essential for success.
  • Always use fresh ingredients when the recipe calls for it. Many dishes require preserved foods (i.e., cured meats, pickled aromatics, and dried herbs) but Chinese cooks take pride in the freshness of their ingredients.
  • Strive for balance between the ingredients (i.e., meat and vegetables), flavors (i.e., sweet and sour), and textures (i.e., smooth and rough) in the dishes.
  • Buy a wok. Although not all dishes in Chinese cuisine use the wok as a piece of cooking equipment, it is still the most important in any Chinese kitchen.
  • Cook the thickest and toughest vegetables (i.e., broccoli, carrots and cabbage) first followed by the softer and leafier vegetables (i.e., bean sprouts, snow peas and bokchoy) when using these in stir-fried dishes. Never overcook vegetables.
  • Drain the tofu first. Be sure to use firm to extra-firm tofu for stir-frying and deep-frying.
  • Always marinate fresh meat. Add the cornstarch last in the marinade, if the recipe calls for it, as a binder.
  • Cut the meat into uniform pieces for even cooking; cut across the grain for beef. Be sure that the wok is very hot before adding the raw ingredients including the meat.
  • Always make sure that the oil is very hot before stir-frying or deep-frying. Drizzle oil down the wok’s side when adding to the stir-fried ingredients in it.
  • Always use fresh garlic and ginger, not powdered, for the best results in taste.

Indeed, then Chinese will bring their cuisine anywhere in the world – truly, a love affair like no other that has spanned centuries of unwritten and written history!

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