There are just some utensils and pieces of cookware that no oriental kitchen is without. This article explores the various implements and cookware that you are likely to find in a Chinese kitchen and provides tips on how to use them.
The humble wok is a multi-functional piece of cookware. Not only can it be used for stir frying, but also boiling, deep fat frying and steaming! You would be hard pushed to find a Chinese kitchen without this indispensable piece of kit. Click here to learn more about woks and how to care for them.
Bamboo steamers are used for steaming all manner of food: Dim sum, Peking duck pancakes, fish and vegetables. They come in many different sizes and are often used in conjunction with a wok, adapted with a simple metal stand.
When washing these steamers, it is recommended that strongly fragranced detergents should not be used, if at all. The fragrance of the detergent can be absorbed into the bamboo steamer, so that the next time you cook with it, your food is undesirably tainted with that flavour.
You may also purchase specially made disposable steamer liners made of thin greaseproof paper that ensure that whatever you are cooking does not attach itself to the inside of the steamer; particularly useful when cooking dim sum!
A simple metal frame transforms your wok or saucepan into a steamer. This metal stand may also be placed directly in your rice cooker, allowing you to steam your lap cheung (Chinese cured sausage) whilst cooking your rice.
The Chinese chopper is a very versatile tool. Besides offering a blade with which to cut items:
- The back of the chopper (opposite to the blade) may be used to tenderise meat, by bashing onto the meat repeatedly.
- The wide side of the blade may be used to crush garlic or for carrying chopped items to the wok.
Choppers may be bought in light and heavier varieties. Lighter blades are used for chopping and dicing vegetables, whilst heavier blades may be used for chopping through bones, for example when carving up a roast duck, Chinese style.
Cooking chopsticks are made of bamboo and are generally much longer than normal chopsticks. Mastering them allows the cook to easily turn and manipulate items in the pan with much more dexterity than a spatula or even tongs. These are perfect when you need a delicate touch, and more manoeuvrability than you get with other implements, for example when deep fat frying prawn crackers or tempura at home.
When cooking noodles or wonton dumplings, there is no tool more capable of fishing out your food! A strainer (also called a skimmer) is more convenient than a colander when cooking many batches, as it does not require you to empty the contents of your wok, and more efficient than a slotted spoon because there are more holes.
Smaller versions of this tool (hotpot strainer) are commonly used for Chinese steamboat cooking – a communal hot-pot style of cooking conducted at the dinner table.
Most modern oriental and Asian homes will have an electric rice cooker. These cook rice via the full absorption method (no excess water), and allows the chef to attend to cooking the main dishes. Rice is cooked to perfection every time with minimum effort!