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Chinese food, by way of Omaha

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AT5760

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Hello KKF! My name is Andy and I am a dad and home cook.

A month or two ago, I decided to try my hand at cooking Chinese food. Why? Well, it's fun to learn about new (to me) types of food, I get to do more knife work, and I think it will be a way to introduce a lot more vegetables into my diet. As a bonus, there is always some cultural education associated with learning about new kinds of cuisine. So I bought a cook book, Every Grain of Rice, got some pantry staples from the nearest market, and tried a few recipes. Last week I visited the larger Asian grocery in town and was very surprised at the terrific selection, particularly produce. I think I will have easy access to most ingredients that I need.

This thread is my attempt to share my thoughts on learning to cook a new cuisine. This is not a thread on how to cook. I'm a half-way decent home cook but I have absolutely no training cooking Chinese food - or any food traditionally associated with any Asian country. This is not a an attempt to explain Chinese cuisine. I don't have that knowledge and I doubt I could distill centuries of culinary traditions in an enormous country even if I wanted to. I'm pretty ignorant on this topic, so I want to learn. I'm going to read, I'm going to cook, and I'm going to ask questions (lots of them). Hopefully those of you with some answers are willing to share them.

After a half a dozen dishes, here are my initial thoughts. First, Fuschia Dunlop is an absolute gem. Her book explains things well and the recipes in her book are extremely approachable. Are they "authentic?" I don't know, you tell me, but they feel like genuine food that is not dumbed down. Second, Sichuan peppercorns are amazing! I've never eaten Chinese food in a restaurant that was not the typical Americanized Chinese food. My first reaction to them is citrus, not heat, and I've really enjoyed what their flavor profile adds to dishes. Third, there is a lot of cutting involved - totally a good thing. From prep of ginger, garlic, and green onion, to greens, peppers, and carrots, to proteins, almost everything touches the knife. It adds time to cooking. Particularly if you don't prep that quickly. But it is time well spent and can be pretty relaxing. Most of the dishes that I've prepared can be mostly prepped in advance, which is nice. Fourth, my wife and I have enjoyed everything. There's no magic involved, Ms. Dunlop's recipes make it pretty easy if you have basic kitchen skills. That makes it a shame that more of these recipes aren't found in mainstream restaurants across America.

My plan is to supplement this thread over time with thoughts on techniques, recipes, equipment, ingredients, etc. I'll also throw out a lot of questions because I have a lot to learn.

First two questions.

1. What is your favorite Chinese dish to make and why?
2. What preparation(s) do you recommend as an introduction to tofu?

Thanks in advance!
 

CiderBear

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1. I like to make steamed seabass/cod/black cod with soy sauce, ginger and scallion. This is because the ingredients are readily available, unlike ingredients of many other Asian dishes.

2. Agedashi tofu. Get some extra firm silken tofu, press the water out, roll in potato starch, fry them up and you'll get some delicious gooey tofu!
 

LostHighway

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You have what in my opinion is the best book to start with for Chinese cooking. I own her other three cookbooks as well as books by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo and Grace Young but Land of Plenty is, by far, my most used.
It is difficult to pick a single dish but Mapo Tofu is probably the one I make the most often. However, that comes with a caveat as I'm a not-quite vegetarian so I make it minus the pork or beef. I'm still experimenting to find the best meatless version but I most commonly use mushrooms, either fresh or dried, in place of the meat.
Along with Mapo Tofu I make Dunlop's Spicy Tofu with Garlic Stems when garlic stems, shallot stems, or ramps are available.
Inspired by @boomchakabowwow I intend to get the Thunder Group wok burner and a good wok (I have a Western flat bottom wok now but neither that nor my coil electric cooktop are really appropriate) and start more serious deep frying and wok work outside during Minnesota's five months of decent outdoor cooking weather.
 

tostadas

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When not eating out, I try to keep meals at home fairly healthy if possible. I grew up with Cantonese/Hong Kong style foods. I have a number of dishes I like to make that are simply steamed.

