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Ever got confused by Chinese cooking techniques like deep-fried, stir-fried, quick-fried, saute, marinade? You may know their meanings literally, but you may not know how exactly to do it in your kitchen.

This Cooking Tips page includes some of the basic Chinese cooking techniques, tips and methods. We hope it will be helpful to visitors when they try the Chinese recipes.

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Selecting Ingredients

Chinese cooking uses a wide range of ingredients, including meat, meat products, fish, seafood, poultry, eggs, vegetables, bean products, wild plants, game, and many seasonings. Most come in both fresh and dried forms, but the most important features to look for are freshness and quality.

Meats should be judged by their place of origin, season of production, and any other characteristic-for example, old or young, male or female-that may be specified in a recipe. Appearance, color, weight, water content, and smell are also important.

Different dishes call for different cuts of meat because cuts have different textures once they have been cooked. Cuts of the same meat may be tough or tender, coarse or fine. For example, the Chinese distinguish eighteen different cuts of pork. These include filet, streaky pork, shoulder butt, ham butt, hock, and shank.

The filet is considered the best cut and is generally stir-fried or quick-fried (see the section below on "cooking techniques" for descriptions of these and other procedures) to take advantage of its tenderness. Streaky pork is best when marinated with spiced rice flour (see recipe Steamed Pork with Spiced Rice Flour) and then steamed, or red-cooked (braised in soy sauce). The shank and hock are best suited to lengthy simmering, with or without soy sauce, while the ham and ham butt are often used as substitutes for filet. The ribs and feet are best prepared 'by lengthy, low-temperature methods like braising, baking or simmering, while spareribs are suitable for sauteing, quick-frying, slippery-frying, and deep-frying. The methods used for pork are also applicable to similar cuts of beef and lamb or mutton.

With reference to poultry, the tenderest and most versatile part of a chicken or duck is the breast. Chickens or ducks less than a year old are usually quick-fried or deep-fried, while older birds need long, slow cooking like simmering or braising to tenderize them.

Fish is as nutritious as poultry. Crab, prawns and shrimps are rich in phosphorus, calcium and vitamin A. You can tell a fresh fish by its tight, undamaged scales, red gills, and clear protruding eyes. Fresh prawns and shrimps should be greenish-white, with firm bodies that curve slightly. They should not be flat or limp, and their heads and tails should be intact. Fresh crabs should be alive and active. They should spit foams and have green upper shells and white under-shells.




In Chinese cooking, preparation includes trimming and washing vegetables, slaughtering and dressing live chickens and ducks, gutting live fish, and reconstituting dried ingredients.
When preparing vegetables, cooks first trim and discard any wilted or tough outer leaves. Then they wash them. Vegetables should not be cut before they are washed, because vitamins and minerals would be washed away. Nutrients are also lost if vegetables and other foods are cut ahead of time and exposed to the air. The most nutritious dishes are prepared and cooked immediately.

Chinese cooks prefer to buy live poultry and fish and to kill them themselves whenever possible because they believe that freshly-killed chickens, ducks and fish have a subtler flavor. If you slaughter your own poultry, you should drain off the blood thoroughly and soak the bird in very hot water before plucking it. When preparing a duck, you will find it easier to pluck the eiderdown if you force-feed it with wine, vinegar, or cold water before killing it. To draw a bird, make an incision about 3 inches (7 cm) long along the lower part of the breast, on the back, or under one of the wings. When drawing out the entrails, be careful not to puncture the gallbladder; its bitter taste would ruin the edible meat. Then wash the bird thoroughly before continuing to prepare the recipe.

Preparing a fresh, whole fish involves scaling, chopping off the fins, taking off the gills, gutting and washing. To gut the fish, make a cut along the belly or spine and take out the black membrane in the belly cavity. If the recipe calls for a whole boned fish, you should first gut it by cutting along the spine. Then cut parallel to the spine almost up to the top and separate the flesh from the top and bottom of the center bone. Lift out the center bone and small side bones and cut the spine away at the head and tail. Finally, wash the cavity and the outside and arrange the fish as closely as possible in its original shape.

