How to Deconstruct a Chinese Recipe
  Re: (...)
I subscribe to Rhonda Parkinson's About Chinese Food and recently she posted this article - I wish I'd had access to it when I began my foray into Chinese Cooking years ago... I remember I was really overwhelmed looking at the recipes.

Anyway, I thot myabe some of our offspring might find this very interesting and take some of the fear out of this great way to cook! Tracie Lee...take note!

How to Deconstruct a Chinese Recipe

Despite a lengthy ingredient list, most Chinese recipes are really quite simple
At first glance, the typical Chinese recipe can seem a little overwhelming. Chinese recipes are not known for having a short ingredient list. The typical dish may require anywhere from ten to fifteen ingredients - more for festive specialties such as Buddha Jumps Over the Wall.

Beginning Chinese cooks can be forgiven for concluding that a long ingredient list equals a recipe that a) takes too much time to make, and b) is beyond their skill level.
That's unfortunate, because the average stir-fry can be whipped up quite quickly. The following tips will help you quickly read through a recipe to determine how much work is actually involved and whether you can adapt it to meet your needs:

Make sure you understand the ingredient list
Most Chinese cookbook recipes tend to follow a few general conventions:

• "soy sauce" refers to light soy sauce. A recipe will state if dark soy sauce is required.

• Rice vinegar refers to white rice vinegar. The recipe will specify if black or red rice vinegar are to be used instead. Occasionally, a recipe may use the term "brown" in place of "black" rice vinegar.

• Since pale dry sherry is the common substitute for Chinese rice wine, recipes will sometimes list only sherry without mentioning rice wine as a possibility. If a recipe calls for pale, dry sherry and you have a good Chinese rice wine on hand, feel free to substitute.

• If cooking oil is on the ingredient list, it's probably for stir-frying or deep-frying. Use either peanut oil or vegetable oils such as canola.

• British cookbooks sometimes use British terms for ingredients: for example, groundnut oil instead of peanut oil, and cornflour in place of cornstarch. Make sure you know which ingredient is being called for before starting to cook.

Figure out which ingredients are used in a marinade and/or sauce.
The Chinese almost never fry meat without marinating it first. At the other end, it's common to add a sauce to fried food in the final stages of cooking, often thickened with a cornstarch and water mixture.

Figure out the secondary ingredients.
This is the name I give to ingredients that are found in most Chinese stir-fries but aren't essential to a specific recipe. For example, garlic and ginger is used to season cooking oil before stir-frying, and green onion is often stirred in near the end or added as a garnish. While it would be rare to find a stir-fry recipe lacking any of these ingredients, it's usually a small matter to alter the amount or leave one out altogether.

Look for a Cornstarch and Water "Slurry"
Whenever you see cornstarch followed by water, there is a good chance the two will be combined and added near the end as a thickener. Sometimes the mix is called a "slurry." Don't add the two ingredients straight into the wok, but combine and then add to the dish, stirring quickly to thicken.

Separating out the marinade, sauce, secondary ingredients, and thickener will make it easier to organize the recipe.
Now, let's try deconstructing the following recipe for
Oyster Sauce Chicken:

Oyster Sauce Chicken
1-1/2 tablespoons oil (cooking oil)
8 chicken drumsticks, thighs, or a mixture of both
1/3 cup chicken broth (feel free to use stock if you have it)
3 tablespoons soy sauce (light)
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
3 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry (author mentions both options)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 cloves garlic, peeled and flattened
2 slices fresh ginger, flattened
1 teaspoon cornstarch (will be mixed with the 1 teaspoon water)
1 teaspoon water
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
minced scallions (green or spring onions) or cilantro (garnish)

Heat oil in a wok or large skillet. Add chicken (in batches if necessary) and brown well on all sides. Meanwhile, combine remaining ingredients in a Dutch oven or flameproof casserole and bring to a boil over high heat.

Transfer chicken to the casserole with a slotted spoon, draining excess oil. Turn to coat with sauce. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, about 45 minutes until chicken is tender and cooked through. Remove and discard garlic and ginger pieces.

Dissolve cornstarch in water and add to the sauce. Cook, stirring, until slightly thickened. Stir in sesame oil just before removing from heat. Serve garnished with minced scallions or cilantro. (This recipe is reprinted with permission from the newsletter GourMAsia).

Comments: No major problems here, but the lengthy ingredient list can hide the fact that this is really an easy to make casserole dish. Ingredients three through nine are simply combined to make a sauce - you don't even need to mince the garlic and ginger. The oil is for stir-frying the chicken, which is added to the sauce in a casserole dish and heated through. All that remains is to add the cornstarch/water mixture and drizzle in a bit of sesame oil at the end - the garnish is optional. Simple!

