What makes Chinese cuisine so appealing? Restaurant. classics such as Mu Shu Pork and Kung Pao Chicken captivate our senses. Even an order of the ubiquitous Chicken Balls with Sweet-and Sour Sauce from the local Chinese takeout has its own special appeal.
What is it that makes Chinese food so special? It's not the exotic vegetables and seasonings — a skilled chef can prepare a meal that epitomizes the best of Chinese cooking using only native ingredients. It's not the equipment, either. Many tasty stir-fries have been born in a frying pan instead of a wok.
The true secret to Chinese cuisine lies in a harmonious blending of flavors, textures, and colors. Take Basic Sweet-and-Sour Pork, for example. The sweet and sour flavors balance each other nicely, and the reddish sauce provides a nice contrast to the pineapple and green bell peppers.
This characteristic isn't limited to entrées, either. The same satisfying balance can be found in many Chinese dishes, such as Wonton Soup, where pork-filled wonton wrappers are swimming in a rich broth.
So, why aren't more people stir-frying noodles and boiling dumplings? A common misconception is that it takes a skilled chef working with state-of-the-art equipment to prepare good Chinese food. Fortunately, that's not true. Stir-frying, steaming, and deep-frying — the three primary Chinese cooking techniques — are all easily mastered with practice.
Another common complaint is that the recipes are too complex, taking too long to make. The sight of a lengthy ingredient list can be a little daunting. But on closer inspection you'll find that many of the ingredients go into preparing a marinade or sauce. Subtract those, and the basic recipe is frequently quite simple.
As for time involved, most of the work lies in preparation. Time spent actually cooking can be mere minutes, especially if you're stir-frying. And once you've cooked a few dishes you'll find yourself falling into a routine — cutting vegetables while the meat is marinating, preparing a sauce while waiting for the oil to reach the required temperature for deep-frying. Other handy time-savers include washing vegetables in the morning — giving them all day to dry — and marinating meat ahead of time and refrigerating it until you're ready to cook.
What are the pluses of cooking Chinese food at home? Besides the obvious advantage to your wallet, it's often healthier than restaurant fare, since you control the fat and calorie count. You can let your own creativity come into play, adjusting a recipe to add favorite foods or seasonal local ingredients. Cooking Chinese food at home also allows you to modify a recipe to suit your family's tastes; substituting parsley for cilantro, for example.
An added bonus is that there is something about cooking Chinese food that brings families together. Many pleasurable evenings can be spent filling dumplings or making pancakes. Appetizers such as egg rolls can often be baked as well as deep-fried, making it easier to involve young children.
This book is designed to help you incorporate home-cooked Chinese meals into your daily life. Tips on purchasing equipment, cooking techniques, and stocking the pantry are all here. Recipes include popular favorites such as Mu Shu Pork, and less well-known dishes such as MaPo Dofu, a tofu dish. Information on cooking with more exotic ingredients such as Szechwan peppercorns and fermented black beans is provided, along with suggestions for substitutes where possible.