The easiest way to shell shrimps and prawns is to hold the head in one hand and the tail in the other hand and squeeze the meat out of the shell at the neck end. Wash the vein away under cold running water or pick it out with the tip of a knife. Wash the shrimp, drain, dry well, and set aside. Sometimes shrimp and prawn heads are also used in dishes.

Drying makes meats, seafoods and vegetables tough and fibrous. To reconstitute dried foods, first soak them in cold water until they soften. Then soak them in warm water until they expand and regain their original texture and pliability. When preparing dried veget-ables such as wood ear (an edible fungus) or golden needles (also known as dried tigerlily buds), you need not use cold water first. Wash the vegetables well to remove any dirt or sand, and then soak them in hot water until soft. Dried black Chinese mushrooms are prepared the same way, but require less soaking time.




Chinese recipes call for ingredients to be cut into different shapes because different ways of cutting affect the texture and appearance of a finished dish.

Chinese cooks use three main cutting techniques (see illustrations): straight-cutting (also known as perpendicular-cutting), horizontal-cutting (slicing), and slashing (scoring). Both straight-cutting and slicing are used to create chunks, slivers, slices, strips, cubes, and even pulps and pastes. Slashing means making shallow parallel cuts on the surface of an ingredient, usually a meat or fish. This exposes a larger area to the seasonings and to the heat source. If an ingredient is scored in a crisscross or diamond pattern, it will shrink to form a raised flower-shaped pattern when cooked.



Balance Among Ingredients

Chinese cooks attach great importance to the balance among the ingredients in a dish. This important step should result in a harmonious blending of textures, colors, aromas, flavors, shapes and nutritional qualities. To do this well, you must understand the required cooking methods of the dishes and the characteristics of different ingredients and how they fit together.

Balancing amounts

The major ingredient should be the most plentiful one in a dish. If you are making stir-fried meat shreds, for example, the total quantity of other ingredients should not exceed the amount of meat. If there are two or more main ingredients, you should use about the same amount of each.

Balancing flavors

All the ingredients in a dish should enhance the flavor of the main ingredient. This is why asparagus or bamboo shoots are often cooked with chicken, duck, and fish: the blandness of these vegetables enhances the light, delicate character of the meat.

Similarly, the blandness of shark's fins and sea cucumbers (beche-de-mer, sea slug) can be offset by cooking them with Chinese ham, chicken, or pork, or in a highly-flavored stock. You can also cut the heavy, greasy character of a main ingredient by adding lighter secondary ingredients. This is why many Chinese recipes call for pork to be cooked with fresh vegetables.

You must also take seasonal factors and personal preferences into account. Summer is the season for light, juicy foods, while heavier dishes, or ones with thick gravies, are better suited to cold weather. When you plan a menu, you should balance sweet, salty, sour, and hot dishes to suit your taste and that of your family and guests.

There is also a Chinese sequence for serving dishes: salty dishes are served before sweet ones, while heavy- and light-flavored ones are served alternately.

Balancing textures

Texture refers to the crunchiness, crispness, softness, or tenderness of a food. In Chinese cooking, ingredients with similar textures are usually cooked together. However, crisp and soft foods are sometimes combined in a single dish. This requires careful attention to cooking temperatures to retain the differences in textures.
Balancing shapes Chinese cooks usually cut all the ingredients in a dish into similar shapes. For example, chunks of meat and chunks of vegetables are usually cut to about the same size. This makes it easier to cook all the ingredients evenly and also gives the final dish a pleasing appearance.

Balancing colors

Chinese cooks tend either to select ingredients of the same color, or to use many contrasting ingredients to add color to a dish.



Blending Seasoning

A well-prepared dish should have a distinctive flavor. But it is not enough just to select the right blend of foods and the correct cooking temperature-a good cook also needs to master the art of blending the right seasonings with the right combinations of ingredients. Without the correct seasoning, even delicious ingredients can taste bland and uninteresting. Seasonings are also important in Chinese cooking because they create the special flavors that characterize different regional styles.

The condiments used in Chinese cooking come in two ways, singly or blended. They lend single flavors (salty, sour, sweet, etc.) or blended flavors (sweet and sour, sweet and salty, hot and spicy, etc.) to foods. Some examples of these flavors and the condiments used to create them are:

Salty flavor

Salty flavor is basic to most dishes, with other flavors usually added. Salt and soy sauce, are the main seasonings used to impart a salty taste.


