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I want to get started with Chinese cooking

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vonshu Mar 7, 2013 02:07 PM

I have a lot of cooking experience, especially in French cuisine, but I have never really cooked Chinese cuisine. What cookbook should I start out with? I was thinking one of the Dunlop books (which one is the best?) or perhaps something else entirely. My next question is, basically, is a wok absolutely essential for cooking most Chinese food? I live in a relatively small apartment with three other people and kitchen space is quite limited so I may not be able to get one, at least not right away. Thanks

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  1. saltwater RE: vonshu Mar 7, 2013 02:20 PM

    In my opinion, there is no need to buy a wok. You probably have a nicely seasoned cast iron pan or something else that heats up well on your presumably western stove. Use that. I use a 10 inch cast iron pan even though I own a well seasoned wok. That works for a single meal sized portion, but note that I do the veggies separate from the meat. Do not overload whatever pan you choose (you know that, of course).

    It also helps to have a favorite steaming apparatus. You don't need a bamboo steamer.

    1. g
      GH1618 RE: vonshu Mar 7, 2013 02:25 PM

      When I started to do Chinese cooking in the 1970s, I bought Wokcraft:

      http://www.powells.com/biblio/17-9780...

      I seem to have lost or misplaced my copy, but I recall it seemed like a good introduction.

      The essential book for getting deeper into Chinese cooking at that time was Chang and Kutscher, which has hundreds of recipes, and no fluff.

      1. scoopG RE: vonshu Mar 7, 2013 02:37 PM

        There are hundreds of Chinese cookbooks and Dunlop's three are a good start. No need to buy a wok until you get a 22,000 BTU BlueStar range. With most home ranges at around 8,000 to 11,000 BTU, a flat frying pan works best.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqYO3V...

        5 Replies
        1. re: scoopG
          Mr Taster RE: scoopG Mar 8, 2013 12:40 PM

          scoopG, any idea how much these ranges start at? This info doesn't appear to be readily available on the internet. Are there any other home ranges you know of that deliver the proper BTUs and scooped-out pit type burner that is appropriate for wok cooking?

          Mr Taster

          1. re: Mr Taster
            scoopG RE: Mr Taster Mar 9, 2013 06:11 AM

            Mr. Taster, there are both BlueStar Cooktops and Ranges. The Cooktops are in the $3,000 area and the Ranges start around $5,000 to $6,000 depending on the bells and whistles. For example BlueStar offers an option on self-cleaning ovens.

            BlueStar Cooktops are not finished Cooktops like the Wolf or Viking models, which utilize closed burners. Closed burners limit the BTU’s, which of course is much safer for general home use.

            For much cheaper outdoor options:.
            http://www.indiajoze.com/equipment.html

            Wok-A-Q
            This one may have a better control on it, but base is the same. (Looks like he overdoes the sauce here and the vegetable cuts do not match the pork belly cubes...).
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKu6Wf...

            Here is one with a stand:
            http://importfood.com/thaigasburner.html

            1. re: scoopG
              Mr Taster RE: scoopG Mar 9, 2013 01:47 PM

              Great alternatives. I'm in a rented apartment with no real outdoor space but this is great into to file away for future reference. I imagine that LAX-C in downtown LA stocks these burners... I'll have to check it out.

              Mr Taster

              1. re: scoopG
                emily RE: scoopG Mar 11, 2013 08:19 PM

                I would love to use one of these. Right now I'm using a cast iron wok on a Wolf "open burner" rangetop. Doesn't get hot enough to suit me, but I'm not sure I'd appreciate the "hassle" of cooking on one of these all the time...

                FWIW, my SO's Chinese mother never cooked in a wok, but always used a frying pan.

              2. re: Mr Taster
                w
                will47 RE: Mr Taster Mar 9, 2013 08:47 AM

                We have a Capital Culinarian (23k BTU). I prefer its wok grate to Blue Star - it is much taller and holds the wok more steady.

            2. i
              ItalianNana RE: vonshu Mar 7, 2013 02:42 PM

              A wok is useless for most home cooks. I am a real novice at Chinese cooking and don't have your culinary background/skills. I've been happy with my heavy bottomed, 12" stainless pan. I don't even know the proper term for it. (It has 2 handles, and straight 3-4" sides). It's great for all things stir fried. Keep us posted, please. :-D

              1. herby RE: vonshu Mar 7, 2013 03:43 PM

                I case you do not know, March COTM (cookbook of the month) in the latest Dunlop's book - Every Grain of Rice. Here is the link to reporting threads: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/892286

                One other Dunlop's book was a COTM a few years ago. I find COTM discussion of recipes and shared experience about making recipes from a book very informative and inspiring.

