The development of Chinese cooking methods is still an ongoing process due to the country’s diversity in cuisine. Since as early as the Han dynasty (3rd century B.C – 3rd century A.D), many people have considered cooking a form of art.
From the hot and dry northern plain to the rainier terrain of southern China, the country has many different climates to produce different types of food. That’s the biggest reason the cooking methods must constantly evolve to encompass the amazing ingredients.
To help you understand more about Chinese delicacies, I’ve compiled this list of unique cooking methods you can find in China. So hop in; this is a culinary ride you will never want to leave!
- Letting Direct Heat Cook Your Food
- Preparing Food With These Oil-Based Methods
- Cooking Up A Feast Using Liquid-Based Styles
- Other Chinese-Inspired Cooking Styles To Try
- 4 Different Recipes To Experience Chinese Cooking
- Immersing Yourself In Chinese Cooking Techniques
One of the most straightforward ways to prepare your food is by placing it near a heat source. This method allows the circulation of hot air to cook your dishes gradually. There are two ways to apply the theory in China, including roasting and grilling.
|Roasting (Kao)||Using hot air to cook the food, ensuring that the heat covers all sides.||Usually, a whole animal is like a pig or chicken.|
|Grilling (Zhi Kao)||Placing the food on a hot surface, usually alongside direct heat, to cook all sides.||Pork, beef, and skewered vegetables.|
1. Roasting (Kao)
Chinese cuisine is no stranger to the roasting style when two of the most popular Chinese delicacies, Peking duck (Bei Jing Kao Ya) and crispy pork belly (Siu Yuk), utilize this style. This method, among others, originated as far back as the Zhou dynasty (11th – 8th B.C century).
Simply put, roasting is a method where you use hot air for cooking your food gradually. Most grilling occurs in an enclosed place so the heat can penetrate all sides. You can use multiple types of equipment for grills, like a gas, an electric, or an open-flame oven.
Roasting can also depend on the size of a cut of meat. If you grill a whole animal, the temperature should go to around 200 to 300°F, which is on the low side. But for smaller cuts with a tender texture, you should always aim for a higher temperature.
2. Grilling (Shao Kao – Zhi Kao)
Grilling is another popular cooking method in China that involves putting your food as close to a heat source as possible. This method is rather simple: You skewer meat or vegetables before placing them on a grill and letting the direct fire cook the food on all sides.
Shao Kao, or Zhi Kao, has become part of Chinese cuisine as far back as the Han dynasty. Multiple archeological findings in China show multiple references and equipment used for barbequing in ancient China.
If you look further into the market, there are three distinct Chinese grilling styles. The biggest style is from Sichuan, further divided into five other sub-styles. However, there’s no denying that Sichuan Shao Kao is full of flavors and spices.
Two other options for Shao Kao in China are Beijing and Xinjiang province. In Beijing, you can find many stalls selling lamb skewers on the street, which can be tender and savory. On the other hand, Xijiang prefers sheep because it is a Muslim-majority region.
In this category, I would like to introduce you to another cooking style that might be a bit more accessible to many. This method uses just oil and a frying pan to prepare the food, and it’s what many Chinese people, from families to restaurants, prefer.
|Stir-Frying (Chao)||Cooking the food by repeatedly stirring, thus distributing the heat evenly.||Meat, seafood, vegetables, and rice.|
|Deep-Frying (Zhao)||Using hot oil to cook the food completely creates a crunchy outer coating.||Meat, seafood, and vegetables.|
|Pan-Frying (Zian)||Putting a small amount of oil on the bottom of a pan to cook the food.||Meat and seafood.|
3. Stir-Frying (Chao)
The term “Chao” has undergone several definitions in Chinese culinary history. It was not until the Ming dynasty of China (14th-17th century A.D) that “Chao” became the method of stir-frying that people think of today.
The best way to describe this cooking method is to use the quick stirring action for cooking the food. The stove’s temperature must be very high for stir-frying to work because the more you stir, the better the heat will spread.
Regarding stir-frying, there are two techniques: Chao and Bao. The Chao version relies on the liquid (cooking oil, soy sauce, or cooking wine) to keep the food tender and juicy. Alternatively, the Bao method uses high heat and tossing action to turn the texture crispy.
Chow Mein (Stir-Fried Noodles) and Chow Fan (Chinese Fried Rice) are some examples of stir-fried dishes in China.
There are various techniques for Chinese stir-frying like in this introduction.
4. Deep-Frying (Zhao)
Deep-frying, also known as Zhao in China, is a cooking style involving immersing the food with oil or lard. This method requires the fat-based liquid to be hot so the heat will transfer from the exterior to the interior of the food.
The suitable temperature range is around 350–375°F, which will provide an excellent coating while keeping the juiciness inside. The preferred texture of most fried food is crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside.
