How I Cook Chinese Food

With the pandemic continuing at least another 6 months to a year, at least, before possible widespread distribution of a successful vaccine, like many folks, I have turned to honing my cooking skills in lieu of being able to eat out. While I do love takeout from my favorite places, it’s still not quite the same and I have learned to embrace my new kitchen culinary adventures, especially in my new home with much wider counter space.

Some of my friends have even remarked how good my food looks on my Instagram and have asked for what recipes I use. I figured I might as well turn it into a blog post so my slightly expanded audience of readers can also see what I’m cooking up and which recipes I’m using. I’ll also give some tips and tricks that I have found useful/helpful during this time.

Recipes/Cooks I Follow

First, I want to shout out the various cooks and chefs that have written and published a number of recipes that I have loved to use and go back to over and over again.

Number one among them is the family behind the cooking blog/website The Woks of Life. They have volumes of recipes that are really good, especially compared to other similar recipes I have used for certain dishes. Read down for specific recipes I love, but their blog is full of how-tos, tips, and even guides to various ingredients. If you’re newer to cooking Chinese food, I would definitely give those how-tos and introductions a read.

Next shoutout goes to Fuchsia Dunlop, a renown chef and expert in Chinese cuisine, especially Sichuanese food. Yes, she is white, but I do find her knowledge to be quite extensive and her writing to be rather approachable. In fact, I have her cookbook Every Grain of Rice in my kitchen and used a number of recipes from it. For my vegetarian/vegan friends, many of her recipes in the book are vegetarian friendly or can easily be adapted to be vegetarian as well. Her latest book, the Land of Fish and Water goes in depth to the food of the Jiangnan region (Shanghai along with Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces of the Yangtze River delta).

Since I am Cantonese and do love Cantonese cooking, I’ll also shoutout Tony and Karen’s Kitchen on Youtube. Yes, Tony speaks in Cantonese but there are easy to understand English subtitles. There will also be links to his recipes from the YouTube to his English language blog. From there you can learn some excellent Cantonese classics or foray into some Hong Kong “western”/fusion cuisine.

There are definitely other sources I have gotten recipes from (including from my cousin for a modified quasi- family recipe of Hong Kong style “Russian borscht”), but those would be my top 3 sources where you would have well over a month’s a recipes to cook with if you cooked something new every day.

Go-To Recipes

The recipes below generally go from what I view as “easiest” to “most involved” but your mileage may very.

picture of dishes Ants Climbing Up a Tree and Dry Pot Cauliflower
Ants Climbing Up a Tree and Dry Pot Cauliflower

“Ants Climbing Up a Tree” by The Woks of Life – a new in my repertoire but honestly this recipe is SO EASY. You do need to go to your Asian grocery store to find chili bean paste (Lee Kum Kee my preferred brand for almost all things), but after you prep the ingredients, which isn’t a lot, it cooks in minutes and get a hearty dish for 3-4 people to share.

Tomato with Egg (Chinese style)the Woks of Life and the New York Times both have their separate recipes and my version is like a combo of the two (I do use ketchup to add some sweetness/thickness to the sauce and make it more like cha chaan teng style Tomato with Egg but I don’t use cornstarch as NYT suggests). While the recipes themselves are simple, what really trips up the dish is cooking the eggs. I suggest lowering the heat and folding in the eggs gently, but quickly, to get that fluffy texture you want for the dish.

干煸四季豆 (Dried Fried String Beans) by The Woks of Life – While I never got my mom’s recipe before she passed, this is the next best things for me. The key to this recipe is to shallow fry the green beans and then pat the oil dry after to make that signature wrinkly/crisp texture without it being too oily.

干鍋菜花 (Dry Pot Cauliflower) by The Woks of Life – This is one of my current recipe staples. It’s fairly easy, hearty, and pretty flavorful. Instead of pork belly I use bacon and slice the raw bacon into bite size pieces but either way will be tasty. This year you can even find these Chinese style cauliflower at Trader Joes but you can also get a large head at a local Chinese supermarket (like a 99 Ranch or T&T Supermarket)

image of Slivered Pork with Golden Chives and Steamed Eggs
Slivered Pork with Golden Chives and Steamed Eggs

Slivered Pork with Chinese Chives by Fuchsia Dunlop – I actually use golden chives for this dish but honestly any chive variety should be fine. While the portions itself is fine for a small side dish, I recommend doubling the amount of everything for something heartier as a main/co-equal dish at the table.

image of Twice Cooked Pork and Purple Amaranth with Fermented Tofu
Twice Cooked Pork and Purple Amaranth with Fermented Tofu

Twice Cooked Pork – The recipe I use is from Dunlop’s book but this Serious Eats recipe is very similar and should be just as tasty. Dunlop’s recipe calls for boiling the pork belly only 20 minutes but also to chill the pork belly overnight.

乾炒牛河 (Stir-Fried Rice Noodle with Beef) – The Tony’s Kitchen recipe is my first and favorite one to make this classic comfort Cantonese dish. You definitely need to separate the fresh rice noodles which is a lot of labor, but helpful in making sure the rice noodles don’t stick. I still haven’t mastered stir frying the rice noodles to a point where they are as smooth, separated, and not as sticky as a restaurant or a pro ,but the results of this dish are nonetheless delicious.

Other Easy Meals

Like many other people, I can get exhausted or lazy and just need a quick dinner so here’s a couple very easy things to cook with little effort.

Ma Po Tofu – Yes, you make make some great homemade recipes for this, but honestly I am all about just using a Ma Po Tofu sauce packet either from House Foods (Med Hot) or Lee Kum Kee. If you’re using Lee Kum Kee, I recommend using 2 packets. Cube a packet of tofu, cook the ground pork, and throw in the sauce and then tofu and you have a hearty main dish in minutes.

Stir Fried Chinese Greens – Stir fried veggies are very quick and versatile. All you need are aromatics (ginger, garlic, and any kind of onion/shallot) and a leafy Chinese green (bok choy, you choy/choy sum, Chinese broccoli, etc) will do (though you may want to blanch the Chinese broccoli if you use that). Add the sliced onion to the wok to cook and the ginger for about a minute. Quickly add the garlic and stir fry that too (so it doesn’t burn). Then add the leafy green of choice, seasoning with salt and pepper and cook until your choice of how crunchy/tender you like the greens.

Frozen Dumplings and Instant Ramen – Ultimate laziness? I boil some Asian dumplings (I generally like pork with chives or pork with cabbage ones), then make instant ramen (my go to brands are Tung-I onion flavor or any flavor of IndoMie). Add stir fried greens of choice and voila, easy meal.

Tips/Tricks

Things I’ve learned cooking during this pandemic that have been helpful:

  • Always have some kind of allium on hand, even when you think you might not need it. Onions, garlic, shallots? Just buy some as you shop as they’ll always come in handy.
  • Cooking a lot of Chinese food? Keep some ground pork in hand. A lot of recipes I like require ground pork. It’s versatile, it’s easy, and it’s cheap. You can substitute ground pork for ground meat/vegetarian substitute of choice but ground pork will give it that great flavor.
  • Sauces/Cooking Liquids to keep on hand – Shaoxing wine (very versatile and can use in stir frying), light/regular soy sauce, dark soy sauce (thicker, more rich soy sauce usually for coloring), hot chili oil (never enough!), oyster sauce (lots of quick and easy umami), and vegetable/chicken stock (can even use to cook rice).

Hope this helps and inspires you to add some Chinese food intro your pandemic cooking routine. If needed, you can definitely contact me here or on Instagram for any questions or follow up.

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