Sweet flavors

Sweet flavors counteract fishy odors, cut the greasiness of rich dishes, and enhance delicate flavors. The main seasonings use to give a sweet flavor to foods are confectioner's sugar, brown sugar, rock sugar, granulated sugar, honey, and saccharin.


Sour flavors

Sour flavors help the digestion and increase the absorption of inorganic salts. They also lighten heavy or rich dishes. Red and white rice vinegar are the main seasonings used to add sourness to a dish.


Hot flavors

Hot flavors are appetizing because of their sharpness. Hot seasonings include fresh and dried red chili (chilli) peppers, pepper, ginger, scallion, and garlic.


Bitter flavors

Bitter flavors have a special aftertaste that can be palatable and refreshing. Ingredients such as bitter melon, Chinese yam, tangerine peel, and-Chinese wolf-berry give a bitter flavor to dishes.


Spicy flavors

Spicy flavors help mask off-odors or fishy smells, cut greasiness, and whet the appetite. In Chinese cooking, the main spicy condiments are cassia bark, which resembles cinnamon, star anise, fennel, clove, Sichuan red peppercorns, sesame, sesame oil, sesame paste, wine, red wine mash and flavoring essence.


The first five spices are often ground and mixed together into a combination called "five-spice powder."


Delicate flavors

Delicate flavors are natural food essences, generally the principal amino acid of the ingredient. Shrimp eggs, crab meat, oyster sauce, fish sauce, and meat stock impart delicate flavors.


Sweet and sour flavor

Sweet and sour flavor comes from sweet and sour sauce, a mixture of sugar and vinegar, jam, and ketchup (catsup).


Sweet and salty flavor

Sweet and salty flavor comes from a combination of shrimp eggs, soy sauce, and shrimp paste.


Peppery and salty flavor

Peppery and salty flavor comes from mixtures like the combination of roasted ground Sichuan peppercorns and salt known as "spiced pepper-salt."


Spiced pepper-salt is sometimes referred to as "prickly ash." One basic recipe for making it is:
4 tbsp salt
1 tbsp whole Sichuan peppercorns
Heat a dry wok over moderate heat and pour in the peppercorns.
Cook, stirring constantly, about 1 minute, or until they release their fragrance. Grind to a fine powder in a mortar or blender, strain out any large husks, and set aside. Reheat the wok and pour in the salt. Cook, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes, or until it just begins to turn golden brown. Pour into a bowl and let cool slightly before mixing with the ground peppercorns. Store in a tightly-closed jar. Makes about 1/4 cup and will keep indefinitely.


Sharp and salty flavor

Sharp and salty flavor is obtained from chili (chilli) peppers or Sichuan peppercorns and salt.


Hot and spicy flavor

Hot and spicy flavor comes from seasonings like curry and mustard.


Hot and salty flavor

Hot and salty flavor is found in condiments like chili (chilli) sauce and Worcestershire sauce.
Seasonings can be added to foods before, during, and after cooking. Because the success of Chinese dishes depends so much on how they are seasoned, the following guidelines may be helpful.


Fish, shrimp, beef, lamb, and mutton sometimes have off-odors. Adding wine, vinegar, scallions, ginger, or sugar before or during cooking helps counteract unpleasant odors.


Do not over-season dishes that feature delicate foods like fish, shrimp, chicken, duck, or mushrooms, or you will kill their flavor.


Bean threads (also known as "cellophane noodles"), shark's fin, and sea cucumbers are so bland that they should always be cooked with a highly-flavored sauce or stock.


The amount of seasoning used should be correct. When a dish has several flavors, the principal and complementary flavors must be balanced to enhance the principal flavors.


The predominant flavors of Chinese dishes change with the seasons. Fresh, crunchy foods and sweet-and-sour cold dishes are best for hot weather, while winter is the time for heavier, fattier dishes, or those that call for long, slow cooking techniques like stewing or braising. Hot pot, in which a variety of fresh ingredients and meat is cooked in a boiling broth in a special cooking pot, is also a special cold-weather dish.