                3 Replies
                1. re: herby
                  blue room RE: herby Mar 7, 2013 04:06 PM

                  I agree with poster herby -- "Every Grain of Rice" is a good start. The cover states, after the title, "simple Chinese home cooking".

                  1. re: blue room
                    Mr Taster RE: blue room Mar 8, 2013 01:42 PM

                    I'll jump on this bandwagon.

                    "Every Grain of Rice" is a spectacular book, particularly if you live in an area with several great Chinese groceries. To fully take advantage of this book, you'll need to have access to ingredients that may be very hard to find. Even here in Los Angeles, where we have dozens (if not hundreds) of Chinese supermarkets across the region, in trying to track down some of the ingredients I had to travel to no less than five or six different markets in order to find exactly the right kind of pickled cabbage, or exactly the right kind of chile pepper, that her recipes call for. In many cases she does offer approximations of easier to find ingredient equivalents, but I live in LA-- I wasn't willing to compromise, since I knew the ingredients had to exist here somewhere :)

                    I've had a cooking epiphany from making the recipes from this book, that's greatly deepened my understanding of the difference in cooking philosophies between east and west. The main difference is that Chinese cooking starts out with intensely flavored ingredients like fermented tofu, seaweed, chile paste, pickled mustard greens, black vinegar, rice wine, garlic, ginger, etc. The reason Chinese food can be cooked so quickly and taste so good is because a huge amount of the prep work has been done for you by the ingredients in your larder.

                    Contrast this with western foods like stews or braises, for example, which start out with bland ingredients like raw vegetables, raw meat, water (garlic might be the main exception), etc. that require long cooking times to intensify flavor by cooking out the water, and braising over low heat in order to tenderize the meat. This process takes hours, whereas an spectacularly flavored Chinese dish can be prepared in minutes-- that is, if you know how to put the ingredients together.

                    To analogize this with a 100m race, when you start with intensely flavored ingredients, you're starting at the 90m mark, whereas a dish made of inherently bland ingredients starts at 0m.

                    As for the "should I buy a wok" argument, it is true that most of us lack stovetop ranges capable of producing the intense heat necessary for proper wok cooking. Our ranges simply aren't hot enough, and they're not designed to accommodate woks. (On her first visit to our apartment, my Taiwanese mother-in-law cooked us dinner. "How do I turn it to high?" she asked in Mandarin. "It is on high, mom," my wife answered.)

                    A real Chinese stove top has a rounded, recessed pit which is meant to accommodate the rounded bottom of the wok, while the flames can lick up the sidewalls of the pan. This gives you an area of intense heat in the middle, which dissipates the higher up the wall of the wok you go. (The hammered, divoted texture of the wok metal helps to hold ingredients in place). A Chinese chef who knows what he's doing will take advantage of the hotter/cooler areas of the wok.

                    Our American stovetops are designed for flat pans, and there's no way around it. Like others have mentioned here, your best bet is a heavy pan (I use cast iron) because it's your best shot at approximating the super high BTUs of a real Chinese stovetop. No, it's still not going to be hot enough. Yes, you're going to lose the hot/cold areas you would have in a wok, but having an extremely high heat level is unquestionably more important, so we make do with what we have.

                    Mr Taster

                    1. re: Mr Taster
                      i
                      ItalianNana RE: Mr Taster Mar 28, 2013 04:00 PM

                      Mr Taster,

                      That was an eloquent and convincing review of the book Every Grain of Rice. I just ordered it.

                      Now, several degrees removed from Dunlop's level of cooking, I have had great fun with The Chinese Take Out cookbook by Diana Kuan. :-D

                2. v
                  vonshu RE: vonshu Mar 7, 2013 05:25 PM

                  Alright, it's good to hear I won't need a wok. So is EGOR the best out of the three Dunlop's? If so, I'll probably go ahead and get that one.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: vonshu
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                    Frizzle RE: vonshu Mar 7, 2013 06:43 PM

                    I'm not sure if it's the 'best' but I think it's the the better of the three to start with. Most of the recipes are quick to prepare and so far have been successful for me. The other upside to EGOR is the amount of photographs of the dishes in the book plus photographs of specialty ingredients which can make shopping a lot easier. I always find photographs incredibly useful when delving into a new cuisine.

                    1. re: vonshu
                      The Dairy Queen RE: vonshu Mar 7, 2013 11:37 PM

                      (Sorry for the long post...)

                      Oh vonshu, I do wish you'd come join us for the March 2013 Cookbook of the Month: (Dunlop's Every Grain of Rice). The more the merrier.

