The Chao of Traditional Chinese Cooking

I have not stir-fried in a wok in years so after I took out the wok from deep storage I consulted Dr. Lee Su Jan’s 1942 book to refresh myself with the technique. Dr. Lee’s book reads like no other Chinese cookbook I’ve read before. Maybe terminologies change with time. She lists 15 traditional cooking methods starting with Chien and ending with Pai. The second technique is what I wanted, chao, which she described as “a characteristic Chinese method of hot frying. The ingredients are fried in a little oil over a quick fire and must be stirred constantly until done—usually for only a few minutes.” This is what I know as stir-frying. The next cooking method she called Pon, which is identical with Chao but quick-cooks the ingredients in a basic sauce instead of hot oil. The sauce consists of “soy sauce, sherry, sugar, salt, and MSG.”
I borrowed her recipe for the sauce for today’s stir-fry. I used vegetable stock, dry vermouth, rice vinegar, half the sugar she suggested for the amount of liquid, salt, and sesame oil. The result was delicious! I’ve associated this kind of sauce with Cantonese foods when I lived in the Philippines. I used more liquid so the sauce came out thin but I wanted it white so did not add soy sauce. I didn’t want to waste the liquid from the canned baby corn.
How many times that I’ve read to prepare my mise en place before I start to cook. Today I heeded the instruction. Actual stir-fry time was just minutes. This is the beauty and elegance of stir-fry! It reminds me of the equally dramatic cooking of the traditional naan, the tandoori wheat-flour bread of India. In a 600°F-oven that mimics an Indian tandoor, the bread is done in 60 to 90 seconds! All the work is done beforehand which fits nicely when having guests for dinner. As long as the mise en place is done ahead of time, the food is cooked in minutes and at the table piping hot. Freshly cooked, steaming food is the heart of Chinese meals. Delay eating just half an hour and the experience of the meal is changed.

Posted via email from Duende Joes

About orlando gustilo

Digital content producer, photographer, writer.
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