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May 26, 2013 04:13 AM

Why does my Chinese food keep coming out awful

And the worst part is they taste nearly all the same
I tried making general tso chicken, Chicken with broccoli, and some egg rolls they all came out bad but everyone in the reviews of the recipes said they loved it and tasted just like in the restaurants.
Here are recipes I followed

Could it be the brands I bought for all the ingredients?
Sesame oil is Kadoya
My dark n light soy sauce are pearl river bridge
MY hoisin sauce is Lee Kum Kee
Soy sauce was sempoy Jin's which I liked the taste of
Oyster sauce was Kikkoman
Rice vinegar was marukan
I forget the brand of my Rice wine
My Shaoxing Cooking wine didn't really have a brand name on it well or one I could read
I still have cooking sherry but didn't use it

When I ever I try it taste bland and looks like a pile of burnt doodoo and it certainly gives me diarrhea sometimes.

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  1. I'm just going to make a guess that you are overcooking everything. I no longer put garlic and ginger into the hot oil by themselves because they burn. I throw them in when I saute vegetables.
    I just looked at the General Tsos recipe. Your idea and theirs of what light brown is might be a lot different. You might try frying one piece to the palest shade of brown. Take it out, let it cool and check to see if the chicken has cooked. Things continue to cook a bit even after they are out of the pan. Note the time with a digital timer. I think recipes that state the length of cooking time instead of "until light brown" are more helpful. Sometimes I don't agree but I note the time that works for the next time.

    The second recipe gives times. The broccoli cooking time seems a little long to me and might depend on how small you cut the pieces.

    In the final mix everything together stage, this should only be long enough to coat everything with sauce. If you are overcooking things, I think that will add to making things taste bland.

    Good luck on your next try.

    1 Reply
    1. re: dfrostnh

      light brown? Mine came out darker than black and the sauce was really gelatinous.

    2. I'm with you. I have given up on trying to cook Chinese because my attempts turn into slop. I can hit Indian 50% of the time and Middle Eastern 100% of the time---it is foolproof---but when I want Chinese I put on my coat and head out the door. Don't feel bad about this as you are not alone.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Querencia

        I also gave up on Chinese. Recently I heard a segment on a radio show that attributed home cook's challenges as it relates to Chinese food to heat and speed, that commercial kitchens have woks that are so hot and so large that the food cooks in a way that is hard for a home cook to achieve.

        1. re: cleobeach

          It's apparent when observing a Chinese restaurant with a wok station - the btu's are off the charts. The speed and heat seem drive each other. Wok hei (wok hai, wok hay) is a term commonly referred to when describing that resultant sizzle/char/caramelization from the contact of ingredients in a wok that is extremely hot and the movement caused by agitating the wok and the movement of the ladle.

          I know Chris Kimble has covered the subject and the only remedy I recall was to use a cast iron skillet heated as hot as one can get it, and saute the ingredients either in steps or smaller portions (I don't recall which it was). The results seemed to satisfy him and the participating chef - I think they were trying to achieve results that closely resembled typical chinese take-out style food.

          I just glanced at the recipes and I could see where the lack of wok hei would result in less-than-satisfactory results. But also, I'm guessing the typical egg roll is deep-fried - not baked. That would end up with very different results as well. And even still - if the ingredients inside the wrapper have no wok hei, whether deep-fried or baked, the flavor won't be as complex and the textures will probably be tired.

          1. re: bulavinaka

            Commercial woks are about 130,000 btu per hole. A high end range maxes out at about 30,000. Even a commercial deep fryer is usually under 100,000. A wok cooked dish is a 3 or 4 minute event max. Fry or velvet the protein, remove from wok, add aromatics and sauce ingredients, add veg, return protein.

      2. I'm not sure what went wrong in your cooking. The recipes look fine to me, and certainly should not be bland. (I can imagine a simple broth for noodles, or stir fried green veg with garlic could be bland to people used to stronger tasting food).

        As for not being able to cook Chinese food at home because we don't have access to commercial grade stove. That is just nonsense. Does the person on the radio show think Chinese eat out every meal?

        3 Replies
        1. re: lilham

          You'd be surprised.

          Don't forget about street food.

          1. re: Kris in Beijing

            My parents and brother now live in HK. My brother probably eats out every meal. Though he does have occasional home cooked meals posted on instagram. Mum and dad maybe 2-3 nights in a week. But the fact is some people still cook some meals at home. And don't forget home cooking is always different from restaurant cooking. However, two of the dishes linked are things we'll cook at home. (I have never made spring rolls at home).

            1. re: lilham

              Spring rolls/ egg rolls fall into that aggravating category of "Things people think I MUST know how to make because I've lived there."