One Final Tip: Visualize the Recipe as a Complete Meal
Instead of preparing other dishes, it's often possible to rework a recipe, adding meat or vegetables as necessary, and serving with rice or noodles. For example, adapt the Oyster Sauce Chicken recipe by adding favorite vegetables to the casserole, increasing the liquid as needed, and serving over rice.
~Rhonda Parkinson
Retired and having fun writing cookbooks, tasting wine and sharing recipes with all my friends.
  Re: How to Deconstruct a Chinese Recipe by cjs (I subscribe to Rhond...)
Jean, thank you for posting this. I'm copying this for reference and to give to my girls. Great instructions!


"Drink your tea slowly and reverently..."
  Re: Re: How to Deconstruct a Chinese Recipe by Mare749 (Jean, thank you for ...)
(I was thinking of your girls....and Tracie!)
Retired and having fun writing cookbooks, tasting wine and sharing recipes with all my friends.
  Re: How to Deconstruct a Chinese Recipe by cjs (I subscribe to Rhond...)
Wow - great info. Thanks for sharing. I have a Kung Pao chicken recipe that does look daunting, but when you seperate out the marinade, and the sauce and then the other ingredients it isn't too bad.

I love Chinese and Thai but rarely every try to make it.
Mom to three wonderful 7th graders!
The time is flying by.
  Re: Re: How to Deconstruct a Chinese Recipe by esgunn (Wow - great info. T...)
Thanks for the info - i sent it off to both of mine kids.

Chinese has always been a favorite of mine thru the years.
and I really like the web site.
Everything will be all right in the end. So if it is not right, then it's not yet the end.
  Re: How to Deconstruct a Chinese Recipe by cjs (I subscribe to Rhond...)
Thank you, Jean, it's going into my cookbook as well as the boys. While I have your ear on Chinese cooking, is there a difference between rice vinegar and rice wine vinegar?

Hopefully, the boys will get a bound cookbook this year for Christmas

  Re: Re: How to Deconstruct a Chinese Recipe by pjcooks (Thank you, Jean, it'...)
PJ, here is what my handy dandy Food Lover's Guide has to say -

Rice vinegar - There are japanese as well as Chinese rice vinegars, both made from fermented rice, and both slightly milder than most Western Vinegars. Chinese rice vinegar comes in three types: white (clear or pale amber), used mainly in Sweet-and-Sour dishes, red, a popular accompaniment for boiled or steamed crab; and black, used mainly as a table condiment. The almost colorless Japanese rice vinegar isused in a variety of Japanese preparations, including Sushi rice and Sunomono (vinegared salads).

Rice wine - A sweet, golden wine made from fermenting freshly steamed glutinous rice. Most rice wines are low in alcohol. The most well-known Japanese rice wines are sake and mirin; those from China include Chia Fan, Shan Niang and Yen Hung.

I'm so glad you asked the question - I haven't read this before and I do have some red rice wine that we love the flavor of, but I didn't know to use it with crab dishes!! Interesting.

Also, a gal from Hong Kong - Gina, on another website got me started making rose vinegar. I tried a batch last winter but I made the mistake of using rose buds from the florist and then found out they are treated, so threw it away. Now that my neighbor's roses are going great guns, I have two batches going. One with regular white distilled vinegar that Gina suggested and one batch with rice vinegar. I have a week + left before I can try it - getting anxious.

She makes salad dressings and a few other dishes (one, Rose Vinegar Wings and Rose Vinegar) that I'll be trying.
Retired and having fun writing cookbooks, tasting wine and sharing recipes with all my friends.
  Re: Re: How to Deconstruct a Chinese Recipe by cjs (PJ, here is what my ...)
your rose vinegar sounds great - would you share the
recipe. ?

Everything will be all right in the end. So if it is not right, then it's not yet the end.
  Re: Re: How to Deconstruct a Chinese Recipe by mjkcooking (your rose vinegar so...)
I'll go post it.
Retired and having fun writing cookbooks, tasting wine and sharing recipes with all my friends.
  Re: Re: How to Deconstruct a Chinese Recipe by cjs ((I was thinking of y...)
Chinese dishes are my absolute favorite---the prep time may be a little time consuming but you can't beat the end result. Chinese cuisine here is really heavy on the oils and MSG/salt components---we had that once (about 15 years ago) and I have been an avid fan of this type of cooking ever since------once all is prepped---piece of cake and I know what went into it!!!

I think that once one has learned the art of this type of cooking, all other genres are so much easier---mise-en-place??? I think they invented the phrase---
"Never eat more than you can lift" Miss Piggy

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