Why doesn't my Chinese food taste like Chinese food?

Do they just dump the powder into the sauce as they’re cooking the dish?

Like with indian cooking, I often find chinese and other ‘asian’ spices need to be fried off slightly before the rest of the ingredients are added, or else they end up tasting raw and horrible…

Sorry babe, but you’re flat out wrong on all counts. First off, lead melts at 621 degrees F, not 800 or more. More importantly, it’s totally irrelevant to the discussion. Natural gas burns at about 3000 degrees in the flame, so if you can get whatever you’re cooking right inside the flame you’d be just peachy, but that’s not how it works. Hell, a single match flame burns at about 2200 degrees F, are you going to claim that you could stir fry over that?

It’s about heat, not temp. And common household stove tops do not put out enough BTUs to heat the volume of food and iron to a high enough temperature. Additionally food does not retain heat like lead which has a thermal conductivity of 35 versus water’s (which food is primarily made of) which is only 0.6.

Comparing melting lead to cooking food is grossly mistaken on just about every level. Even still, you could cook a tiny piece of meat damn quick on a kitchen stove, but when you are cooking about 16 ounces of it the environment in the pan changes dramatically.

It is the heat, among other things.

Guys, thanks a lot! There are a lot of great suggestions here. I’ve got a lot of things to try.

anise, fennel and licorice might be all the same thing.

That makes 5

Anifennelorice, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, white pepper

One trick I’ve learned is to cook whatever meat you’re using a few pieces at a time rather than all at once. I start by heating the wok first, then adding peanut
oil. When it begins to smoke a little I throw in a couple of tablespoons of minced garlic and ginger, and the tops of three or four green onions, chopped, and stirfry until brown. Then add meat a little at a time, stir-frying until done, remove meat, add more oil if necessary, throw in vegies, stir fry until done, add meat back in, cook everything through for a bit together, then add sauce & cook until you get desired thickness. I make my stir-fry sauce as follows: 1/2 cup water, 2 T cornstarch, 4 T soy sauce, 1 1/2 T Mirin, 2 T Oyster sauce, 1/2 tsp garlic chili sauce, 1 T sesame oil. Mix well.
I’ve never had a problem with my stove not being hot enough. If not given constant attention while stir-frying, it will burn everything to a nice black crisp.

Please don’t call me babe, I ain’t that kind of guy.

For the rest you are correct, and my ignorance has been fought. One slight correction to my previous post though. Lead may melt at 621, but casts best at about 800 which was what I had in mind.

No wonder you go by Omniscient.

I don’t know if this is a whoosh or not, They have similar flavor, but different sources.

No, no, just trying to fight ignorance. Why does a jar of five spice powder have seven ingredients?

From what I understand, five spice is supposed to be only five spices. My mom’s homemade version comes with cinnamon, star anise, ginger, fennel, and Sichuan pepper. I bet the addition of three similarly tasting ingredients is probably to get the taste just right.

Five spice is actually used a lot in traditional Chinese cooking, but not so much in American-Chinese food. If you’ve had roast duck or barbecued pork, however, they are often made with five spice powder. Chinese cooking emphasizes harmony, so Chinese cooks will not put very much of any overpowering ingredient into a dish- just enough to give it some flavor.

I suspect they use which ever of the three taste alikes is less expensive, or is available at the time. They save money on the label. :slight_smile:

I have a couple of cookbooks by Florence Lin. Her objective is to create authentic-tasting Chinese food using American cookware and common ingredients.

I’ve cooked a lot from one called “One-dish meals” or some such. Although the recipes in that one are supposed to be more homestyle, I’ve found that they do have that “Chinese Restaurant” taste. Yummy. And some of the recipes call for slower cooking methods, so there should be no problems with BTU deficiency.

Her books are worth checking out in any case. She tends to include a lot of interesting information about Chinese cuisine.

“Ancient Chinese secret!” :wink:

(Can’t believe nobody else made that joke yet)

I stopped adding melted lead to my Chinese food long ago, when they determined that it leads to brain dammage. But anyway, I’ve never had a stove that gets very hot, so I can’t get that much stuff in and have each ingredient cooked to the degree it should be cooked (only when making a very small amount, and even then it doesn’t always work).

We should be clear on the important differences between Chinese and Thai cuisines, though both use stir fry.

For Thai, galanga (kha), instead of ginger. But in the same way, don’t use the powdered stuff. Get it fresh, slice into big pieces, which you can remove after a curry has simmered a while.

If you can afford it, use sesame oil for your Chinese stir fry, but not in Thai. For Thai, use a more neutral, but high quality oil.

And the only time Thais use soy sauce is when they are making Chinese food. There are a lot of ethnic Chinese in Thailand (all over South East Asia), so most Thai restaurants will have some Chinese dishes. But for traditoonal Thai, don’t use soy, use fish sauce. (I know, it’s smelly, but works out in the end.)

Me too. Sometimes white wine vinegar. I just experiment until I get something that works.

Anise and fennel seeds are different, I can assure you. I have whole jars of both in the cupboard. Fennel has an anise taste to it, but much subtler and sweeter. Fennel is a light green color, while anise is brown. Fennel seeds are also bigger.

But this is really beside the point, as we’re talking about star anise, which looks, well, like a star and is even much more distinguishable from fennel. Plus it tastes much stronger than just plain-Jane anise.

Licorice is a root with an anise-like flavor. Totally different.

When my experience with Chinese food was limited, I joked that Chinese hogs are apparently allowed to die of old age; that’s how they get the meat so tough. I think I was simply eating at mediocre Chinese restaurants.

Oddly enough, I was just watching Rachael Ray do a Chinese stir fry on 30 Minute Meals yesterday, and she said never stir fry in sesame oil, because the flavor is too overpowering. She said sesame oil should be used strictly as a seasoning, and you should stir fry in an oil with minimal flavor like Canola or pure vegetable oil. Just thought that was worth mentioning.

I was wondering why it burns so fast. I’ve only tried it once. I’ve put it in sauces. Rachael Ray must be right.

I’ve gotta get a TV.

I can’t afford to fry in sesame oil. but I often cook beef and garlic in sesame oil. It’s very tasty.

( pins down The Sausage Creature, slips bamboo slivers firmly up under fingernails, ignores wails of agony, cries of regret, etc. etc. )

Now then, our little Punmeister… let us talk. :smiley:

It is the heat. Buy a turkey fryer that fires off of propane, do your wokking out the back door. The wok will become insanely hot. At the really good temps, the peanut oil and other things do flavor the meats and veggies in a subtly different way. Also, I must ask- are you using a real spring steel wok? Is it cured, or scrubbed clean every time after use? Such things matter, methinks.

Hmmm. Then again, most chinese restaurants rinse out their woks after a fast scrub to remove the flavor of the last dish. Too fast and too hot to rust, the woks are just fine. But in home use, I use a spring steel wok and make sure it stays nicely seasoned.

Gotta admit, my chinese doesn’t taste like commercial either but I’ve never tried the turkey fryer method, I just approve of the science it suggest. Now I gotta wok outside?