Cooking Techniques

Chinese cooking has developed many methods that take advantage of the wide range of foods and ingredients available throughout the nation. Different regions use different methods, and often the same foods will be prepared quite differently.

The basic techniques used in Chinese cooking are precooking techniques such as parboiling and partial frying, and cooking techniques such as frying, sauteing, braising, stewing, boiling, simmering, steaming, "flavor-potting," and smoking. This section also describes cooking temperatures, cooking with oil, marinades, sugar and other coatings, sauces, gravies, stocks and flavoring sauces.


Precooking Methods


Some meats need to be partially precooked just long enough to get rid of off-odors but not so long their flavor or texture changes. Some vegetables also need precooking to get rid of astringency or bitterness or to heighten their fresh color. Parboiling and partial frying are the two most common methods of precooking foods before they are combined with other ingredients for the remaining steps in a recipe.




There are four methods of parboiling. Each uses different timings and temperatures and yields different results.



Parboiling vegetables like taro root, Chinese yams and fresh bamboo shoots by cooking them in boiling water before they are cooked with other ingredients, helps to remove their astringent taste and makes peeling easier. These vegetables should be parboiled in their skins, if possible, and peeled and cut as required afterwards to avoid loss of nutrients.



Slow-boiling is used for foods like pork tripe that take a longer time to cook than the other ingredients in a recipe. These foods should be simmered in boiling water until tender and then combined with the rest of food and seasonings called for in the recipe.


Hot-plunging or blanching

Hot-plunging or blanching is used for some tender, fresh vegetables to set their color and texture. Celery, spinach, green beans and other vegetables are plunged into a large pot of boiling water and removed as soon as the water returns to a boil. They are then drained and run immediately under cold water to stop the cooking process.



Quick-boiling is often used to rid meat of bits of bone and the off-odor that comes from the blood. The meat is placed in cold water and removed and drained as soon as it comes to a boil. However, the method used for pork kidney, fish, and chicken is closer to blanching: the meat is dropped into boiling water and removed as soon as it is cooked.

Chinese cooking also uses two methods of partial frying foods as an intermediate step in many recipes.

Sliding through the oil means placing an ingredient in warm oil which has been heated to

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Cooking Temperatures

Heat is what causes all the changes that take place in foods when they are cooked. Because different temperatures and cooking times lead to different results, temperature control is a key element in Chinese cuisine.

Chinese recipes call for three kinds of heat: high heat, used in stir-frying, quick-frying, and deep-frying; medium heat, used in sauteing, slippery-frying, and deep-frying coated foods; and low heat, used in steaming, simmering, braising, and stewing.

Chinese recipes also often specify three levels of flame (or heat, on the electric ranges which are common in the West) to regulate the levels of heat of water.

High flame or heat is used to produce a fast boil, in which the water or liquid is kept bubbling rapidly. The fast boil is used to reduce and thicken broths or stocks and in hot-plunging and quick-boiling.

Medium flame or heat keep liquids at a moderate boil and is used in some types of braising.
Low flame or heat is used to keep liquids at a slow boil or simmer in stewing, simmering, and flavor-potting.

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Cooking with Oil

Many of the recipes in this book call for deep-frying foods in large amounts, from two to eight cups (500 ml to two liters), of vegetable oil. When foods are deep-fried at the proper temperature, they absorb very little oil, but, it can be difficult to judge whether oil is at the right temperature.

Although many Chinese recipes call for oil to be heated "to the smoking point" when deep-frying, it should be pointed out that the cooking oils used in China are often less highly refined than those used in the West. The presence or absence of impurities changes the appearance of oil as it heats.

We therefore suggest using thermometers to gauge how hot oil is.

Warm oil is about n this temperature range, no bubbles will appear around a small piece of vegetable leaf like a piece of scallion green or spinach, or a slice of ginger, that has been tossed into the oil.

Moderately hot oil is about . In this temperature range, small bubbles will sizzle around a piece of ginger, or scallion tossed into the oil.

Very hot oil is about , a one-inch cube of day-old bread will turn brown in one minute when dropped into the oil.

Boiling oil is above . A heavy haze appears and the oil bubbles vigorously.