Although the cooking style is quite rare in many mainland Chinese cuisines, you can still find notable fried delicacies that use this technique, like Youtiao, a fried dough dish, and Hong Kong’s deep-fried pig intestines.
5. Pan-Frying (Zian)
Unlike the deep-frying method, pan-frying reduces the amount of fat you have to use. Instead, the technique relies on the layer of fat to become a heat conductor. The temperature will transfer from the flame to the food through the hot fat.
With the pan-frying method, the perfect ingredients are usually meat and seafood, which will keep the juiciness intact. Another difference is that pan-frying doesn’t stir the food up too much. Most people leave a side to fry before flipping.
Pan-frying is also a rare method in most restaurants and eateries in China. However, you can still find a few dishes that have a similar style, like Jiaozi (Pan-Fried Dumplings) and even crunchy Pan-Fried Baozi (Meat Buns).
Cooking Up A Feast Using Liquid-Based Styles
Another popular method of cooking used by many Chinese people is liquid. It doesn’t matter if the liquid is just water or stock. As long as the food is submerged in liquid, the technique is eligible for this category.
|Boiling (Cuan)||Boiling the food quickly in a type of liquid before serving it.||Meat, seafood, and vegetables.|
|Blanching (Chao)||Quickly submerge the food in liquid before taking them out.||Green vegetables.|
|Steam Stewing (Men)||Simmer in a tight-lidded pot until the liquid gets absorbed.||Meat, seafood, and vegetables.|
|Red Braising (Lu)||Using liquid like soy sauce to simmer food, resulting in a reddish hue.||Meat, seafood, and vegetables.|
6. Boiling (Cuan)
The easiest way that you can cook food is by boiling the ingredients. The optimal temperature for water to boil is around 212°F, which will kill off many harmful bacteria.
This method is also good when you want to prepare different variants of Chinese noodles. The texture will firm up, and the dough becomes even chewier thanks to the hot boiling liquid.
Due to the benefits of simmering food, China has developed two ways to cook your food: the boiling method. The first technique is to boil the food in a liquid (water or stock) and serve it as a soup.
The other approach is to boil the food before bringing it out to the eaters and let the food simmer the rest of the way. This method inspires the hot pot, a delicacy that utilizes simmering to cook food.
7. Blanching (Chao)
Blanching is where you quickly submerge food, mainly green vegetables, in a pot of boiling water, remove it, and then dunk them in another pot full of cold water. The process will immediately “freeze” the cooking to keep the veggies fresh.
In most cases, the role of blanching is to keep the texture and color delectable. The vegetables will be able to stay green, improving the aesthetic of the dish. Apart from that, the crunchiness of the green vegetables can stay intact.
The best application of blanching is when you want to cook delicacies that require the veggies to be fresh and crunchy, especially in a standard hot pot. The ingredients have to go through a pre-cooked step to bring out all the best essence.
8. Red Braising (Lu – Hong Shao)
The Chinese cooking method of Red Braising is unique. Instead of simply using a liquid like water or stock to enhance the flavors, this process involves soy sauce, bean paste, or rock sugar to create a delectable consistency.
Red Braising relies heavily on “caramelization,” a process that slowly breaks the sugar content, causing oxidation to change the sugar’s structure and taste. The result will give you a delightful caramel sauce that coats your food evenly.
There are two versions of Red Braising in Chinese cooking, including Lu and Hong Shao. The Hong Shao style usually takes less than an hour to make, so it’s perfect if you want a quick dish.
However, the Lu style requires more effort since you have to simmer the food in braising for a few hours. Both of these styles can make your food, especially meat, turn red, so the name of the cooking method fits nicely.
Red braising is the reason why you have so many iconic Chinese dishes.
9. Steam Stewing (Men)
Steam Stewing, or Men as the Chinese people call it, is another style that uses liquid to cook the food. However, instead of fully submerging your food, you only fill the liquid to the halfway point of the pot and seal it tightly.
This method is similar to braising, which uses only a tiny amount of liquid. However, steam stewing requires you to seal the pot to trap the steam inside. The steam will then gradually build up heat and perfectly cook your food.
Not just that, the stewing liquid usually contains some form of seasoning to spice up your food. The more you steam, the more flavors will seep into your food. The result will be as tender and flavorful as you can imagine.
A few notable examples would be the Chinese clay pot-styled dishes, including clay pot rice and clay pot chicken.
While these methods are not in any of the above categories, they still make up a considerable part of Chinese cooking. Without excessive oil or liquid, the food can still be delectable.
10. Steaming (Zheng)
In this particular section, I want to introduce you to a popular cooking method in China called Zheng, or simply steaming. Generally speaking, this method is heating water until steam starts appearing.
