Equipment for Cooking Chinese Food

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EquipmentTraditional Chinese cooking equipment is not essential for cooking Chinese food but there are a few items which will make it very much easier. Most items can be bought very cheaply, especially if you seek out authentic implements from a Chinese grocer rather than the more expensive versions sold in many department stores.

 

Wok

The most useful piece of equipment is the wok, which is easier to use than a large frying-pan because its depth makes it easier to toss foods quickly without spilling them. It also requires far less oil for deep-frying than a deep-fat fryer, although you may find the latter easier and safer to use. Another advantage is that the shape of the wok allows the heat to spread evenly over its surface, thus making for rapid cooking which is fundamental to stir-frying.

There are two types of wok: the Cantonese wok which has a short, rounded handle on either side, and the pau wok which has one long handle. The Cantonese wok is best for steaming and deep-frying since it can be set steadily onto a stand over the heat, and is easier to move when it is full of liquid. The pau wok is better for stir-frying since it is easier to shake it over the heat with one hand while your free hand wields a long-handled spoon or spatula. It also distances you from the heat and hot oil and makes for more comfortable, safer frying. Woks with rounded bases should only be used on gas hobs. It is now possible to buy woks with flattish bottoms which are specifically designed for electric hobs. Although these really defeat the purpose of the traditional design, which is to concentrate intense heat at the centre, they do have the advantage of having deeper sides than a frying-pan.

Choosing a wok

Choose a large wok - preferably about 14 inches (35.5cm) in diameter, with good deep sides. Some woks on the market are too shallow and are no better than a large frying-pan. It is easier to cook a small quantity in a large wok than to try to accommodate a large quantity in a small one. Select one which is heavy and if possible made of carbon steel rather than a light stainless steel or aluminium. The latter types tend to scorch. I do not like non-stick woks; not only are they more expensive, but they cannot be seasoned like an ordinary wok, which detracts from the flavour of the food. I also dislike electric woks because I find they do not heat up to a sufficiently high temperature and tend to be too shallow.

Seasoning a wok

All woks (except non-stick ones) need to be seasoned. Many need to be scrubbed first as well to remove the machine oil which is applied to the surface by the manufacturer to protect it in transit. This is the only time you will ever scrub your wok - unless you let it rust up. Scrub it with a cream cleanser and water to remove as much of the machine oil as possible. Then dry it and put it on the hob on a low heat. Add 2 tablespoons of cooking oil and rub this over the inside of the wok using kitchen paper until the entire surface is lightly coated with oil. Heat the wok slowly for about 10-15 minutes and then wipe it thoroughly with more kitchen paper. The paper will become blackened. Repeat this process of coating, heating and wiping until the kitchen paper wipes clean. Your wok will darken and become well seasoned with use.

Cleaning a wok

Do not scrub a seasoned wok. Just wash it in plain water without detergent. Dry it thoroughly, preferably by putting it over a low heat for a few minutes before putting it away. This should prevent the wok from rusting, but if it does, scrub the rust off with cream cleanser and repeat the seasoning process.

Wok accessories

Wok stand

This is a metal ring or frame designed to keep a conventionally shaped wok steady on the hob, and is essential if you want to use your wok for steaming, deep-frying or braising. Stands come in two designs. One is a solid metal ring punched with about six ventilation holes. The other is like a circular thin wire frame. If you have a gas cooker use only the latter type as the more solid design does not allow for sufficient ventilation and may lead to a build-up of gas which could put the flame out completely.

Wok lid

A wok lid is a dome-like cover, usually made from aluminium, which is used for steaming. It may come with the wok or it can be purchased separately from a Chinese grocer, but any large, domed pot lid which fits snugly over the top of the wok can be used instead. Alternatively you could use aluminium foil.

Spatula

A long-handled metal spatula shaped rather like a small shovel is ideal for scooping and tossing food in a wok. Any good long-handled spoon can be used instead.