Most Chinese recipes call for oil to be heated to the hot or very hot stage. Lower temperatures are used in methods like sliding through the oil, while extremely hot oil is used to crisp and brown coated foods that have already been fried at a lower temperature.

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Chinese recipes often call for meats and other ingredients to be first marinated and then dipped into a batter-a paste which may contain cornstarch or flour, egg white, salt, sugar, and monosodium glutamate. When the food is later deep-fried, the coating seals in juices, keeps the food from falling apart, and reduces the loss of nutrients. These coatings also cook into light, crisp crusts that contrast with the tenderness of the food inside.

Cooking pastes and coating are also used for foods that will be stir-fried, quick-fried or slippery-fried because they impart a soft, slippery quality to the dish.

The most common batter is made of cornstarch and water. It is usually made of two parts cornstarch to one part water and is used in deep-frying and slippery-frying. It cooks into a crisp, yellowish-brown crust when deep-fried.

A batter of egg white and cornstarch is used in stir-frying and slippery-frying. The batter remains white after cooking, but the food inside is tender.

An egg yolk and cornstarch batter may also be used in deep-frying and slippery-frying. It results in a golden-brown coating.

The flour and egg yolk coating is actually a two-step process. The food is first dipped in flour and then into beaten egg yolk.

Another two-step process is egg and bread-crumb coating. The food is first dipped in beaten egg yolks and then rolled in bread crumbs. When deep-fried, the coating turns crisp and golden-brown.

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Cooking Methods



Chinese cooking uses many methods of frying, including several types of deep-frying, "slippery-frying," "quick-frying," and several types of stir-frying.

Deep-frying (zha)

In deep-frying(zha), ingredients are fried in four to six cups of vegetable or peanut oil over a high heat.


Dry deep-frying (gan zha)

In dry deep-frying(gan zha), foods are given a thick coating of cornstarch (corn flour) before being fried. They come out very crisp outside and tender inside.


Clear deep-frying (qing zha)

In clear deep-frying(qing zha), the foods are not coated with cornstarch before being cooked.


Flaky deep-frying (su zha)

In flaky deep-frying(su zha), foods are parboiled or steamed until they are almost cooked through. Then they are dipped in a thick batter of cornstarch and water and cooked in boiling oil until the coating turns crisp and flaky.


Soft deep-frying (ruan zha)

In soft deep-frying (ruan zha), the ingredients are not precooked, but are given a light coating of cornstarch before being fried. They come out tender but not crisp.

Chinese cooking also uses two techniques for deep-frying ingredients in wrappers.

Paper-wrapped deep-frying (zhibao zha)

In paper-wrapped deep-frying (zhibao zha), the food is wrapped in sheets made of glutinous rice flour.


Crisp deep-frying (cui zha)

In crisp deep-frying (cui zha), the wrappers are made of dry bean-curd sheets.


Both methods involve first deep-frying the packets of food in moderately warm oil over a high heat and crisping them by frying them briefly when the oil comes to a boil.

Slippery-frying (liu)

Slippery-frying (liu) involves two processes. The ingredients are deep-fried and then covered with a cornstarch-based sauce prepared in a separate pot during the frying or immediately afterward. When the sauce is poured over the food, it results in a texture as slippery as satin. Foods prepared this way are fragrant, crisp, and tender.


Deep-frying before stir-frying (peng)

In deep-frying before stir-frying (peng), foods are deep-fried in very hot oil until cooked. Then the excess oil is poured out and a sauce which unlike slippery-frying does not contain cornstarch is added. The dish is stir-fried for a few moments to blend the ingredients before being served. Dishes prepared this way are crisp outside and tender inside , with each morsel covered in a velvety sauce.


Quick-frying (bao)

In quick-frying (bao), foods are deep-fried in very hot oil over high heat and then the oil is poured out and seasonings are added to the food, which is left in the wok.

Chinese cooking distinguishes four types of stir-frying (chao). In all four types, ingredients are cut into small cubes, strips, shreds, or slices, and cooked over high heat in a few tablespoons of very hot oil in a wok. The technique of stir-frying involves using a flat scoop to toss and turn the ingredients so they cook evenly in the oil. Sometimes the wok is also shaken. Stir-frying usually takes only a few minutes. The food must be removed as soon as it is cooked to guarantee its fresh flavor and crunchy-tender texture.