                      I don't think you can go wrong with any of Dunlop's three books, but you may wish to know that each has a different focus.

                      My favorite is Land of Plenty (Sichuan cookery): the ingredient glossary (including lots of good advice on ingredient substitutions), section on knife cuts, and recipes are all fantastic. It's also a wonderful read, rich with cultural and historical context and Dunlop's own experiences.

                      I also love Revolutionary Chinese (Hunan cookery) for similar reasons, but LOP just edges it out, perhaps because I sense that Dunlop put a little more heart into LOP. Sichuan cookery was her first love.

                      As others have said, EGOR ( from which I have cooked the least) is simple home cooking. It isn't as regionally specific as the other two, which may be a plus if you want broader exposure. It also emphasizes some wonderful transformative ingredients Dunlop describes as "magic", such as preserved beans, fermented tofu, and pickled vegetable (all discussed in the other two books, by the way), which provide a lot of impact, easily.

                      EGOR also has some simplified versions of recipes that appear in LOP and RC as well as "classics" from those two books that appear EGOR unaltered. (If you have all of Dunlop's books, you're going to have numerous recipes for dan dan noodles and mapo tofu, for instance.) It also seems slightly more vegetable focused to me. But, I don't think she's as helpful about ingredient substitutions (I think because she wants you to keep it simple by using the magic ingredients), and it has little of that wonderful writing on history and culture.

                      All three books will send you scurrying around your local Asian markets in search of authentic ingredients, and you will come home with a bag full of pastes and oils and vinegars and the like.

                      So, it really depends on what you want. If I were you, I'd get EGOR and jump into the Cookbook of the Month fray. You will learn so much so fast along with all of us. But, I think you'll fall in love and eventually want all her cookbooks (and to read her memoir!)

                      As far as the wok, when LOP and RC were COTM in March 2008, I participated fully without having a wok and loved every moment. So, no, it is not essential. But I did feel as if I was really missing out on the full experience. But, it's certainly something you can acquire down the road. In the meantime, a 12-inch skillet will do.

                      Two more books that are helpful on the wok front if/when you decide to acquire one are Grace Young's "Breath of a Wok" and "Stir Frying to the Sky's Edge", which were cookbooks of month in January 2011. You might even check one or both of these books out of the library and read up on the intro sections to help you decide whether you really need a wok. In SFTTSE Young says all of the recipes (stir fries, of course) would work in a 12-inch skillet.

                      BOAW is a bit more wok-focused and really as much about the breadth of a wok (stir frying, smoking, steaming, frying etc.) as the breath (wok hei), and if you don't have a wok, you'll need a steamer, etc. for those other techniques. Young's books are also rich with history and personal stories, including her own and others'. They aren't as focused on uniquely Chinese ingredients as Dunlop's.

                      I bought my wok off of Amazon. It's perfectly adequate and I'm too thrifty to replace it, but if I were to do it all over again, I'd buy it from the Wok Shop (online, if you don't happen to be in San Francisco).

                      Get yourself a copy of EGOR and come join us for COTM! Here's a link to the archive, which links you to this month's discussion, as well as to all of the past discussions: http://www.chow.com/cookbook_of_the_m...

                      ~TDQ

                    2. s
                      Sam D. RE: vonshu Mar 7, 2013 05:43 PM

                      I would strongly recommend Chinese Cookery by Rose Cheng and Michele Morris. It is the book that got me and two friends started in Chinese cooking. It starts out by describing Chinese ingredients and which ones are essential. It cover everything from dim sum to main dishes to Chinese desserts. All the recipes are easy to follow and it features photos of the finished dishes from the recipes.

                      The book is now out of print but it is still available at bargain basement prices from Amazon's marketplace sellers.

                      1. Sarah RE: vonshu Mar 7, 2013 05:43 PM

                        I just got Diana Kuan's The Chinese Takeout Cookbook from the library -- fun read w/some good basic info re ingreds and such. Suggest you check out (via library) any book before buying to see if it's a good fit..

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Sarah
                          i
                          ItalianNana RE: Sarah Mar 7, 2013 06:33 PM

                          Sarah,

                          Thanks for the cookbook title. I checked on Amazon, read the reviews and just downloaded the Kindle edition. I love Americanized Chinese food. Take out was exotic for a small town girl in the 60's and 70's. :-D

                          1. re: ItalianNana
                            Sarah RE: ItalianNana Mar 7, 2013 06:56 PM

                            You're welcome! Wow - just went on Amazon and am amazed at all the 5* reviews. I've only skimmed it, thinking it would be good for my beginning cook son who loves shrimp in lobster sauce.

