Without a doubt, Chinese cuisine is the most popular type of ethnic cuisine enjoyed by Americans. Indeed, the statistics show that there are more Asian restaurants than Italian and Mexican eateries combined. If you've ever asked yourself after eating at your favorite establishment why your attempts at making Chinese food at home never turn out quite right, there are a few tricks and techniques that you can learn to elevate your dishes to a whole new level. After reviewing these tips, you'll be making restaurant quality Chinese food at home in no time to rival your favorite takeout establishment.
The first reason that food at a Chinese restaurant tastes a lot better than anything that you have made at home is that they are using the right ingredients. Your recipe for a dish like Szechuan Beef may call for soy sauce, but unless you have access to a local Asian supermarket, you'll likely only have a few options at your regular grocery store. Moreover, most of the times, these brands are inferior in quality to anything that you would find in an ethnic market and would never be used by real Asian cooks. The only way to solve this problem, however, is to make a visit to one of these Asian food stores. There, you can ask the purveyors what brands of sauces they recommend and buy an assortment of them to test at home. When you get home, test out each brand and see what you like.
Another reason that dishes cooked by chefs taste better than yours is that they are using the right recipes. When you're looking over the internet for easy Chinese recipes that you can make at home, try to avoid those that are printed by major magazine publications. Most of the times, these recipes are not authentic and have been tailored to suit western palates. Instead, search out food blogs that deal with ethnic cooking or look for Chinese cookbooks written by Chinese authors.
One other issue that makes restaurant food taste different than home cooking is that they have much hotter stoves than most people at home do. Restaurants use woks that sit over large gas burners that resemble jet engines. These large and powerful stoves can put out more than 30000 BTU of heat, a level that is not attainable on a home burner. Cooking on very high heat does a couple of things to make the food taste better. First of all, it decreases the total cooking time of the dish. Not only does a shorter cooking time preserve the nutrients and color of foods, but it also keeps moisture in it. Next, the high temperature of a professional wok burner allows the natural sugars in the food to become more caramelized. As food browns, a complex series of chemical reactions called the Maillard Reaction takes place, which makes food taste better. Finally, the high heat helps to create what Chinese chefs call "wok hay," or "the breath of the wok." This term refers to the slight charring and smokiness than food picks up when it is cooked at such a high temperature. At home, you have a couple of options for simulating the high heat of a professional style stove. First of all, you can buy yourself a cast iron wok. Cast iron is an excellent material to use for a wok, because it can retain high temperatures for a long time. The only negative to having a cast iron wok is that it needs to be heated for a long time to get to the proper temperature. Next, you can place your wok directly on top of the burner instead of on a wok ring, if you have a curved bottom wok.
The final thing you can do to replicate your favorite dishes at home is to by a good set of knives and to develop your knife skills. If you look at your takeout food closely, you will notice that all the vegetables and meats are sliced uniformly. This ensures that everything cooks evenly and that nothing is overcooked while other things are still raw. Buy a nice set of forged knives that are very sharp and practice your cutting techniques on inexpensive vegetables like potatoes or carrots. Remember that you should value the quality and uniformity of your cuts rather than how fast you can slice things.
The first step in making restaurant quality Chinese food at home that taste the same as your favorite takeout spot is making sure that you have good fundamentals. Honing proper knife techniques, using the right equipment, and having the right ingredients and recipes will make all the difference and elevate your cooking to new heights.