Raw stir-frying (sheng chao or bian)

In raw stir-frying (sheng chao or bian), raw ingredients are quickly stir-fried, resulting in a fresh, tender dish with little sauce.


Stir-frying pre-cooked food (shu chao)

In stir-frying pre-cooked food (shu chao), the ingredients are parboiled or precooked before being stir-fried.


Soft stir-frying (ruan chao)

In soft stir-frying (ruan chao), the food to be stir-fried is coated with a batter before being cooked.

There is also stir-frying without coating (gan chao).

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Chinese cooking uses three methods of sauteing, which is also called "shallow-cooking." Sauteing uses much less oil than deep-frying and is done at lower temperatures than stir-frying. Ingredients are usually cut into slices or flat pieces. Seasonings are added after the food is browned.

Sauteing on both sides (jian)
In sauteing on both sides (jian), foods are browned slowly on both sides in oil but do not have a coating.

Sauteing on one side (tie)
Sauteing on one side (tie) means browning batter-coated foods on one side only.

sauteing followed by cooking in sauce (ta)
In sauteing followed by cooking in sauce (ta), foods are coated in a batter and sauteed on both sides. Then a sauce is added and the dish is simmered until the sauce thickens. The food will be soft inside, but with some crispness outside, and the thickened sauce will be slippery.

Braising, Stewing, Boiling and Simmering

Chinese cooking has many methods of cooking foods in liquids.

Stewing one kind of meat (ao)
Stewing one kind of meat (ao) means slow-cooking chunks, slices, cubes, or shreds of meat after first stir-frying them briefly until the surfaces have lost their raw look but before the insides are cooked. Seasonings and broth are added and the liquid is brought to a boil. Then the heat is turned down and the meat simmers slowly until done. The sauce is not thickened.

precooking before stewing (hui)
In precooking before stewing (hui), several ingredients are parboiled or precooked before being placed in one pot for slow simmering. Unlike ao, the final step involves thickening the sauce.

Stewing over low heat (men)
Stewing over low heat (men) resembles braising. The meat is stir-fried briefly to brown. Then seasonings and a sauce are added and the dish simmers over low heat until the sauce is almost all reduced.

Stewing over medium, then high, heat (shoo)
Stewing over medium, then high, heat (shoo) means braising foods over medium heat until tender, then turning the heat to high to reduce the sauce.

Both of the above methods can be applied to "red-cooking," or braising in soy sauce. The soy sauce imparts the reddish look that gives this technique its name.

Stewing meats with bones (ju)
Stewing meats with bones (ju) is similar to the above methods, but the meat or poultry is first marinated in rice-wine and soy sauce. Then it is deep-fried before being simmered in sauce and water. The meat is not boned.

Stewing and adding thickening (pa)
Stewing and adding thickening (pa) is similar to stewing meats with bones, but the sauce is thickened with
cornstarch instead of being reduced and thickened by simmering.
In quick-boiling in broth (cuan), thinly-sliced ingredients are cooked quickly in a boiling clear broth, or in water.

Dip-boiling (shuan)
In dip-boiling (shuan), as with the "hot pot" dishes referred to earlier, diners pick up morsels of meat, seafood and vegetables and cook them by dipping them into boiling water or stock in a fire-pot.

Boiling (zhu)
Boiling (zhu) simply refers to cooking ingredients in a large amount of water over high heat. The sauce is reduced and the food comes out tender. No
cornstarch is used. The gravy or sauce is rich but light and fresh.

Simmering (one of several forms of dun)
In simmering (one of several forms of dun), foods are put into cold water and brought to boil. Then seasonings are added and the heat is reduced for long, slow cooking.

Simmering over high heat (wei)
Simmering over high heat (wei) also starts with cold water, as in dun, but the food is cooked at high heat over a long period. This method tenderizes tougher meats and poultry and yields a thick, heavy sauce.

Simmering over charcoal (wo)
In simmering over charcoal (wo), the food is cooked over very low heat from a charcoal burner for three or four hours. This gives it a delicate flavor and a soft, tender texture.

