4 Asian Kitchen Basics- Master You Must
Pay Tribute to our Asian Roots
Image: Disney Mulan (2020)
You’ve just moved into a new place. For the first time in your life, you have full ownership of the kitchen and you want to create more dishes and emulate your mother’s culinary prowess. As you navigate the kitchen, you find yourself in a dilemma. Where to even start?
For kitchen beginners and home chefs alike, we have curated a list of 4 Asian Kitchen Basics to Master. These tips build an essential foundation to set yourself on the route for more culinary adventures; Asian style. Are you ready to bring honour to thy family?
1. Knife Skills
The cleaver or chinese knife is a force to be reckoned with. Did you know that this tool has multiple uses from cutting, scooping, crushing ingredients to even tenderizing meats?
First thing first, how to hold a knife?
As our chef, Jonathan, makes a tantalising Crispy Stuffed Lotus Root with Pork; he shows us how. First, he grips the blade near the handle so he is able to maneuver the cleaver with stability. This support allows him to have control over the angle and strength needed in the preparation process.
Notice how deftly he holds the hard vegetable in place and his fingers are tucked in. The root is held in a secure position so it doesn’t move around. Safety first, guys!
Check out how you can practise your knife skills from mincing garlic in Stir Fry Easy Beef and Broccoli to chopping some thick glorious sio bak (crispy roasted pork belly) in Air Fryer Sio Bak. This multi-facet handy tool is an underrated asset in the kitchen, utilize it to the fullest!
2. Seasoning your Wok
When you get a new wok, your instinct might be to use it immediately. However, the very first thing is to season it. What exactly does it mean to season it?
You might be surprised to hear that woks are not naturally non-stick, they are usually made with materials of carbon steel and cast iron, hence the need to remove the impurities. After seasoning, the life expectancy can be prolonged — up to 20 years!
Here’s an effective way to season a wok:
Step 1: Clean the wok with soap water, this removes residues and impurities.
Step 2: With a dry wok, heat it to high heat over a gas stove. There will be smoke coming out, so be prepared. Remember to turn the wok in all directions, even front and back! There would be a slight change of colour when the wok is exposed to high heat.
Step 3: Coating the wok with oils: Use oils that can withstand high heat: these include peanut, canola, sunflower, and sesame oil. These oils have a high smoke point (200°C and higher) which aids in the smoking process. This process aids in creating a protective oil finish.
Step 4: Wash off and dry with a paper towel. Do several rounds of frying,you can try using an egg to test whether the wok is non-stick now.
3.Wok Hei at Home
Known as the ‘breath of the wok’, we cannot agree more! The aim of wok hei is to provide an elevated flavor and smoked aroma to our dishes.
What exactly is wok hei? Think smoky flavors created by a hot wok during stir-frying, where the magic begins. The ingredients are harmonized with the caramelisation of sugars, smoking of oil and maillard reaction takes place (For the curious: it’s a chemical interaction that occurs between amino acids and reducing sugars in food under high heat. Foods will then release aroma and flavors.)
Using a gas stove produces this effect, as gradual and extremely high heat is needed for the wok hei to happen! Here’s how to achieve wok hei:
Tip 1: Be patient, searing food on a high heat with no control over the temperature will result in charred or overcooked food.
Tip 2: Don’t overload the wok with many ingredients. This will result in the temperature going down as the ingredients are crowding to steal the limelight.
Tip 3: A tip from an actual chef: ‘You see yellow smoke, it means burning. If the smoke is white, things are probably going well.’
It takes practice to be competent in producing a good wok hei. Try creating the wok-hei in our Zi Char Style Moonlight Hor Fun recipe.
Picture this: You’ve been slaving at work, but you ain’t settling for takeaways. Upon reaching home,you muster your last bit of energy in attempts to create a simple dish .There are times where we are not looking to indulge in a hearty and oily meal. We recommend steaming as a fuss-free cooking method.
With steaming, you can step away from the stove and let the steam do its job of cooking. We particularly love this Cantonese Style Steamed Fish recipe: soaked in the essence of the light seasoning and herbs, the seemingly effortless prep work is a doable recipe for all.
Here are some tips:
Tip 1: Fire control — do not turn the flames too high or your steamed fish would be quickly overcooked and the textures will turn rough. Resist the temptation to lift the cover frequently as heat will escape, and so will your dreams of having a perfectly good steamed dish.
Tip 2: Put enough water so the boiling process can proceed smoothly. Rule of thumb is an inch deep of water, but it really depends on the dish and the size of your wok/steamer.
Tip 3: Invest in a steamer rack. It elevates the dish’s height so the water can be boiling and not engulf the dish. The rack will make removal of the dish easier.
Ready to go? Start with our other steamed recipes here:
5.Homemade Soup Stocks
Rich and hearty soups are on another level,we grew up with many variations of them. It is a go-to option during rainy days and how many of us have been greeted by the aroma of comforting soups when we get home? We resonate it not only with nostalgia but how it truly nourishes our tummies and our souls.
Soups are an unspoken national treasure in the asian kitchen. Protect them at all costs! Taking a leaf from our chicken stock in our Chicken Pao Fan recipe, the foolproof basics go like this:
Step 1: Add in your aromatics. These ingredients will enhance the soup profile, some examples are ginger, onion and garlic. Depending on the soup, it could also be carrots, scallions,dried mushrooms and more.
Step 2: Roasting carcasses in the oven Use ingredients in its entirety, where you can! For instance, all parts of a chicken can be used, if you have leftovers, they are indeed saviours of tomorrow. Save the carcass for building the soup stock.
The main reason for using the oven is extracting the oils. Oil is fat, fat is flavour. Always remember this, fat is not always the enemy. It builds the basis of your soup stock. The gentle roasting also allows the bones of the carcass and deepens the flavour of the stock.
Step 3: Store soup stocks in the fridge or freezer, for an easy lifesaver, especially on rainy and lazy days. Tuck into the nutritious goodness for sick days or even use them as a supplement to your meal.How about using them for your steamboat gatherings and you have everyone going ga-ga over a home-made treat? Goodbye chicken cubes, and hello to robust and natural flavours!
Here are some of our recipes that we’ve tried and rave about:
Pork Stock: Old Cucumber Pork Rib Soup
Duck Stock: Nyonya Salted Duck Soup
Beef Stock: Vietnamese Beef Pho Soup
Seafood Stock:Seafood Pao Fan
We may or may not have inherited our mother’s culinary prowess but we are a resourceful bunch! Honing the basics takes time but will bring you far and aid you in the process of food preparation. All the best in your cooking journey, and don’t forget to follow the Meatmen for more awesome recipes and beginner cooking tips!
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