I have always been a lover of Chinese food and have always cooked it at home for my family and friends.
My friends are always impressed, but say that they are hesitant to cook it at home. I usually then assure them that there is no mystery to Chinese food – it is healthy, flavoursome, economical and quick to cook.
I find all the tastes and textures, colours and different cooking styles wonderfully satisfying. There is a bit of preparation to be done up front, because all Chinese food is bite sized as it is eaten with chopsticks and not knives and forks. I really love dicing, cubing and shredding and slicing away to put a meal together – I find it very calming.
You will also find that other than stir-frying, the Chinese steam, stew, braise and roast their food. Whichever method they use, I love it all. Now you will preferably need to have a wok that has been seasoned and conducts heat well. Even if you don’t own a wok, your ordinary pans and saucepans should do the job for you.
The ingredients are all almost the same as we use every day – garlic, ginger, spring onions, chillies, and any vegetables that you serve every day to your family. All we are going to do is use a few different flavourings. Once you have cooked Chinese Food at home you will be cooking it all the time. You will fall in love with delicious flavours of Hoisin sauce, dried black beans, sesame oil, plum sauce, soy sauce, black vinegar, oyster sauce, dried seaweed, Star anise and all of those wonderful dried mushrooms. China still has an abundant supply of fish and it also forms a large part of their cuisine – you can see them swimming in tanks at the markets and in restaurants. (They like their food really fresh.)
Chicken and pork are eaten a lot because the cook fast and are very versatile. It can be cubed or shredded or sliced. Duck of course is very special and roasted to perfection, giving the skin a glorious amber colour and crispness that only Chinese know how to produce. Soups are eaten somewhere in the middle, usually closer to the end of the meal to fill the gaps if you are still feeling hungry. They are varied and delicious and come to the table steaming hot and the veggies have a wonderful crisp texture. The Chinese are not really big on desserts and normally end the meal with platters of freshly sliced fruit.
When planning your Chinese meals remember it is communal eating and all the dishes are placed onto the table so that everyone can help themselves to a little of each dish. For each additional person add another dish and remember to make sure the dishes are vibrant and have beautiful colours and textures and of course the flavours must be fabulous.
If you are doing a dinner for four, then you should serve 4 different dishes and a soup and rice, and dessert if you would like to serve one.
Chuckey’s Chinese Chicken Sauce
Serves 4 to 6
- 1 Tbsp. oil
- 3 Tbsp. fresh ginger, finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 whole star anise
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 2 Tbsp. Vital Chilli Soy Sauce
- ¾ cup water
- 2 Tbsp. tomato purée
- ½ tsp. English mustard powder
- ½ cup teriyaki sauce
- 2 Tbsp. hoisin sauce
- ¼ tsp. sesame oil
- 6 chicken breasts
- 1 Tbsp. grated ginger
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 Tbsp. Vital Soy Sauce
- A good shake of ground white pepper
- A grind of Sichuan pepper (optional)
- 1 green chilli, finely chopped
- 5 Tbsp. cornflour
- 2 egg whites, beaten
- Oil for deep-frying
- 4 spring onions (with tops), chopped
- ½ cup fresh coriander, roughly chopped
- 1 Tbs of oil
- 2 red chillies, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 4 spring onions with tops, chopped
- ½ cup freshly chopped coriander
Make the sauce first. Heat oil gently and cook ginger, garlic and star anise for 1 minute. Stir in sugar, soy sauce, water, tomato purée, mustard and teriyaki sauce, simmer until sugar has melted. Add the hoisin sauce and cook for 5 minutes. Add sesame oil and remove from heat. Set aside until needed.
Place chicken in a bowl with ginger, garlic, soy sauce, white pepper, Sichuan pepper (if using) and chilli. Use your clean hands to mix chicken with the ingredients, then add cornflour and egg whites and coat chicken with them. Leave to marinate for 30 minutes. Heat oil and fry chicken in small batches until it is crisp and golden, but not overcooked.
Heat the oil in a wok and fry the chicken in small batches till golden and crisp, but not cooked through.
To finish the dish, heat a tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan, add the chillies, garlic and two of the spring onions and fry for three minutes, stirring. Add the reserved sauce and bring to the boil. Toss the chicken into the sauce and stir to coat.
Stir in the remaining spring onions and coriander, and serve with sticky rice and extra soy sauce.
Tip: The seeds of the star anise have a delicious aniseed flavour. It is a beautiful, woody, star shaped pod, and I always leave it in the food as a garnish.