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Old 07-29-2008, 03:31 PM   #1
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ISO chinese flavor

Ok so i figure that we are all looking for that special flavor from our favorite chinese dishes. Every day on this forum i have been reading about people in the same situation as me, looking for the secret to the sauces from chop suey the flavors of beef and broccoli, and the taste that is always missing when we try to cook chinese food. So another dish made by myself tonight and yet another disappointment. Not sure if anyone has found out the secret yet, but i sure haven't. I have tried using peanut oil, sesame oil, oyster sauce, msg, fish sauce, i've done the cornstarch and chicken stock with sugar, everything! My mind is tired, and i have a headache from researching online. I guess i will just have to go to my fave chinese resturant and give up with the experimenting at home. Thanks to everyone for all their wonderful suggestions over the past few weeks!!

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Old 07-29-2008, 03:33 PM   #2
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What dish did you make and how did you make it?
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Old 07-29-2008, 03:44 PM   #3
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i have made chow mein, chop suey, beef and broccoli, etc. I was wondering about sherry, some recipes call for dry sherry or chinese rice wine. Maybe that is the secret ingredient. What do you think kitchenelf?
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Old 07-29-2008, 03:49 PM   #4
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In my modest experience, the key to getting that "chinese" flavor is finding the right balance of garlic and fresh ginger in dishes like beef and broccoli, etc.. Also, it generally helps to use very high heat when cooking.
I am sure that there will be others here who have much more experience than I do in this matter.
I have been pleased with my attempts to recreate chinese american dishes by experimenting with the amounts of garlic and ginger. Good luck!
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Old 07-29-2008, 03:53 PM   #5
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it is definately not the ginger or garlic but thanks!
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Old 07-29-2008, 03:55 PM   #6
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Old 07-29-2008, 04:40 PM   #7
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How are you preparing these dishes? What oil are you using?

Chinese restaurants cook their food in well-seasoned woks at screamingly high temps. Much of the "taste" of the food comes from this cooking method and not necessarily from the ingredients or seasonings.
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Old 07-29-2008, 04:48 PM   #8
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I think as GB's link indicated it's the technique and not just the ingredients that go a long way to replicating that restaurant taste. I will say that the only way I can get my stir fry beef or chicken dishes to come out right is:

Slicing them thinly and cooking them in a very hot wok with some oil for 5 minutes. and then fishing the meat out. I drain the liquid out in a bowl and add some quintessential sauces to it - soy, hoisin, chili garlic or whatever my heart desires. If I am in a mood for a sweet and spicy taste some brown sugar goes in along with a tiny bit of cornstarch.

I then add some more oil to the wok (clean it first) and let it get smoking hot. I then add some dry red arabol chilis, ginger and garlic, reserved beef or chicken and sauces, cook it for another 5 minutes.

Toss is freshly chopped scallions, hit it with a tiny bit of sesame oil and sesame seeds and it tastes pretty close to what you get in a restaurant.

I think it's technique for sure given at home we can't produce the same amount of heat that normally chinese restaurants use to cook these stir frys unless you have one of those Wolf burners that is designed exclusively for stir frys.
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Old 07-31-2008, 06:40 PM   #9
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Yes, as posted above...a lot of the "chinese" flavour comes from the wok it's self. But it is not just the wok...

Here in the great land of Aus, Chinese cooks (many of them anyway) actually call wok cooking "wokking". I have seen many actually cook their own dinner before they start wokking. It's not because they are hungry, it's because the wok is "fresh". They will cook thier own dinner using strong flavoured things like garlic, salt fish etc. Then when it comes time to start wokking for customers the wok is "seasoned" already.

You can get a similar effect at home. Cook each ingredient seperately and for a very short time (10 or 15 seconds). Then leave each on a plate until you are ready to finish. Each ingredient will leave it's own hint of flavour in the wok. Then later, when you are ready heat the wok to almost red hot and the flavours will turn into the wok hei mentioned above.

I use one of those portable single burner camp stoves for my wokking. It takes a disposable 220 gram gas can...Do you know the type I mean, or would you like me to post a photo? Using one of those means I can simply take it out side where the smoke and smells don't matter.

The other thing you ask about is "secret" ingredients...You bet ya! They sure do have little secrets. Your sherry is one of them. Of course you can use rice wine also. Even if a recipe does not call for it, many stir frys are improved with a small splash of rice wine or sherry.

Try this...Instead of marinating or tenderizing your meat in a white-wash (corn flour and water). Make the same type of corn flour mix using sherry or rice wine instead of water.

There are lots of "secrets" with Chinese cooking. Way to many for me to rattle off...Even if I did know them all, which I don't. One of my favorites is coffee! Use instant coffee powder. A tea spoon in Mongolian lamb makes all the difference. A small sprinkle in black bean beef works wonders!

Maybe other people can post some more "secrets".