        2. Are these the only three Chinese dishes which you made taste bad and that the other Chinese dishes are fine? Or all your Chinese dishes do not taste very good?

          Most of your ingredients look fine. The only one which I would ask to improve is to buy Lee Kum Kee oyster sauce or Sa Cheng oyster sauce. The reason is that Lee Kum Kee is the brand which invited oyster sauce, so it is as authentic as it can get.

          Anyway, that is a real minor recommendation, and I don't think it has anything to do your food tasting bad.

          <When I ever I try it taste bland and looks like a pile of burnt doodoo and it certainly gives me diarrhea sometimes.>

          As for tasting bad, it often has to do with your meat selection and cooking technique. Also keep in mind that many restaurant recipes over-season their foods compare to home cook recipes. However, both the general tso chicken and broccoli chicken recipes have plenty seasoning.

          <pile of burnt doodoo>

          Well, that certainly has to do with technique more than ingredients.

          <it certainly gives me diarrhea sometimes.>

          Hmmm... that is a different problem. Even badly cooked food does not cause diarrhea.

          In conclusion, my guess is that the problem lies with the cooking time and cooking techniques. You can always taste this by stir fry something very simple. For example, you should able just stir fry the chicken or stir fry the beef (with no condiment). It should has the correct texture and be tasty. If not, then the stir fry technique is all, and no amount of condiment sauces can help.

          8 Replies
          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

            I use boneless chicken breast like nearly all recipes call but some people say they use chicken thigh and it taste better, as for the egg rolls, I used pork tenderloin instead of ground pork and it tasted even worst. I've never seen ground pork before. Also could my spices be expired in taste.

            1. re: UnrealCaker

              I think you may have self-diagnosed. BSCB is a mile away from thighs. And ground pork is usually pork shoulder and that's going to be way, way more flavorful than tenderloin. And, sure, your spices could be dead. When you open the jar/package and stick your nose in it, does it smell great?

              1. re: c oliver

                Using BSCB and pork tenderloin shouldn't be a problem, cooked properly. I see the recipe for General Tso's calls for a marinade followed by velveting. The marinade should impart flavor and the velveting will keep the chicken moist. Again, not over-cooking is key. I'd suggest you look at several versions of the recipes (and suggestions from cooks who've reviewed them) and see if you can figure out from them what went wrong. It'll at least point you in the right direction. Good luck!

                1. re: DuffyH

                  But fat is lacking and fat gives flavor. Reduce the fat, fine. But replace that loss of flavor with something. I don't think it's just a matter of moisture.

                  1. re: c oliver

                    I think both of you are correct. Pork tenderloin certainly can be used for Chinese cooking, and it is a popular choice of meat for certain stir fry dishes.

                    It is just that the timing for stir frying for pork tenderloin is different than that for pork butt.

                    For slow cooking (like Chinese braising or Chinese red stew), then a fatty meat is better.

              2. re: UnrealCaker

                Hi Unreal,

                Boneless chicken breast require a bit more skill because it is a very lean cut. If you want to stir fry with boneless chicken breast meat, then you have to do so in a much shorter period or else it will taste dry. It is a very interesting point and really differentiates the Chinese cooking from the European. While breast meat is priced in many European cuisine, the Chinese view the breast meat as a lower quality meat.

                Pork tenderloin also is a lean meat. Again, it is not impossible, but it requires a different timing and technique to use it in Chinese cooking. My advise is to start learning to use chicken thigh and pork butt (pork shoulder) for now. You can switch back to chicken breast and pork tenderloin after you get a handle.

                Spices can indeed expired, but you don't have a lot of spice-spice in your list. What you have are condiments, and many of these last years and years.

                1. re: UnrealCaker

                  I always use chicken thighs. To me, a chinese brought up in Hong Kong, chicken breast tastes too dry. I prefer fat in my meat. However, I think it's a personal taste thing. If you are happy with chicken breasts in your other cooking, it should be ok to use in chinese recipes. Also in HK, most meat are cooked on the bone. However, overseas, it tends to be off the bone. Things like this should only have a minor effect on the final dish.

                  As for ground pork. I think you can substitute with ground beef maybe? Pork is the standard meat in Chinese (and Japanese cooking).

                  PS. And it's true what ChemicalKinetics say about breast meat. When I was growing up (in the 70s HK), we bought chicken breasts from the markets for our dog. No one will touch that stuff. It probably has changed now.

                  1. re: lilham

                    The first time my mom visited China [From "The South" of the US] she was blown away because skinless boneless chicken breasts were about 60% the price of bone in legs and thighs.

              3. do you use a wok? What kind of oil are cooking in? If it can not handle the high heat you may be burning everything.
                diarrhea,, check your products for msg.. you may have reaction to it.