In most cases, the steaming process requires a cook to use a particular appliance called a bamboo steamer. The device comes in two separate parts: The bottom portion contains water, while the top part is where you put your food.
When the water starts boiling, the heat will gradually rise on top to cover the food. Steam has an average temperature of around 211.9°F, so you don’t have to worry about your food being uncooked. Another positive aspect of steaming is that it keeps your food from getting soggy.
A few examples of Chinese delicacies that utilize the steaming process include steam buns (Baozi), steamed dumplings (Shumai), and steamed eggs (Jidan Geng).
By knowing how to use a bamboo steamer, you can utilize the steaming method.
11. Smoking (Xun)
Smoking, or Xun in Chinese, is a style of cooking where you gradually use the heat from smoke to infuse the food with an earthy aroma.
There are many types of smoking, including cold, hot, and warm. The cold smoking style has a temperature range between 68 and 86°F, so the food will have a pleasant smoky fragrance, but it’s still quite raw in texture.
On the other hand, hot smoking is the other way around, using high temperatures (126 – 176°F) to enhance the taste and cook the food simultaneously. The warm smoking style combines the previous techniques, using a temperature from 77 to 104°F.
Like smoking methods in other regions, the best ingredient for this particular cooking style is meat like chicken or pork. In Shanghai, there is also a delicacy called Shanghai Smoked Fish (Shanghai Xun Yu).
After you’ve looked through all the cooking methods, I’m sure you’re curious about how to implement them in your meals. Well, you’re in luck because I’m also giving you these wonderful recipes to try out.
Total time: 12 hours 25 minutes
Method: Roasting (Kao)
One of the most popular Chinese dishes around the world is the Peking Duck or Bei Jing Kao Ya. The delicacy is a roasted duck that has existed for centuries since the Southern And Northern Dynasties (5th – 6th century).
The secret to this specialty is in its skin. You can get the perfect crunchy texture by cooking the duck in an open-air oven. The oven’s intense heat will gradually extract most of the fat and crisp up the exterior.
Before the cooking process, the cooks tend to marinate the whole duck in a mixture of soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, and five-spice powder (star anise, cloves, and Chinese cinnamon). The mixture will create a delectable red sheen around the duck.
Total time: 50 minutes (With one day of marination time)
Method: Deep-frying (Zhao), Stir-frying (Chao).
In this entry, I’d like to focus on deep-frying and stir-frying methods with this Chinese specialty called Sweet And Sour Pork (Gu Lu Rou). The sweet and sour style originated during the Tang dynasty (7th – 10th century).
The most common sweet and sour recipe is Gu Lu Rou, where the focus lies within two parts. The first portion is the pork you must coat with cornstarch and deep-fry to create a crunchy layer outside. The exterior will get the meat to stay juicy.
The second part is the sweet and sour sauce from sugar, ketchup, and soy sauce. The way you combine the pork with the sauce is through stir-frying. The crispy outer skin will retain most of the sauce.
Sweet and sour pork is a nice addition to your dinner table.
Total time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Method: Red braising (Hong Shao)
Hong Shao Rou, or Braised Pork Belly, is the representative of the China-originated cooking technique called red braising.
To recap, red braising uses a liquid containing soy sauce, sugar, or bean paste to cook your food. The breakdown of sugar elements within the ingredients will trigger a caramelization process that turns the food, especially meat, red.
For this recipe, the pork belly is the most popular cut since the fat will contribute to increasing both flavor and fragrance. Thanks to the simmering process, the braising liquid (soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, and brown sugar) can seep into the meat to increase the savoriness.
Total time: 4 hours 40 minutes – 5 hours 20 minutes
Method: Steaming (Zheng)
The method that coincides with this recipe is steaming uses hot water vapor to cook the food. The advantage of this method is that you can keep the moisture in the food without making it too soggy or dry.
Baozi is one of the most popular snacks, not just in China but all across East Asia. The recipe requires you to wrap a layer of dough around a meat (or vegetable) filling. The dough consists mainly of flour, milk, and sugar.
As for the filling, it contains pork shoulder, oyster sauce, and sugar. When you steam the pork buns, the vapor will firm up the dough and make it fluffier. The filling also becomes very juicy and delicious.
Whenever you want a quick Chinese snack, make these pork buns.
When you think of China, you think of the sheer variety in cuisines and cultures. The country is home to the best delicacies and the most creative cooking techniques in existence today. The way Chinese people prepare food is too unique and eye-catching.
To fully appreciate the true extent of Chinese cuisine, you can start by learning about the various cooking styles from the list above. And who knows, the entries might inspire you to step into the kitchen more.
Thank you for staying until the end, and don’t forget to like and introduce this post on your social media. If you want to contribute more ideas, comment down below, and I will make sure to read them. Have a great meal!