Cooking for the Chinese New Year
Chinese cooking for Chinese New Year
Many of Norfolk's Chinese communities will be celebrating the Year of the Ox on Monday, 26 January, 2009. Read our guide to cooking simple Chinese food that will see in the new year in style.
When we see Chinese chefs performing their expert culinary skills in restaurants, it can make Chinese cooking seem very daunting and something that should be left to the experts.
As people across Norfolk prepare to celebrate the Year of the Ox in 2009, we break down the barriers and ask our very own expert to help us prepare for our new year’s celebrations.
Mary Kemp, a farmer's wife from East Harling, Norwich, and our very own cooking expert, gives us the top tips and tells us the best way to cook simple Chinese food at an affordable price.
"I enjoy Chinese food - it's quick, easy and nutritious. You can use prime ingredients and it makes a nice supper," said Mary.
Many people are often put off buying fancy ingredients that are only used occasionally, but cheaper and more common alternatives are available.
"Soy sauce is a good basis for any Chinese cooking," said Mary.
"Some of the cheaper versions of soy sauce aren't made from soy but from wheat, so if you're cooking for someone with a gluten or wheat free diet, make sure you buy good quality sauce.
"Garlic is another basic product and so is fresh ginger. You can buy jars of already grated ginger to make things easier, it's also great for digestion and can be frozen.
"You can semi cheat with Chinese. You can buy fresh ingredients, but if you're busy you can buy products in jars and keep them in the fridge.
"If I make hoi sin sauce, I buy a jar of it but add things to it to give much better flavours.
"Jars often last for around three months, but fresh is better if you can afford it".
Another basic ingredient for Chinese cooking will be familiar to many people living around the Norfolk coast who like their fish and chips.
"I use malt vinegar. I learned a lot about Chinese cookery in Australia - there's a lot of good Chinese cooks over there and many of them use malt vinegar.
Cooking the meat to perfection
Cooking the meat quickly, but so it tastes tender, is an essential part of Chinese cooking.
"It's the meat you need to get right. As you're not going to stew it and cook it quickly, you need to cook on a really hot heat," said Mary.
Chinese cooking can be simple
"It helps to have a good wok or non-stick pan, as you're going to move the ingredients really quickly.
"You should finely slice your meat – you want it to cook quickly, but you don't want it going tough by overcooking.
"If you are going to do a lot of meat, do it in batches and then stand it to one side".
It's important to make sure the chicken is cooked thoroughly. This can be difficult when it is being cooked so quickly, but Mary believes you just need to cut it the right size.
"That's the importance of having it finely shredded so it's going to cook quickly," she said.
"Quite often you'll cook meat twice, as you'll stir fry it to start with, you'll take it out, do your vegetables, put your meat back in and then you'll put the sauce in.
"Just ensure you break a piece and test it".
One common mistake when cooking meat is putting too much oil in the pan.
"Put the oil in first and get it hot before cooking. Try nut oil, sesame oil or just olive oil," said Mary.
"If your food starts to stick, the tendency is to pop a bit more in, but that completely defies the object of having a healthy meal.
"If it starts to stick, add water. That will evaporate and add moisture to the pan".
Making the right sauce to add that extra 'kick' to your dish doesn't have to be taxing.
"One really good failsafe for a stir fry sauce is hoi sin and soy sauce mixed together. That makes a really lovely marinade. Add a bit of ginger and garlic and that’s all you need," said Mary.
Put anything in the pan
Mary believes pretty much anything can be thrown in the pan and you can end up with something that still tingles the taste buds.
"You can put in pretty much anything. Chinese homes traditionally did not have a lot of money, so they tended to cook with what they had available," said Mary.
Giving rice some spice
Indian cooks often add onions and cumin seeds to improve the flavours of their rice. The Chinese also offer an alternative that will give your rice a boost.
"Add a pinch of Chinese Five Spice or something like that. You can buy it in a jar," said Mary.
"What I tend to do is cook the rice, do a quick stir fry with spring onions, ginger, chicken and prawns before popping the rice into the wok and stirring it with all the different flavours.
"Sometimes I make chicken or prawn rice, or rice with vegetables such as sweetcorn".
It is not recommended that rice be reheated after it has been cooked.
"It's not an expensive product, but don't overcook it. A handful of dried rice in a pan is approximately one portion cooked," said Mary.
With it being the Year of the Ox, beef and particularly fillet steak will be placed on the ingredients lists of many Chinese dishes.
With purse strings tightening, alternatives are available that still produce good results.
"Buy rump steak or if you go to a butcher, get a nice piece of topside that has inter-muscular fat and not raw meat," said Mary.
"When choosing beef, go and talk to your butcher. The great thing about butchers and fishmongers when using fish is if you tell them what you're making, they can always suggest what's best. They will also listen to what your budget is".
Marinating the beef also helps lock in it's flavour.
"One of the reasons you marinade meat is it tenderises it, so use lemon or garlic oil. It breaks down the muscle and helps tenderise," said Mary.
Hints and tips
"The disciplines are to have all the ingredients ready," said Mary.
Mary recommends using everyday ingredients that don't have to be fancy.
"Use dry sherry instead of rice wine. Chinese food is really good basic stuff. I find stir fry's are quick and healthy," she said.
"Sometimes you end up at the end of the week with one carrot, a piece of celery, a piece of broccoli and some chicken or pork.
"With just that you can come up with a really nice supper that is not going to cost you a huge amount of money".
last updated: 26/01/2009 at 17:40