                            1. re: Sarah
                              i
                              ItalianNana RE: Sarah Mar 28, 2013 04:11 PM

                              Sarah,
                              Seriously, thanks to your recommendation, I've made Kuan's Yangzhou fried rice, hot and sour soup and pork chow mein!

                        2. herby RE: foodloverelaine Mar 7, 2013 06:40 PM

                          I think the usefullness of wok depends on the type of stove one has. When I had gas stove, cooking in a wok was wonderful. Now I have electric stove and can not get the sides of my wok hot enough - everything just steams :( So, in my case heavy pan works better.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: herby
                            ipsedixit RE: herby Mar 7, 2013 07:45 PM

                            The usefulness of a wok depends on *what* you are cooking.

                            There are a plethora of Chinese dishes that are not made in or with a wok -- e.g. noodles, dumplings, baos, pancakes, crepes, claypots, stews, soups, etc.

                            The OP needs to figure what he/she wants to make and then figure out the equipment that's necessary.

                            A wok is not necessary for Chinese cooking just like chopsticks are not necessary for eating Chinese food.

                            1. re: herby
                              pagesinthesun RE: herby Mar 7, 2013 07:49 PM

                              Yes, my wok has been gathering dust for the last eight years since I move away from my gas stove. I miss it terribly! I've even considered putting 20# propane tanks on my back patio. But, I do agree that a stove top just doesn't do a wok any justice.

                              1. re: pagesinthesun
                                nokitchen RE: pagesinthesun Mar 10, 2013 09:39 PM

                                Don't let that wok gather dust, though. On the advice of the very same Kenji referenced downthread, I pulled the wok out for good-ol-fashioned frying. What a revelation! You can get much deeper oil per exposed top area, allowing better temperature control of the frying oil. Chicken, fish, whatever fries up better in a wok with less waiting to reheat between batches, less oil used, less spatter and more control over the cooking. I still use a skillet for flat skinny things like chips and tortilla slices but thicker or rounder items like almost all proteins now go in the wok.

                                1. re: nokitchen
                                  The Dairy Queen RE: nokitchen Mar 11, 2013 01:51 AM

                                  We love popping popcorn in our wok, which I learned from one of Grace Young's books. Helps keep your wok nice and seasoned, too.

                                  ~TDQ

                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen
                                    pagesinthesun RE: The Dairy Queen Mar 12, 2013 08:41 AM

                                    great ideas! Thanks

                            2. t
                              tastesgoodwhatisit RE: vonshu Mar 7, 2013 11:33 PM

                              I think you can get by with a decent frying pan.

                              A wok in a Western kitchen is still only an approximation - to really match Chinese style cooking, you need a fairly powerful gas flame and a burner element that's shaped to hold a wok. So given that, don't go out and buy a wok to start. (As an aside, if you've got both, cooking food at a low simmer becomes a nearly impossible challenge).

                              1. c
                                ChineseHomeCookingWN RE: vonshu Mar 8, 2013 10:15 AM

                                Hello -

                                A wok is nice to have, but not necessary. If you decide to get a wok, I'd recommend the electric wok that I use (http://www.amazon.com/Presto-5900-150...

                                )

                                In addition to written recipe books, there are many online video demonstrations on Chinese home cooking.

                                Good Luck for Chinese home cooking!

                                Julia Wong, Show Host

                                1. RealMenJulienne RE: vonshu Mar 8, 2013 11:34 AM

                                  As others have said, a wok is not essential for Chinese cooking. It's not even totally essential for stir fry. My mom stir fried everything in a cookpot with a heavy bottom and tall sides. This cuts down on odor and grease spraying everywhere, important when you're cooking in a small space.

                                  Here is a thread where we discussed Chinese cooking staples that are handy to keep around: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/833814

                                  1. raytamsgv RE: vonshu Mar 8, 2013 12:59 PM

                                    As others have noted, a wok is not necessary especially because most home burners don't produce enough BTU's. Try to use a heavy frying pan. It will have a higher heat capacity than the thin ones--much better for stir-frying. I highly recommend the long-handled spatula used by most Chinese cooks.

                                    1. w
                                      will47 RE: vonshu Mar 8, 2013 02:05 PM

                                      I wouldn't go quite so far as to say it's essential, but I much prefer using a wok, even a flat-bottom one, over a skillet for cooking Chinese dishes. Tossing works a bit differently, and you've got more area to push food out of the way onto. Plus, just psychologically, it feels a bit better for me to use the wok. But, if you do have one, even with the larger pan, resist the temptation to over-crowd it.

                                      I would really suggest trying out a good Chinese cleaver, though.

