As you become familiar with Chinese recipes, you'll realize that 90 percent of the preparation time is getting foods ready to cook.
The Chinese do not use knives and forks at the table so all necessary cutting is done ahead of time, usually before cooking. Razor-sharp cleavers are used to cut ingredients into bite-size pieces that can be picked up with chopsticks. All food pieces are cut into similar sizes and shapes so they will cook uniformly.
Sauces are prepared and meats are marinated before cooking begins. Because cooking time is usually very brief, all the necessary ingredients must be within arm's reach before you begin to stir-fry or deep-fry.
Two Chinese cleavers, along with a thick chopping block, are indispensable. You'll use them to chop meats and vegetables, to crush garlic cloves with their broad edges and to tenderize meat with their dull edges. You can even use a cleaver to transport ingredients from the chopping block to the wok.
Chinese cleavers have blades about 8 inches long and 3 inches wide. They come in two weights-each used for a different purpose. Use the thicker, heavier cleaver, or chopping cleaver, for cutting through meats and chicken with bones. A thinner, lighter cleaver, or slicing cleaver, is best for slicing meats and chopping vegetables. Always use each cleaver for its particular function. If you use a slicing cleaver to chop through bones, you'll destroy its fine edge. And the chopping cleaver is too clumsy and heavy for slicing meats and delicate vegetables.
How to Use a Cleaver-Close your left hand in a loose fist and place it on top of the food to be cut. Hold the cleaver by its handle in your right hand. Position the knuckles of your fist against the side of the blade and move them in the same direction you move the blade as you chop. Never lift the cleaver above your knuckles and they will guide the blade and keep your fingers safe.
Although the wok is centuries old, it is a beautifully designed and sophisticated utensil. Its round shape makes it perfect for stir-frying, deep frying or steaming.
The most efficient wok is made of steel. It is about 14 inches in diameter and has a slightly flat bottom so it can be used on either a gas stove or an electric stove. Some woks have two metal handles; others have one long wooden handle. A domed lid to cover your wok is helpful for cooking dishes requiring long steaming.
How to Season a New Wok
Heat your new wok over high heat until the bottom two-thirds becomes blue-red and shiny, 7 to 8 minutes.
Wash it thoroughly with a mild detergent. Rinse it well and dry it with a paper towel.
Rub the inside of the wok with 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Some oil will remain in the bottom of the wok. Place it over high heat for 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from the heat and tilt and rotate the wok to distribute the oil evenly.
Set the wok aside to cool. Wipe excess oil from the cooled wok with a paper towel.
Your wok is now seasoned and ready to use. After using the wok, wash it gently with a mild detergent. Always dry it thoroughly and quickly over heat to prevent rust. During the first 2 weeks, rub 1 or 2 drops of oil on the inside of the wok before you store it. With good care your wok will give you many years of use. I have been using a wok for over 30 years.
Wok Spatula & Ladle
The wok spatula is a long-handle tool used for tossing, mixing and stirring food in a wok. Many wok sets include a spatula. It is shaped to scoop and lift food from the sides and bottom of the wok. A regular spatula or wooden spoon is not as efficient for stir-frying.
A ladle is not usually included in a wok set. If you prepare Chinese meals frequently, a ladle will be helpful. Use it for dishing cooked food from the wok as well as for serving soups. A ladle can also be used to push food around in the wok when stir-frying.
When deep-frying, a long-handle slotted spoon is helpful for lowering food into the oil and for removing the cooked food from the oil and draining it over the wok.
Deep- Fry Thermometer
A thermometer is essential for measuring oil temperature for deep-frying. Ensure best results by making sure oil is at the specified temperature.
Bamboo steamers or steamer trays are used singly or stacked in tiers and placed over boiling water in a wok. The sloping sides of the wok support the bottom steamer so it is not sitting in the boiling water. The steamer bottoms are loosely woven to let steam rise to the next tray. A lid on the top steamer prevents steam from escaping.
Food to be cooked can be placed directly in the steamer as when steaming buns. Or it can be placed in a baking dish and then in the steamer, as when steaming chicken. When steaming in a baking dish, place the baking dish on a rack in the bottom of the wok or pot. The rack should fit in the wok or pot so it is at least 2 inches above the boiling water.
Bamboo steamers range from tiny 4-inch dim sum steamers to 16-inch poultry steamers. The most practical size has a 12-inch diameter.
After each use, rinse bamboo steamers and lid. Shake off excess water and air-dry them. If necessary, wash steamers with a mild detergent.
Metal steamers are used in place of a wok and bamboo steamer trays. Each metal steamer set consists of a lid, two steamer tiers or trays and a tightly fitting pot to hold water for steaming.