Rack

If you use your wok or a large pot as a steamer you will need a wooden or metal rack or trivet to stand above the water level and support the plate of food to be steamed. Some woks are sold with a metal stand, but most Chinese grocers, department stores and hardware shops stock triangular wooden stands or round metal stands which can be used for this purpose. You can improvise a stand by using an empty, inverted tin can of suitable height.

Bamboo brush

This bundle of stiff, split bamboo is used for cleaning a wok without scrubbing off the seasoned surface. It is an attractive, inexpensive implement but not essential. A soft washing-up brush will do just as well.

Deep-fat fryers

These are very useful and you may find them safer and easier to use for deep-trying than a wok. The quantities of oil given in the recipes are based on the amount required for deep-frying in a wok. If you are using a deep-fat fryer instead you will need about double that amount, but never fill it more than half-full with oil.

Cleavers

No self-respecting Chinese cook would be seen with a knife instead of a cleaver. These heavy, lethal-cooking choppers serve many purposes. They are used for all kinds of cutting ranging from fine shredding to chopping up bones. A Chinese cook would usually have three types: a lightweight one with a narrow blade for cutting delicate foods including vegetables, a medium-weight one for general cutting, chopping and crushing purposes, and a heavy one for heavy-duty chopping. Of course you can prepare Chinese food using good sharp knives, but if you decide to invest in a cleaver you will be surprised at how easy it is to use. Choose a good quality stainless steel one and keep it sharp.

Chopping board

The Chinese traditionally use a soft wood block for chopping. Not only is this difficult to maintain but it accumulates bacteria. I prefer to use a hardwood or a white acrylic board. Both are strong, easy to clean and last indefinitely. There is so much chopping and slicing to be done when preparing food for Chinese cooking that it really is essential to have a large, steady cutting board. (For hygiene reasons never cut cooked meat on a board which you have also used for chopping raw meat or poultry. Keep a separate board for this purpose.)

Steamers

Bamboo steamers are among the most ancient of Chinese cooking utensils. These attractive round 'boxes' come in several sizes of which the 10 inch (25.5 cm) size is the most suitable for home use. Bamboo steamers are filled with food and placed on top of a pot or over a wok of boiling water. Clean, damp cheesecloth is sometimes placed over the open slats under the food to prevent sticking. A tight-fitting bamboo lid is put on top to prevent the steam escaping. One of the advantages of the design is that several steamers can be stacked one on top of the other for multiple cooking. Bamboo steamers can be bought at Chinese grocers. (Alternatively, any European kind of wide, metal steamer can be used.) Before using a bamboo steamer for the first time wash it and steam it empty for about 5 minutes.

Rice cookers

Electric rice cookers are increasing in popularity. They cook rice perfectly and keep it warm throughout a meal. A rice cooker also has the advantage of freeing a burner or element, making for a less cluttered hob. They are relatively expensive, however, so unless you eat rice frequently I do not think they are worth the expense.

Sand or clay pots

These attractive light-weight clay pots are also known as sand pots because their unglazed exteriors have a sandy texture. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, equipped with matching lids and sometimes are encased in a wire frame. The pots are designed to be used on the hob (since most Chinese do not have ovens) and are used for braised dishes, soups and for cooking rice. Never put an empty sand pot onto the heat, or put a hot sand pot onto a cold surface. In both cases the pot will crack. Any good casserole or cast-iron pot can be used as a substitute.

Chopsticks

Chopsticks are not just used for eating. They are also used when cooking, for stirring, beating and whipping. Specially long chopsticks are available for these purposes, but it is perfectly all right to use Western cooking implements instead.

Table chopsticks come in wood, plastic and, most luxurious or all, ivory. They can be bought at many department stores, Chinese grocers and from many Chinese restaurants or takeaways.

Comments 

 
0 #2 vipul raut 2010-12-17 02:13 goog one… Quote
 
 
0 #1 vipul raut 2010-12-17 02:12 good one…fantasti c… Quote
 

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