                                      1. drongo RE: vonshu Mar 8, 2013 03:16 PM

                                        Here are a couple of good articles by Kenji on wok compared to skillet. I learned a lot from them.
                                        http://www.seriouseats.com/2010/06/wo...
                                        http://www.seriouseats.com/2012/06/th...

                                        1. a
                                          AlkieGourmand RE: vonshu Mar 8, 2013 06:41 PM

                                          Dunlop's books are definitely the way to start. Every Grain of Rice is the one to start with. A skillet is fine for Chinese cooking.

                                          1. DonShirer RE: vonshu Mar 10, 2013 04:13 PM

                                            I recently got "Easy Chinese Recipes" by Bee Yinn Low, and have made quite a few of her recipes with good results. It is not for experts, but just right for a relative tyro like me.

                                            You can check out her website at
                                            http://rasamalaysia.com/chinese-food-...
                                            where many of the recipes from the book and more are posted.

                                            1. c
                                              chasamark RE: vonshu Mar 11, 2013 11:30 AM

                                              While a wok (I have been through two or three, now on a cast iron that I love) is great addition, I have made thousands of stir fries in what ever pan was available, including cast iron skillet, cruset, etc. The wok is convenient because of the sloping sides. But the most important thing for successful Chinese cooking is that you MUST DO ALL THE PREP, including assembling the sauce, prior to cooking. And heat the wok prior to adding food. Cook meat separately, put it aside, do the vegies, combine all, sauce, and it's ready to serve. When everything is ready you can work quickly and neither the meat nor veggies will be overcooked. But Kikkoman soy in a half gallon container -- much cheaper.
                                              And master the chopping so you get veg pieces that will cook all at the same rate. Good practice: matchstick slices of carrot and ginger. Good luck.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: chasamark
                                                g
                                                GH1618 RE: chasamark Mar 11, 2013 11:39 AM

                                                Your remark about cooking the meat first and setting it aside is a key point for me, but I would elaborate:

                                                1. Partially cook the meat first — not quite done
                                                2. Set meat aside in a strainer, to drain excess oil
                                                3. Wash out the wok with hot water
                                                4. Cook the veggies with not much oil
                                                5. Combine all to finish.

                                                This method avoids the complaint of "greasy" Chinese food.

                                                1. re: GH1618
                                                  c
                                                  cstout RE: GH1618 Aug 11, 2013 09:31 AM

                                                  GH1618, love your concise summary of wok cooking. I watch a lot of youtube videos to try & glean methods of wok cooking & I have seen maybe one or two of your steps, but never all 5 steps at one time.

                                                  All these little tips & tricks is what makes a good meal. Wonder if there are other tips floating out there from you all.

                                                  Will check to see if there is a thread on this. Really appreciate the post!

                                              2. m
                                                Maggie19 RE: vonshu Mar 12, 2013 08:56 AM

                                                Grace Young - Breath of a Wok - Dunlop's Every Grain of Rice.

                                                A carbon steel wok is worth getting. Have two ( a 7 inch & a 14 inch) Properly seasoned and cleaned they work wonders to achieve wok hey... My gas stove (Kitchenaid) has15000 btu burners...enough juice for excellent authentic Chinese- when using carbon steel woks. Enjoy your adventure!

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: Maggie19
                                                  c
                                                  cstout RE: Maggie19 Aug 11, 2013 09:32 AM

                                                  Which size wok do you use most often?

                                                  Really envy your gas stove.....maybe in my next life.

                                                2. soigne RE: vonshu Mar 12, 2013 08:56 AM

                                                  My tips for saucy stirfries: Use arrowroot, not cornstarch. Fragrant homemade veg stock or a quick stock made of scallions and shitake trimmings is a nice sauce base for vegetarian stir fry. Add finely minced/diced ginger and sliced scallion tops the very end, with only a minute or two of simmering left, because the flavor cooks out of these quickly. If you are making a brown/oyster sauce, go to the Asian market and get premium oyster sauce. And don't be afraid to use a little salt, even though you used soy sauce. Sometimes you need to.

                                                  Photo is Chinese eggplant and shitake mushrooms in fermented black bean sauce. Made this last week.

                                                   
                                                   
                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: soigne
                                                    Mr Taster RE: soigne Mar 12, 2013 01:54 PM

                                                    Do you know how arrowroot reacts differently than potato flour? (that's the thickener that Fuschia Dunlop tends to default to).

