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Old 07-31-2005, 11:14 AM   #1
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WHY doesn't the Chinese food I cook taste like what they serve you in a restaurant?

I've come to the conclusion that it is *mostly* due to the piddly flame I have on my standard kitchen stove.
I believe that Chinese restaurants have a super-hot flame that makes all the difference.

But, indeed, is it *all* the difference?

I am fortunate to live near a well-stocked Asian supermarket, so it's not a problem of ingredients....

I've seen electric woks, but assume they are even worse than the system I currently use.

How have any of you progressed in Chinese cooking?

Best regards,
Alex R.

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Old 07-31-2005, 11:28 AM   #2
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Hi, Alex,

While the anemic burners most folks have at home are a problem, they probably are not the primary reason for a taste difference. Even with the rocket engines available for wok cooking in a Chinese restaurant, you don't see highly seared foods. That extra heat allows the cooks to do larger quantities at one time than you or I can handle at home.

Always start with a screaming hot wok and add peanut oil. Let the oil get hot as well. Stir-fry your veggies and meats in smaller batches. This allows you to keep the heat level up in the wok.

The key, IMHO, is the seasoning ingredients and how you use them. Home cooks use a lot of prepared sauces and spice mixes (hoi sin, oyster, 5-spice, etc.). A restaurant cook may use a different brand that has a slightly different recipe, or make some of his own.

As you may have experienced, the same dish cooked in different restaurants tastes different. Every cook has a different take on what, and how much, of different ingredients they use, making it very difficult for you to duplicate - whose recipe are you going to use?

I have found that my best chance to come close to a restaurant recipe (I don't succeed often) is to experiment and document those experiments so I can duplicate my successes and know how to change my failures.

BTW, in the course of experimentation, you get to eat all your mistakes and they probably don't taste all that bad, just different from the restaurat recipe you want to duplicate!
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Old 07-31-2005, 11:56 AM   #3
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It seems I've given up on Chinese and now lean more towards Thai, Vietnamese with Japanese thrown in.

"Count yourself...you ain't so many" - quote from Buck's Daddy
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Old 07-31-2005, 12:34 PM   #4
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I love cooking chinese. What Andy say's its true... it helps to have a napalm spewing stovetop like some chinese restaurants do but you should be able to cook good chinese food on any range, even *cough* electric (god forbid).

The secrets to "restaurant" (I dont mean authentic home cooking, more a chinatown luncheon type thing) flavored chinese that I have noticed so far are the following:

- Use plenty of oil. You wouldent belive how much they typically add to fried rice or noodles. Also chinese are one of the cultures that have adopted the friolator and are very passionate about it.

- Potent spice mixes: Most chinese food has a group of hard to ingore spices working in the background. This is usually five spice (a mix of star anise, pepper and 3 random ingredients) and also something I like to call "MSG substitute" which is usually powdered bullion cubes mixed with the appropriate spices and a little salt.

- Vinager and sugar: you will find these two in the most unexpected places.

- Dont overcook: There's two benefits to cooking food in the least ammount of time possible. One is that you get to eat sooner of course but the other is the flavor and texture of not fully cooked veggies. You will notice that the better the restaurant, the crunchier the vegetables are. For good chinese I rarely add everything at once, for example I'll only add onion when I have a couple of minutes of cooking left.
My english, she's not so good... I meant to say I did it with the malice of forethought.
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Old 07-31-2005, 03:29 PM   #5
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Check this thread as well. This is related to your original question. Also, try using the "Search" feature on this site to find all the info about Chinese food here.
"Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it."
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Old 08-01-2005, 12:17 PM   #6
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Look where the flame is

One thing to keep in mind when using a wok on a typical, home, gas cooktop is that the flame is usually a ring of fire. Since a wok is thin gauge steel as opposed to thick cast iron, heat will be distributed differently.

If you are piling your ingredients in the very center of your wok, you may be missing out on some of your cooktop's heat as the center of your wok will probably not have a direct flame on in.

FWIW, I run my burner wide open the entire time.

Curious fellow
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Old 08-01-2005, 01:06 PM   #7
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It seems I've given up on Chinese and now lean more towards Thai, Vietnamese with Japanese thrown in
Totally! I'll do chow mein or a few others at home, but I agree it's hard to capture the exact Chinese restaurant flavour at home. One thing I do find can help is to add a wee drop or two of sesame oil to your dishes.

"The most indispensable ingredient of all good home cooking: love, for those you are cooking for" ~ Sophia Loren
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