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Chinese cooking uses two methods of steaming, or cooking foods over, rather than in, liquids.

Basic steaming (zheng)
In basic steaming (zheng), the ingredients are placed in a heat-proof container with a seasoned sauce. Then the container is placed in a steamer partially filled with water and set over high heat. The food cooks quickly in the vapor and is removed when barely done. The result is fresh and tender.

Placing one tightly-closed pot inside a larger pot (steaming dun)
Another form of steaming involves placing one tightly-closed pot inside a larger pot (steaming dun). In this method, the ingredients, a seasoned sauce, and a large amount of stock go into one pot, which must have a tight-fitting lid. The pot is half-immersed in boiling water in another larger pot and steams for two or three hours. The result is very soft.

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This method refers to stewing foods in a highly-flavored sauce (see the section on "Stocks and Flavoring Sauces" below) that permeates the dish.

Basic flavor-potting (lu) means stewing the food in a mixture of soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, salt, red fermented rice mash, and five-spice powder, scallions, ginger, chicken stock and water. The food cooks over low heat for several hours and comes out tender and full of flavor.

Marinating and flavor-potting (jiang) adds the step of marinating the food in salt, soy sauce, and soybean paste (also known as ground bean sauce) before it is stewed in the flavor-potting sauce.

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Chinese cooking treats smoking and roasting as similar methods.

In smoking (xun), foods are parcooked and then cured in smoke from burning wood or peanut shells.

Roasting (Kao)
In roasting (kao), raw ingredients are marinated in seasonings before being roasted in an oven or barbecued over direct heat from a coal or charcoal burner.

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Marinades are an essential part of many Chinese recipes and marinating may take place before or after ingredients are cooked.

In ban, raw foods or those that have been cooked and cooled are cut into small pieces and mixed with soy sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil. Other seasonings, such as
garlic, ginger, sesame paste, sugar, or ground peppercorns, may also be added to heighten the flavor.

In qiang, the main ingredient in the marinade is peppercorn oil, mixed with other seasonings and poured over foods that have first been parboiled or partial fried.

The yan method of marinating uses saltwater brine, water, or liquor. In salt-marinating, the food is soaked in brine, which draws out the moisture from the food so it can better absorb the seasonings in the marinade that follows. Wine-marinating is similar to salt-marinating, but uses fermented rice liquor instead of seasonings in the marinade.

Finally, the Chinese specially called "drunk-marinating" means soaking live food, especially seafood such as shrimps, in a clear liquor and then marinating them in salt. Then the food is often eaten while still alive (see recipe "Drunken Fresh Shrimps").

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Sugar and Syrup Coating

Chinese cooking has three methods of coating foods with sugar or syrups.

In spinning a thread of syrup (basi), the ingredients are deep-fried or boiled before being dipped into sugar that has been melted in either oil or water and cooked until it thickens and spins a thread.

Preserving in syrup (mizhi)
In preserving in syrup (mizhi), foods are partially cooked and then boiled in a sugar and honey sauce until the syrup thickens.

Coating with frost (guashuang)
In coating with frost (guashuang), foods are cooked by deep-frying while sugar is melted with water or oil in another pot to make a white syrup. When the food is mixed with the syrup, it looks as if it is covered with a layer of frost.

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Sauces and Gravies

Thickening the liquids in the pan into a sauce or gravy is often the last step in a recipe, and can be crucial to the success of a dish.

Sauces are made either by stirring a mixture of cornstarch that has been dissolved in an equal amount of water into the liquid and cooking it until it thickens, or by making a sauce or gravy in another pan and pouring it over the dish just before it is served.

Sauces help blend the flavors of all the ingredients, impart an added aroma, and give the dish a shiny, glistening finish.

Chinese recipes usually rely on two kinds of gravies. The first is a mixture of cornstarch, soy sauce or salt, sugar, vinegar, MSG, and a little water. It is usually used for stir-fried and slippery-fried dishes and is added to the pan at the last stage of cooking.

The other way to make gravy is to add seasonings gradually while the dish cooks and to thicken it at the last minute with cornstarch and water. This lets the flavors of the seasonings permeate the food and is generally used with long, low-heat cooking methods.

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