                                                    Mr Taster

                                                    1. re: Mr Taster
                                                      d
                                                      dagaetch RE: Mr Taster Mar 12, 2013 06:44 PM

                                                      quoted from http://www.tigersandstrawberries.com/... :

                                                      "Regarding tapioca starch and arrowroot–yes, they can be used instead of cornstarch in all of my recipes. They perform the exact same function, however, in my experience, they are stronger binders, so you use -less- of them both in marinades and as thickeners. I would use about half as much of either of them as I would use cornstarch."

                                                      1. re: dagaetch
                                                        c
                                                        cstout RE: dagaetch Aug 11, 2013 09:57 AM

                                                        tigers & strawberries site, thanks so much for the link! Will certainly help newbies (like me).

                                                  2. d
                                                    dagaetch RE: vonshu Mar 12, 2013 11:33 AM

                                                    The posts by Barbara Fisher are a great guide to stir fries and Chinese food ingredients. Start here (http://www.tigersandstrawberries.com/...) and read going forward. Not so much for the recipes, although those are great, but for the explanations and techniques.

                                                    1. t
                                                      toddster63 RE: vonshu Mar 27, 2013 02:32 PM

                                                      This is large part myth that you cannot do wok hei infused stir fries on American stoves. I have two wok cooking mods—my outside 120K cast iron propane wok burner (just like India Joze's sells), and I also use the same flat bottomed wok on my electrical coil stove indoors. In the last 5 years I have purchased and used 18 woks, and 4 wok burners. I have chosen a flat bottom wok as it works equally well on the outside propane wok burner, as well as on my electrical coil stove. I do miss the smoother operations of tossing food in a classic round Cantonese style wok, but the flat bottom isn't that much less fluid, as is, as I have said, much more versatile.

                                                      YES, you can make great wok hei infused dishes on a flat American stove. However, not for big servings—cooking for 2 at most at one time. For 4 people or molre, you should make 4-8 smaller sized dishes. If you have the right heavy bottomed carbon steel wok, and you let it get very hot, I can attest that very decent wok hei infused dishes are indeed possible. But you cannot use anything over a 14" wok, and you cannot overload it! We're talking 14 ounces of meat total, and 2-3 cups of veggies, tops!

                                                      YES, dishes do come out better outside on my intense propane wok burner. But something that is not taked about much is that with these intense wok burners, you cannot have them on full time during the stir fry or the food will burn and the seasoning on the wok will burn away. Just watch some of the professional Chinese wok cooks on YouTube to see for youselves; they control the heat on and off with either their feet or their knees. It takes practice to learn how much heat and for how long you can use with these intense wok burners. I rarely ever use mine on full blast, at 120K, it's just too much for my 14" and 16" woks. I normally cook around 60K-75K or so, and then only for a few minutes at a time ( I usually lift the wok and toss to allow it to lightly cool before going back on the flame). If you go too long the wok hei vanishes and you instead have a too smokey flavor, a burnt flavor. AND you damage the seasoning on your wok a lot. I highly value my seasoning on my woks and HATE this happening!

                                                      I adore my outside wok burner and it's intense flame (it seasons carbon steel so fast and so well), but again, you can do decent stir fries in small amounts on a flat American stove. I know, because I do it a few times a week...! Just remember to use a flat bottomed carbon steel wok with a padding of steel on the bottom (USA made, available at the wokshop.com), and let it preheat till smoking. It should be hot enough that when you add your peanut oil, the oil REALLY smokes before you quickly add your first food (which will cool the wok and stop a lot of the smoking).

                                                      What I tell people about woking indoors is that if you are not setting off your household smoke alarm at least once in a while (if not every time you stir fry), your wok is not hot enough—let it heat up more. You want enough vaporized oil from the intense heat to set your smoke alarm off, honestly. Wok like this and you will experience wok hei, believe me...

                                                      And very ocassionally I will stir fry in my 12" well seasoned carbon steel french skillet. It works, yes, but the motions and working with the food in a flat skillet is so clumsy compared to a high walled wok. And you have to be fast as you can overcook foods very fast in a flat skillet. It really is dramatically different than a wok and I don't like it for stir fries. My skillets are for dover sole fillets, hashbrowns, hamburgers and chops...

                                                      A big secret to my woking success (and family and friends always prod me to make stir fries and my chow fun and singapore noodles) is my infrared lazer thermometer gun (originally bought for my high temp pizza oven). Use it and you can easily measure when your wok or your skillet is at the right temp—550F-600F is about perfect. This is about the temp that when using non-stick woks and skillets that you will see the non-stick surface start to vaporize off into toxic fumes (which can kill any pet birds living in the household). Or if using stainless this is the temperature that when adding any food to the stainless surface it will instantly stick and turn black... You see, grasshopper, why seasoned carbon steel is so critical to high temperature (wok hei) woking? Ooops, cast iron works too, but starts to turn gray at 550F as the seasoning burns off of the iron.

