Quick Recipes and Easy

Chinese Cuisine

In the West we tend to talk about Chinese cooking as a generalization, as though it were the same throughout China. In fact, China is a vast country, with a range of topography and climates that produce distinct regional differences. The availability of ingredients varies from region to region and as the Chinese use fresh ingredients in the majority of their cooking, dishes are influenced by availability.

One of the most vital features of Chinese cooking is texture. Vegetables should remain crisp and rice and noodles should be treated like pasta and retain their ‘bite’ after cooking. Ingredients such as bean and curd are used for texture, even though they have small flavor in themselves. Bamboo shoots, a common ingredient, are included purely for texture.

Although the Chinese make use of regional, fresh foods, they also use dried stuffs in their recipes, in particular mushrooms, bean curd, noodles and spices. These were first used to preserve foods, but are now widely used.

In Beijing, the cold northerly climate strongly affects the cuisine. There is quite a variety in this region that has inherited influences from the Mandarin courts and there was also some Manchurian and Mongolian input. Wheat is more well loved than rice and many noodle, pancake and dumpling recipes originate from this area. They also glaze, barbecue and spit roast many of their meats. Sauces are robust and rich, using many spices, soy sauce and garlic. Lamb is the most well loved meat in this area as a result of the Mongolian influence.

Cantonese cooking in the south is entirely different. Here, stir-frying produces rich, inventive and colorful food. Traders and travelers have influenced the cuisine and the subtropical climate, perfect for fruit growing, has meant that many savory dishes include fruit, as well as fish and seafood. Very small meat is eaten in the South, although they are famed for their ‘red’ cooking, whereby foods are braised in soy sauce to give a red color. Soy is used extensively here in the thick sauces that are characteristic and rice is always included.

In the East, more starch is eaten and considerably more stout is used. Rice is served as an accompaniment or for stuffings. Rice wine is produced and used in abundance, perfectly complimenting the range of fish and seafood caught along the coastline. The people of Shanghai have a sweet tooth and savory dishes are much sweeter from this region.

Szechuan cooking from the West is hearty and spicy. They use many chilies and spices, producing hot-and-sour, piquant flavors. Pickles and other preserves feature in the regional cooking and the foods are traditionally drier, but combine many flavors. Sauces are kept to a minimum, even in stir-fries.

When cooking the Chinese tend to combine a couple of cooking methods in one dish, such as steaming and then frying, or frying and roasting.

Steaming is widely used in Chinese cooking. Traditionally bamboo steamers are used, so that a whole meal may be cooked in a stack of bamboo racks.

Stir-frying is done in a wok that must be heated before use. Foods of a similar size (all small) are stirred constantly, so that as they come into contact with the wok, they cook quickly.

Deep-frying is also done in the wok, which uses less oil than a deep fryer. The foods are often marinated first or coated in a light batter.

Michael Russell
Your Independent guide to cooking-guides.com/ Cooking

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