Hope that is of help.
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Old 07-31-2008, 06:49 PM   #10
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Hmmm...I will check with my Taiwanese friend to see what she can suggest.
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Old 07-31-2008, 07:08 PM   #11
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Im in the same boat. I used to go to a take out place, and order the same thing every day. It was one of those places with no seats or tables, trictly take out, and u can see the exposed kitchen and the people cooking your food. SO, I would watch very carefully each day over and over . I know I had the right main ingredients (veggies...) But there were a few unmarked containers they shaked in the food, possibly msg, maybe something else. Over and over I would try and recreate, i searched high and low the internet and now, although my chinese food is good, it tatse like I ' tried ' to make chinese food, but its still missing something. Ive tried every sauce and ingredient out there. If u looked in my pantry and fridge, u would think i was chinese with all the different sauces and ingredients I have. Ive even been tempted to bribe this one chinese restaurant for their recipe for vegetarian hot and sour soup. My luck, is they will go out of business , and ill never know how it was done. I order it so frequently, that when i come to pick up my order, they dont call me by my name, but by 'vegetarian hot and sour soup' " hi mr veg hot and sour soup, how are you today"
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Old 07-31-2008, 07:26 PM   #12
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KISSTC: thanks so much for your info, will try the sherry. if you have any other suggestions, i would love to hear. thanks again
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Old 08-01-2008, 06:32 PM   #13
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No worries...

I am actually a bit busy today and off line tomorrow (most of the day). We are having Christmas in July in August which my friend is cooking which means I have to come up with the recipes which means I will end up cooking Did you follow all that?

I don't know about the hot and sour soup. I know about Thai hot and sour, which is called tom yum. At a guess, I would say the take away is using Thai tom yum as a base. The next question is are they making thier own or using a commercial product?

I would guess they are using a commercial tom yum paste. They are so good it's hard to tell them apart from home made. As for the "secret" ingredients I am guessing good old salt and pepper! Does the soup have a soy or fish sauce aroma to it? If not then they are using plain salt...

Hot and sour paste is used "to taste". Which means you use as much or as little as you like to your taste. Being take away, they would be going middle of the road. Because amount is user determined it does not have any seasoning. For example, if someone liked it really strong it would be to salty if it were pre-seasoned. See what I mean?

So the soup needs to be seasoned or it would be so bland you would not pay for it...Actually another thing I just thought of. They might be frying the tom yum paste. It is normal to add the paste directly to the water or stock to make the soup. But a very quick and hot fry first would release the flavours more. The paste is made "cold". It is blended or crushed into a paste, that is how it is made. A quick and hot fry would cause the cells of the ingredients to burst in the exact same way as they do when making a curry. That bursting would release all the oils from inside the cells and the flavour would be much more intense. They use oil such as peanut etc, to bind the ingredients together in the paste, so no need to add extra oil. Just drop the desired amount of paste into a hot wok for say 10 seconds maybe 15 seconds, then add the water (or stock). Then build the soup from there with the vege.

I hope that is of help
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Old 08-04-2008, 09:04 PM   #14
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What I use in my stir frys is black bean garlic sauce. Its made with fermented black beans and garlc. It don't smell to great but is great in stir frys. Also I use the fresh chinese noodles that you can get at a wholesale house. Hope this helps.
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Old 08-06-2008, 12:19 PM   #15
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i made a chicken a veggie stirfry yesterday kinda like the dish "guy ding", one of my faves that i order when i go get chinese takeout, and i used the sherry. getting close!!! it is definately one of the things i have been missing. used it with cornstarch to make the clear type gravy. mmmm
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Old 09-15-2008, 12:42 PM   #16
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Did you make anymore headway yet? I want to attempt Lo Mein. Ordered some last night from a new restaurant an was as bland as could be.
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Old 09-15-2008, 12:55 PM   #17
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I find one of my biggest challenges cooking Chinese food is using a wok on an electric stove as a lot of the heat stays at the bottom of the wok- not distributed evenly. Am going to try cooking it on our gas burner outside next time. I do find dry sherry or rice vinegar and peanut or sesame oil makes a difference as well.
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Old 09-15-2008, 02:11 PM   #18
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All you need is a good authentic Chinese cookbook, a few simple cooking implements, & good fresh ingredients. The actual cooking part isn't difficult at all. Those 3 things alone can easily keep you away from mundane & sad Chinese takeout.

Oh - & I do all our wok cooking on our electric stove without a problem - as I have since the '70's. So long as you have the ring turned the proper way, heat adjustments are easy & flawless.
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Old 09-15-2008, 02:25 PM   #19
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The main thing missing is the wok hei.

That comes from a screaming hot wok. (See also Outdoor Stir Fry Stove - Stirfry Techniques - Chao and Bao. ) Chinese restaurants run special wok stoves that put out 100-200,000 BTU. If you're cooking on a home stove, you have to change your technique.

Grace Young will tell you how in "The Breath of a Wok".

The executive summary follows.

Cook smaller amounts to keep the wok from losing too much heat. This often means cooking in batches or single ingredients at a time as noted above.

Those super hot woks put a sear on the food in a second or two. Your home stove wtih a wok will take up to two minutes for beef, chicken or pork. Less for seafood and some vegetables. Leave the food alone when you first put it in to pick up that seared and smokey flavor of a screaming hot wok from your only US hot wok. Then proceed with the standard business of stir fry.

SERVE IT IMMEDIATELY!!!! at the height of its flavor.

Most chinese restaurants will blanch the meat in hot oil before stir frying. See Big Bowl by Bruce Cost and Shun Lee Cookbook by Michael Tong

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Old 09-15-2008, 02:28 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TanyaK View Post
I find one of my biggest challenges cooking Chinese food is using a wok on an electric stove as a lot of the heat stays at the bottom of the wok- not distributed evenly.
That is precisely how a wok is supposed to cook

Quote:
Am going to try cooking it on our gas burner outside next time. I do find dry sherry or rice vinegar and peanut or sesame oil makes a difference as well.
Yes, do. If you have a high output gas burner, you can wok cook with better results.
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