                                                      The infrared lazer guns really are a joy—for measuring temps in all sorts of kitchen tasks—from candy making to measuring hot oil for deep frying to measuring your wok's proper searing hot temperature. You can get them nowadays on Ebay for around $25 or less.

                                                      1. Candy RE: vonshu Mar 28, 2013 08:01 AM

                                                        I would suggest that you seek out a copy of Irene Kuo's The Key to Chinese Cooking.

                                                        The book is divided into 2 sections. The first part of the book tells you they how and why with practice recipes so you can learn the techniques.

                                                        The second half of the book is given over to a lot of very good recipes.

                                                        The book should ground you in Chinese, mainly Cantonese cooking. It is not difficult then to take off into other Chinese states cooking.

                                                        Sadly the book is out of print. I'm sure if you search you will find it and treasure it. I have been cooking from a lot of Asian cultures for about 37 years. That book is on my keep forever shelf.

                                                        Oh, on the subject of woks. Get a carbon steel flat bottomed wok. preferably one with a stick handle and a loop assist handle. The flat bottom works well on gas and electric ranges. Season it well and it will last forever. Don not even look at electric or cast iron woks. The electric cannot get hot enough. The cast iron used in Asia are lighter than those available here and the cast iron we get here are awkward to maneuver and can get too hot and hold the heat for too long. Many dishes are meant to cook very quickly and you don't want the residual heat to over cook the food.

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: Candy
                                                          t
                                                          toddster63 RE: Candy Mar 28, 2013 01:44 PM

                                                          I agree. Kuo's book is great for the basics, for the beginner... Many recipes (and in particular many techniques) in there that I still use. It's very Cantonese in nature. however, and for those whose tastes veer more toward spicy modern American Chinese cuisine, more Szechuan in elemental nature, may not be big fans of the more blander Cantonese thrust Kuo gives. Great basic Chinese (Cantonese) cooking manual though...

                                                          1. re: Candy
                                                            t
                                                            toddster63 RE: Candy Mar 28, 2013 01:54 PM

                                                            <"...Don not even look at electric or cast iron woks. The electric cannot get hot enough. The cast iron used in Asia are lighter than those available here and the cast iron we get here are awkward to maneuver and can get too hot and hold the heat for too long....">

                                                            For many users, and expecially for petite women, this is very good advice. However for some people with weak stoves (particularly low flame gas ranges), the 12 pound HEAVY Lodge cast iron wok can finally make a searing hot stir fry an option. This wok takes a long time to heat up to 550F-600F (ideal stir fry temp), but once hot it will stay hot and allow a searing stir fry where you might indeed approach "wok hei". It does stay too hot for too long, and you often have to wear oven mitts to move it off the flame to cool slightly, and while the stir fry finishes, before adding your sauce. When I added sauces to the HOT, hot Lodge wok over the flame, the sauce would burn to the sides of the wok and make a mess that often did not taste well.

                                                            Yes, moving this heavy cast iron wok on and off the flame is a giant PITA, but if you have a weak stove and carbon steel just won't work, the Lodge may be just the ticket to allow you to cook true high temp stir fries like the pros. Most of know the terrible result of a too low temp stir-stew in a too cold carbon steel wok on a classical American stove (often happens after loading enough food for 4 people in a 14" wok).

                                                            If interested check out the many informative user reviews of the Lodge wok on Amazon.com. Many who failed with carbon steel have migrated to this heavy wok and rave over it. Research for yourself...!

                                                            1. re: toddster63
                                                              Candy RE: toddster63 Sep 10, 2013 08:12 AM

                                                              I'm one of the petites (5'2"). I am sticking with carbon steel. I'm even more wedded to it now that I have an induction burner. I find the wok gets much hotter than on my gas cook top.

                                                          2. t
                                                            toddster63 RE: vonshu Mar 28, 2013 02:43 PM

                                                            ATTENTION ALL:

                                                            Here is a link to a YouTube video showing a decent high temp stir fry on an electrical coiled stove:

                                                            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBYPg6...

                                                            Note that the gentleman is occasionally removing the wok to let it cool slightly—even on an electrical range you can get the wok too hot and damage the seasoning (professionals use knee or foot controls to turn their high heat burners off and on).

                                                            He is also using the ideal wok—the USA made flat bottomed wok that has a thick pad of steel on the bottom that holds the heat well. It also comes with a classicic long wooden handle so you won't need the oven mitts. Tane sells them at the wokshop.com.

