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Home > Cooking Tips > Cooking Methods in Chinese Cuisine

Cooking Methods in Chinese Cuisine

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Cooking Methods in Chinese Cuisine

You may get confused by terms such as sauteing, marinades, stir-fry and deep-fry for you just start learning Chinese cooking. In fact they are all cooking methods in Chinese cuisine. In this tip, you are going to be familiar with the following 8 basic cooking methods. In the following tips, we will talk more about stir-fry and deep-fry.

Sugar and Syrup Coating
Sauces and Gravies



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).




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.




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.




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.




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.




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").



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.



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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