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Home > Cooking Tips > Quick and Easy Chinese Cooking During Busy Weekdays

Quick and Easy Chinese Cooking During Busy Weekdays

Quick and Easy Chinese Cooking
Quick Easy Chinese Cooking Tips

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"Our lives are not in the lap of the gods, but in the lap of our cooks."
(Lin Yutang, "The Importance of Living", 1937)

Ah, the joys of cooking dinner during the week. 

You've finally arrived home, having battled rush hour traffic to transport the children to and from various sports and music classes. You're tense and exhausted, but instead of resting, you dash madly about the kitchen, trying to get dinner
on the table.  

At times like these, eating Chinese food may be the last thing on your mind (unless this involves nothing more demanding than driving to the local take-out for an order of Almond Chicken and Spring Rolls). When your challenge is to put a meal in front of the family in twenty minutes, the thought of peeling ginger, mixing sauces, and marinating meat can seem overwhelming. Speed, not quality, is what counts at these times.   

However, culinary masterpieces featuring twenty ingredients aside, it is possible to prepare Chinese dishes on a tight schedule. The actual act of stir-frying takes only five to ten minutes - it's preparing the ingredients that can be so time consuming. Here are a few tips to help you prepare quick and easy meals with an Oriental flavor: 

Store peeled ginger

Ginger is one of the key ingredients in Chinese cooking. Peeling ginger takes time, but you can peel it ahead of time and store in the refrigerator.  Place in a jar, cover with sherry, and seal - as the flavor of the ginger fades you have the sherry taste to compensate.

Better yet, why peel the ginger at all? Simply cut off a slice and stir-fry until aromatic. 

Use Pre-seasoned instead of freshly seasoned oil

I found this tip in Deh-Ta Hsiung's Chinese Cookery Secrets - just add 2 - 3 pieces of ginger to heated oil, and cook until the ginger rises to the surface and turns brown.  Cool the oil and store. The oil can be reused several times.

Use canned chicken broth instead of homemade chicken stock

There is nothing like homemade stock, but chicken broth works fine in a pinch, as in this recipe for Egg Drop or Egg Flower Soup.  Calorie Counting tip: substitute chicken broth where water is called for in stir-fries to add flavor while reducing the amount of cooking oil. (Vegetarians can add soaking liquid from vegetables such as dried mushrooms).  

Prepare the meat ahead of time 

Cutting meat is not something you want to do while rushed or distracted, particularly in stir-fry dishes, when it's important that the pieces of meat are a uniform size.  Just cut the meat, cover with plastic wrap and leave in the refrigerator until you come home from work. 


Cook with instant noodles, such as Ramen

They're quick and easy to prepare - after boiling, if you like you can discard the flavor packet and stir-fry them with a sauce.


Wash fresh vegetables about 30 minutes ahead of time 

This gives them plenty of time to drain before cooking. 


Use frozen vegetables  

A good option if you don't have time for slicing and dicing. Many frozen food manufacturers carry "Oriental" or "Stir-fry" Blends, containing an assortment of Asian vegetables. Just toss them in the heated wok with oil and stir-fry.


Use canned vegetables

Another option is to use canned Chinese vegetables, such as water chestnuts and bamboo shoots. Bamboo shoots and mushrooms make a nice combination (they're even featured in a dish called "Fried Two Winters"), while water chestnuts go well with snow peas. Just rinse in warm water to remove any "tinny" taste.  


Boil and bag it

Look for boiled bamboo shoots in the refrigerator section at the Asian market - all you need to do is soak them in hot water to remove any salinity before cooking.  


Use favorite sauce or marinade combinations in more than one recipe.


That way, you won't be experimenting with new ingredients or different combinations of familiar ingredients every time you cook dinner. One of my favorite stir-fry sauces for vegetables is something I came up with while trying to spice up a bean curd dish (the "secret formula" is 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce, 1 tablespoon oyster sauce, 1 1/2 tablespoons sherry, and 1 teaspoon sugar). 


Try a ready made stir-fry sauce or marinade 

Many local supermarkets carry a selection of stir-fry sauces and marinades.  Most can be used with meat, seafood, or vegetables.  


A Busy Cook's Mecca - the Asian market

The convenience section of most Asian markets has exploded in recent years.  You'll find a wide assortment of sauces, marinades, dry seasonings, curry mixes and soup bases, all designed to help you create your favorite dishes on busy weeknights. For example, Asian Home Gourmet has a dry chili stir-fry for Kung Pao Chicken - just add chicken, nuts and sherry.  Meanwhile, McCormick has a seasoning packet for deep-fried pork and Mama Sita has a Calderata seasoning packet will add a taste of the Philippines to soups or stews. But go find out for yourself!

When all else fails, simplify the recipe

As a regular poster on my forum recently pointed out, just because a recipe calls for shredded pork with
ginger doesn't mean you can't serve sliced pork with ginger instead. Also, on nights like these it pays to stick to ingredients that will pass muster with family members - this is not the time to discover that your son thinks sesame seeds are gross, or that your husband shares the widely-held view that cilantro tastes like soap.  For best results, stick with the tried and true.  



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Related Links: Chinese Cooking Tips

What do I Buy First? - Getting Ready to Cook Chinese Food
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Wok or Frying Pan?
Before You Buy a Wok
Before You Buy a Chinese Cleaver
What to do before cooking?
Cooking Techniques in Chinese Cuisine
Stir-Fry Tips in Chinese Cuisine
Deep-Frying Questions and Answers in Chinese Cuisine
The Five Elements Theory of Chinese Cooking
Yin and Yang in Chinese Cooking
Different Styles in Chinese Cuisine
Quick and Easy Chinese Cooking During Busy Weekdays

Chinese Cooking For The Novice

Twenty Tips for Cooking Chinese Food





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