My go-to would have to be steamed black bean spare ribs, similar to what you would find at a dim sum restaurant. I can prep and marinade 2 meals worth for my family in 15minutes including clean up and store in the fridge. At dinner time, I simply pop it in a steamer for 18mins and make a pot of rice and steam veggies, using the same sauce for everything.

Other dishes I like to do include steamed chicken with minced ginger/garlic/scallion,
and also whole steamed fish with LOTS of ginger and scallion on top and drizzled with soy sauce and hot oil.

Stir frys are fun too. Nothing special there though. Just pick a protein and some veggies and toss in a wok.
 

boomchakabowwow

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You have what in my opinion is the best book to start with for Chinese cooking. I own her other three cookbooks as well as books by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo and Grace Young but Land of Plenty is, by far, my most used.
It is difficult to pick a single dish but Mapo Tofu is probably the one I make the most often. However, that comes with a caveat as I'm a not-quite vegetarian so I make it minus the pork or beef. I'm still experimenting to find the best meatless version but I most commonly use mushrooms, either fresh or dried, in place of the meat.
Along with Mapo Tofu I make Dunlop's Spicy Tofu with Garlic Stems when garlic stems, shallot stems, or ramps are available.
Inspired by @boomchakabowwow I intend to get the Thunder Group wok burner and a good wok (I have a Western flat bottom wok now but neither that nor my coil electric cooktop are really appropriate) and start more serious deep frying and wok work outside during Minnesota's five months of decent outdoor cooking weather.
Do it! If I can help in any way ....


oh. I’m one of the few that is NOT a fan of the Wokshop in San Francisco. Total tourist trap.
I looked for a wok that was thicker. I hated the ones that I could grab the sides and flex the bowl. I like them made of thicker stock so they feel rigid.
 

tostadas

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Do it! If I can help in any way ....


oh. I’m one of the few that is NOT a fan of the Wokshop in San Francisco. Total tourist trap.
I looked for a wok that was thicker. I hated the ones that I could grab the sides and flex the bowl. I like them made of thicker stock so they feel rigid.
I agree, Wokshop feels very much like a tourist trap. However, since they speak english there, I'd still say it's not that bad. I've bought a few items from them. The prices there are almost as good as some other chinese restaurant supply stores in SF but without the potential language barrier.

And to the OP about your second question:
Sticking to the steaming, I'd recommend steamed silken tofu with ground pork and scallions
 

Noodle Soup

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I own every book Fuchsia has published and I've spent some time in Sichuan. Her recipes are very close to what you would be served there given every chef makes a few changes to any given dish.
 
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AT5760

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The plan for tonight was salt and pepper squid and braised choy sum.

That didn’t happen. When I got to the market, I wasn’t feeling braised veg, so I grabbed green beans instead. Also grabbed some tofu to have on hand, tracked down an employee to help me finally find some fermented black beans, and got the squid. Also grabbed a flat bottomed wok, because heck it was $17.

Oops, rookie mistake. I didn’t ask the guy at the fish counter to clean the squid and didn’t think about that until I got home.

So, I pick up the kids, unpack groceries, and realize €*$&, I gotta clean this squid (which I’ve never done) while feeding a 6, 4, and 2 year old.

Plan B. @DitmasPork to the rescue!! I decide to try and replicate his baked crispy, spicy tofu from last week. Rookie mistake #2, tofu is kinda delicate. Let’s just say we didn’t end up with perfect squares like he did. But damn. It was good. Really good. I was completely and utterly satisfied with dry stir fried green beans, rice, and baked tofu. Tomorrow I can figure out how to clean and prep squid.
 

Noodle Soup

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A friend used to keep me supplied with squid he caught right off the dock in down town Seattle but that has been a long time ago now. It would take me a while to remember how to clean them too.
 

AT5760

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A couple of videos and I managed to work my way through the squid. Couldn’t figure out how to get tubes and still get all the guts out though.
D06BCF7F-BFC4-48EE-8211-01ACE887F0A4.jpeg
 

M1k3

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Hold the tip of the squid with your off hand on the board. With the spine of the knife, scrape from tip to the opening. Like trying to squeeze out the last bit of toothpaste. Rinse out afterwards.
 
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