                                                            Don't let anyone tell you that it's not possible to get a good stir fry (wok hei) on an electrical stove—it is possible, I can tell you that! Little less wok hei than with a high powered wok burner, but still can be delicious!

                                                            1. cristina RE: vonshu Aug 11, 2013 01:51 PM

                                                              I started cooking various Chinese regional cuisines (you can't lump them all under one cuisine) in the middle 1960s, then later worked for several years as a Chinese chef in a New York restaurant.

                                                              My first Chinese cookbook, and the one that is still my go-to guide for quickie memory refreshers, is The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook. It's the most tattered of my 200-volume collection of cookbooks, binding taped together, splattered with soy and other sauces, and still useful.

                                                              I do use other cookbooks: Dunlop's marvelous ones, Kenneth Lo's The Encyclopedia of Chinese Cooking, Eileen Yin-Fei Lo's The Chinese Kitchen, my friend Grace Young's books, etc.

                                                              The wok/not-wok argument can go on forever. More important than what pan you use is your knife skills. Learn to cut vegetables and meats properly, learn to prepare your sauces properly, learn to prepare a mise en place, learn to add ingredients to your pan in the correct order, and you will be on the road to enjoying the greatness of Chinese cuisines in your home.

                                                              First big thing to remember before cooking: hot wok, cold oil.

                                                              Have fun!

                                                              1. j
                                                                Jvsgabriel RE: vonshu Sep 9, 2013 09:31 PM

                                                                HI Vonshu, in regards to a cookbook. I would say what is your favorite type of Chinese food? Just as with French food, Chinese food has many different regions and styles of cooking for those regions. If you like mostly Cantonese, get a Cantonese cookbook. If you like more hot/spicy, then Sichuan or Hunan would be more appropriate start.

                                                                As for the wok question, as many people have stated, it's not essential to cook Chinese food in a wok. But I would say that it would be the most appropriate and it is also one of the most versatile pans out there. In getting a wok, you can stir fry, steam/boil, deep/shallow fry and even smoke foods in it. With the addition of a wok, you might get rid of other pans in your collection.

                                                                As another poster said, Chinese cooking, even if not done in a wok, is all about prep work. Chinese cooking is 90% prep work, and only 10% cooking time. Cut everything to the same size, have your sauce ready. Heat the wok, till you can see the wok changes color and can smell it. Then add oil, enough to swirl around the edges, and then dump it out, this will leave just enough hot oil in the wok.

                                                                Throw in the meat let it get good and brown, then stir it around. When half cooked take it out of the pan, set it aside to rest. Then heat the wok up again, and repeat the oiling. Then add the veggies, longer to cook first, then add meat back and then add sauce. All on high heat, cause most ranges are not going to be 'hot' enough.

                                                                Happy wokking.

                                                                2 Replies
                                                                1. re: Jvsgabriel
                                                                  c
                                                                  cstout RE: Jvsgabriel Sep 10, 2013 06:20 AM

                                                                  Smoking foods in a wok? Do you have a link to this method or quick lesson on how to do it?

                                                                  I am always searching for different ways to use my wok. Will never get rid of my iron skillets, but I do admire folks who use their woks as a way of life & cooking.

                                                                  It would be nice to get rid of some of my pots & pans & cook more from the wok.

                                                                  Thanks

                                                                  1. re: cstout
                                                                    scoopG RE: cstout Sep 10, 2013 01:07 PM

                                                                    Smoking foods in a wok? Do you have a link to this method or quick lesson on how to do it?
                                                                    ________________________
                                                                    Very easy. Line the inside of your clean and dry wok with aluminum foil. Add a cup of white sugar to the bottom of the wok. Place raw food to be smoked on the metal wok tray in the bottom of the wok. Turn the gas on low, to medium low. Cover wok and let the smoking begin.

                                                                2. w
                                                                  Westy RE: vonshu Sep 10, 2013 08:32 AM

                                                                  My 2 (or 8) cents.

                                                                  My favorite tools:
                                                                  1. Dexter cleaver
                                                                  2. Chineseveggie knife (also by Dexter). looks a bit like a thin cleaver
                                                                  3. I use a big wok with a stick-free liner. Works fine. My (Taiwanese) in-laws loved it when they visited. it has a lid and a flat bottom
                                                                  4. I learned to cook using Ken Hom's introductory books
                                                                  5. i got better when I used Barbara Tropp's first book (skip the second)
                                                                  6. For special occasions; Martin Yan's Chinatown or Blue Ginger (Australian)
                                                                  7. Not like anything else and great: Bear and Fish Family cookbook
                                                                  8. Get a good rice cooker. Zojirushis are nice, but event he big red ones with exactly one button are great

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