I want to cook celery so it tastes like it came from a Chinese restaurant

In lo mein or whatever. I just want the celery, maybe some onion. I’ve seen recipes, but they’re not right. Ideas?

I think the secret is to shred the celery instead of chopping it.

Other than that, celery is just celery unless they’re briniing it in some sort of Asian spices or something.

…extra MSGs? :smiley:

MSG is great-tasting and shouldn’t have such a bad rep.

I agree.

Otherwise, I’m not sure. You just fry it and don’t over cook it. I’m not particularly sure what it is that I would identify as being “Chinese” about Chinese restaurant celery. About the only think I could think of is that it’s cooked to retain a good deal of bite to it. Other than that, it’s usually cut more on a bias, into bigger pieces, or even into strips, but that varies from restaurant to restaurant.

What are the characteristics the OP is looking to recreate?

Ok, well, then it’s the sauce.

Wok hei, perhaps? If that’s what you’re going for, OP, good luck. I hear it’s near impossible to get in a home kitchen, and even with the right tools in a professional kitchen it takes practice and a fair amount of experience.

Funny. As I was driving to pick my kids up from school about an hour ago, I thought of this thread and was going to chime back in about possible wok hei being one of the components of what the OP is tasting. :slight_smile:

ETA: And, upon re-read, I guess that proves to me that I use far too many idle thought neurons on Straight Dope threads.

Huh. Now I understand a coworker I once had. He only eats at Chinatown restaurants. He’s never used his home kitchen, and says he never will because a wok can’t be used properly at home.

Don’t overcook it, cut on an angle, large pieces and use MSG at a high heat for a quick cook. Oh and get an oil that has a high burn point, olive oil is not going to cut it.

This is what I do with celery, onion and capsicum and it is close as I can get to my local Chinese.

Probably includes Chinese Five Spice as well as the Chicken Stock (MSG).

It gets the MSG from being cooked in the stock pot, and gets the Five Spice from the sauce.

My wife is a Chinese cook. We don’t use MSG, but use ingredients that have MSG, such as soy sauce, Chinese vinegar, and Chinese wine.

The wok thing is a myth. If you want to make Chinese restaurant food, then, yeah, you need the high temperature wok. Otherwise, most Chinese households these days have non-stick coated, wok-shaped pans that they use with their gas cooktops, just like the one we have at home (use the big super-sized burner).

I actually have better wok technique than my wife. Hold the wok at an angle, and keep the food in the air, where it’s cooking via convection. If you leave the food in the pan, it just kind of gets soggy. You definitely can make wok food on American gas equipment. If you’ve got electric, it probably won’t work out for you.

We never make celery on its own, but as part of a more complex dish. The most basic would be cooking wine and Zhenjiang vinegar (different regions will use other vinegars). If you truly use “cooking” wine, it will be salty (to discourage straight consumption), so you don’t need to add much more salt. If you use a high quality yellow wine (drinkable), then you might add some salt.

Usually, though, you get umami (MSG) from other added ingredients, so unless you cook the celery with meat or mushrooms, it’s not going to taste the same on its own.

Soy sauce is used in some dishes to add umami/MSG, but it’s not nearly as common as yellow wine and vinegar.

We actually don’t use a lot of five spice powder. Mostly for meatballs, I think.

Well, that is exactly what is asked for in the subject line: “I want to cook celery so it tastes like it came from a Chinese restaurant.” So wok hei is definitely a possibility as to what flavor is talked about.

Of course you can make Chinese food at home. I do it all the time, too, and it comes out great, and sometimes I swear it seems like I even get a little bit of that wok hei. My main trick is to do it in batches (if there’s a lot of different vegetables), so nothing gets soggy, and combine at the very end. Otherwise, ingredients are similar to yours and I, too, don’t really use five spice powder and, honestly, I don’t notice it in the types of Chinese food I eat, at least not in stir fries.

Peanut oil for frying + some sesame oil for finishing.

Actually I was perusing woks on Amazon after I posted, and one reviewer says he gets it super hot by taking off the diffuser on his high heat stove burner and just using the jet of flame that comes straight out. Seems like an idea that might work.

Also, they sell high-BTU propane burners for wok cooking at home too. So maybe wok hei is just a matter of technique, and within reach of the home cook who doesn’t have professional equipment. A good wok is also important, but they don’t cost much more than any other high end carbon steel pan.

I just might buy one and try it out. When I was younger, I bought one of those Teflon coated flat bottomed things and wasn’t impressed. It’s time to give woks another shot.

This is the one I was considering, with the reviewer who posted a picture of the jet shooting out of his stove that he cooks on:

I’ve cooked it in an oyster sauce I bought at a Chinese grocery store & it turned out delicious.

Head to the Chinese market and look for something labelled, Chinese celery! You’ll recognize it because it’s much longer and thinner usually, sometimes much leafier too. Once chopped and cooked it is indistinguishable from reg celery in appearance. It has a stronger celery taste and is brilliant for certain dishes. I use it in yum talay, and def notice a difference.

Give it a try, it might be the answer.

Oops, I meant a Chines restaurant in China. Chinese restaurants in the USA don’t typically use woks. They use all of the friendly, easy to make Sysco-like ingredients that don’t require real wok cooking.

Even in China, not all Chinese restaurants will use a wok. It’s for certain dishes only, and as I mentioned, there aren’t too many home cooks that use the wok technique.

The thing with a wok isn’t just a different type of pan or temperature; there’s a real skill involved in using it effectively, too.

Really? This flies in the face of my anecdotal experience in the SF Bay Area. At the not-even-remotely-facy-but-not-a-chain-very-vaguely-sorta-decent-Americanized-mall Chinese place I regularly get takeout from I always see the chef at the far corner of the kitchen slaving over a hot wok. I remember similar scenes from plenty of similar places in the area, from the cheap to moderately pricey and from the pretty mediocre to pretty good.

Not challenging you, exactly - I really don’t know. Maybe in most Chinese places in the U.S. woks are kinda rare, but I wonder if it is a regional thing. We do have multiple Chinatowns with a large and long-standing immigrant population here, so perhaps that is the difference.

Yeah, same here in Chicago, at least the places I tend to frequent. I’ve been to a few that don’t have that “wok hei” flavor to them, but, for the most part it’s woks, and watching Youtube videos of my usual joints, they all feature woks very prominently. I mean, even the hot-dog standing looking Chinese joint like this place uses a wok. But this is more the kind of joints I’m thinking of, where you can see it’s just a jet flame under that wok. These are common around here.