How to cook Chinese food

Discover the secrets of Chinese cooking with our guide to key ingredients such as soy sauce and pak choi, plus recipes to help you prepare a Chinese banquet.

Spread of Chinese food on plates

Take your culinary exploration of Chinese food beyond the typical chow mein and sweet & sour chicken meals of takeaway fame and you'll find a whole new exciting array of Far Eastern flavours. We've gathered together some advice to help you cook like a local by using the right ingredients and methods to capture the vibrant tastes of China. Asian cookery often involves a complex mixture of spices and heat, plus sweet and umami flavouring, so a fine balancing act is often required to achieve that perfect taste of the Orient. Get your wok at the ready...
 

Select your soy

Two bottles of light and dark soy sauce

Although they may look similar, distinguishing between dark and light soy sauce is an important step to achieving the perfect balance of flavours in Chinese dishes.

Dark soy is thicker and aged for longer than light, giving it a greater depth of flavour. It's also a little less salty, aided by the addition of caramel or molasses. 

Light soy, in turn, is less full-bodied but has a saltier kick. Chinese recipes often include a combination of both sauces to create a more rounded flavour.
 

Other key ingredients

Pak choi, prawn crackers, peppercorns and oyster sauce

Hong Mui prawn crackers

These cook-at-home prawn crackers are not only reasonably priced, they’re also fun to cook – drop them into hot oil and watch them expand.

Sichuan peppercorns

Perfect in marinades and sauces, these are packed with the numbing spice that plays on your tastebuds. Be careful not to use too many – the prickly sensation lasts a while on the palate.

Asian greens

Choy sum, tatsoi and pak choi. Steam, simmer or throw into a stir-fry. These greens add a clean freshness to Chinese meals, balancing the aromatics and the heat.
 

Prepare a Chinese banquet

We've put together a menu of delicious and easy Chinese recipes which are perfect for feeding a family or entertaining friends as part of a Chinese New Year dinner party.

The trick with these dishes is to prepare most of your ingredients in advance. The actual cooking times are often quick once you get going. When cooking this menu, stick your chicken wings in the oven while prepping the rest of the courses, starting with all the chopping and slicing, then complete the final steps of the rice and veg when the fish is in the oven. Add some prawn crackers (see above), and use chopsticks and small bowls to set the scene.
 

Sichuan chicken wings

Chicken wings with almond pieces scattered

These irresistibly sweet and sticky Sichuan chicken wings make the perfect starter or main for your Asian feast. If you have time, marinate the chicken the night before and leave in the fridge to soak up the flavours.

Bake the chicken wings in a coating of salt and baking powder to achieve a satisfyingly crispy skin, before coating them in a delicious glaze with heat from peppercorns and chilli. Finish these tasty morsels off with a scattering of crunchy chopped peanuts and chilli flakes.

For an American twist on this dish, why not also try our sticky chicken wings & cucumber recipe.
 

Steamed sea bass

Steamed sea bass with vegetables on an oval plate

Make a succulent steamed sea bass the centerpiece of your Chinese banquet. You could invest in a bamboo steamer, but our recipe works just as well by sealing the fish in foil and cooking in the oven. Open the parcel and it bursts with the fresh, zingy aromas of ginger, chilli and coriander, balancing the saltiness of the soy sauce. The process of delicately steaming the sea bass also results in a mouth-wateringly moist and flaky texture that will make you want to cook all fish this way!

Try another variation on this recipe, our steamed sea bass with black bean sauce.
 

Egg fried rice

Egg fried rice in a round bowl

Egg fried rice is a classic side dish, yet often a tricky one to perfect. Either use leftover rice or cook the rice according to pack instructions, then make sure you leave it to cool properly before adding to the wok. You could spread it out on a plate to cool more quickly if you're short on time. Only then should you stir-fry it with onions and eggs. Also, by making your own, you can decide exactly how the eggs should be – in strips, scrambled, or more creamy in texture.

Try our Oriential egg fried rice which includes a few extras like bacon, peas and peppers.
 

Asian greens

Pak choi on a plate

Choose from a selection of fresh Asian greens such as pak choi, choy sum or tatsoi to serve as a comforting side dish with your Chinese meal. Again, you could use a bamboo steamer to cook them as gently as possible, but our recipe gives them a couple of minutes in water that has been brought to boil. Turn the heat down a little to make sure the vegetables don't lose flavour and texture. For the umami hit, serve with a splash of oyster sauce.

See our pak choi recipe collection for ideas on how to use this leafy green.

Enjoyed this? Learn more about Chinese cookery...

Chinese recipe collection
Chinese chicken recipes
Chinese New Year recipes
Happy Chinese New Year menu
Stir-fry recipe collection

What's your favourite Chinese dish? Leave a comment below...

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