How to perfect stir-fry to master Indochinese dishes

A few years ago my Beijing-based brother sent me a photo of a restaurant menu where “Hakka noodles” was listed under “Indian Cuisine”. This should come as no surprise as Indochinese food is its own thing. The non-charity food purist will say it’s neither Indian nor Chinese, but the reality is, it’s both. Food has always traveled with people, and almost every cuisine was, at one point, hyphenated cuisine.

Indochinese cuisine has its roots in Kolkata, which had a large Chinese population, largely of Hkka ancestry from southern China, in the 1800s. Many worked in the leather trade and several, unsurprisingly, operated restaurants. . For reasons too complicated to discuss in this column, India has historically not had much of a restaurant culture due to the rigidity of caste-specific meals and taboos against mixing. China, on the other hand, has had restaurants for thousands of years.

When a kitchen is not based solely on home cooking, it tends to make certain specific choices. Speed ​​is one. Restaurants cannot serve dishes that must be prepared fresh and take several hours to prepare. The ingredients, both fresh and partially cooked, should be available throughout the year. The cost of operations, particularly in terms of cooking fuel, must be controllable. Chinese restaurant-style cuisine and, by extension, Indochinese cuisine tick each of those boxes. Almost any dish can be prepared in minutes and at all costs, from food trucks to gourmet restaurants.

Read also | The Chinese Adventures of an Indian Scholar

So let’s move on to science. Stir-frying is the basis of this cuisine. As a cooking technique, it evolved nearly 2,000 years ago, when cooking fuel was scarce in China. A hemispherical wok is heated to extremely high temperatures and ingredients cut into very small pieces are quickly cooked in a tiny amount of oil while being continuously stirred to prevent sticking. Carbon steel is the best material for woks and you need to turn the heat of your pan to the maximum when doing this. Wok Hei, a Cantonese term literally meaning “the breath of the wok,” describes the unique crispy, cooked texture you get from stir-frying that you can’t get by stir-frying regularly. An important thing to remember when frying is to always chop ingredients very small. This ensures even cooking and also prevents the ingredients from steaming, which will soften their textures into a porridge, which we don’t want.

The second critical element of Indochinese cuisine is the sauce. Due to the short cooking time, liquid sauces are preferred over dry powdered ingredients. Although there are many variations of sauces, the general idea is to use a sauce that is source of salt, umami, sweetness and acidity. That’s why soy sauce, which is salty and rich in umami, is an integral part of any stir-fry sauce. For acidity, you can add either tomato ketchup, if you prefer a milder flavor, or a chili sauce, which adds heat and acidity (thanks to the vinegar). You can also use oyster sauce, which is the perfect balance of sweet, sour, and umami. Now that you have the flavor elements in place, you need a thickener. It is usually corn starch powder mixed with a little water. Due to the quick nature of stir-fries, it’s best to prepare this sauce mix ahead of time. The starch solution will thicken on heating and coat your ingredients.

Read also | What makes ‘thukpa’ the hottest winter dish

If you are making noodles, you need to precook them in advance. Immerse the noodles in boiling water and let them cook until they are as firm (or soft) as you want, then wash them in cold water to stop the cooking process. Now add some oil and mix it with the noodles to prevent them from sticking. Adding a drop of oil to the boiling water to prevent it from sticking does nothing. It is a myth, and a waste of oil. For rice dishes, it is better to use cold cooked rice in the refrigerator. Freshly prepared rice is too sticky. A refrigerator dehumidifies the rice and using it you get the tastiest fried rice.

A particularly unique feature of Indo-Chinese meat dishes is their silky texture and juicy mouth feel. This is achieved by a technique called “veloutage”. The first step is to marinate the pieces of meat in a combination of salt (or soy sauce), cornstarch and egg whites. Egg whites are basic (not acidic) and therefore tenderize the meat. You can also use a small amount of baking soda in place of the egg whites. Salt helps meat retain moisture. Blanch briefly (in hot water) or fry the pieces then use them in your dish in the appropriate place.

Indochinese cuisine is everyone’s food. The ultra-high temperatures of the wok and the use of standard processed ingredients like noodles and sauces mean that more often than not the ramshackle truck near you serves Hakka noodles that are just as good (and also safe to eat). than the ones you pay for. through the nose in a gastronomic establishment.

Illustration by Krish Ashok


Illustration by Krish Ashok

Illustration by Krish Ashok


Illustration by Krish Ashok

Illustration by Krish Ashok


Illustration by Krish Ashok

Illustration by Krish Ashok


Illustration by Krish Ashok

Illustration by Krish Ashok


Illustration by Krish Ashok

Illustration by Krish Ashok


A few years ago my Beijing-based brother sent me a photo of a restaurant menu where “Hakka noodles” was listed under “Indian Cuisine”. This should come as no surprise as Indochinese food is its own thing. The non-charity food purist will say it’s neither Indian nor Chinese, but the reality is, it’s both. Food has always traveled with people, and almost every cuisine was, at one point, hyphenated cuisine.

Indochinese cuisine has its roots in Kolkata, which had a large Chinese population, largely of Hkka ancestry from southern China, in the 1800s. Many worked in the leather trade and several, unsurprisingly, operated restaurants. . For reasons too complicated to address in this column, India has historically not had much of a restaurant culture due to the rigidity of caste-specific meals and taboos against mixing. China, on the other hand, has had restaurants for thousands of years.

When a kitchen is not based solely on home cooking, it tends to make certain specific choices. Speed ​​is one. Restaurants cannot serve dishes that must be prepared fresh and take several hours to prepare. The ingredients, both fresh and partially cooked, should be available throughout the year. The cost of operations, particularly in terms of cooking fuel, must be controllable. Chinese restaurant-style cuisine and, by extension, Indochinese cuisine tick each of those boxes. Almost any dish can be prepared in minutes and at all costs, from food trucks to gourmet establishments.

Read also | The Chinese Adventures of an Indian Scholar

So let’s move on to science. Stir-frying is the basis of this cuisine. As a cooking technique, it evolved nearly 2,000 years ago, when cooking fuel was scarce in China. A hemispherical wok is heated to extremely high temperatures and ingredients cut into very small pieces are quickly cooked in a tiny amount of oil while being continuously stirred to prevent sticking. Carbon steel is the best material for woks and you need to turn the heat of your pan to the maximum when doing this. Wok Hei, a Cantonese term literally meaning “the breath of the wok,” describes the unique crispy but baked texture you get by sautéing what you can’t get by sautéing regularly. An important thing to remember when frying is to always chop ingredients very small. This ensures even cooking and also prevents the ingredients from steaming, which will soften their textures into a porridge, which we don’t want.

The second critical element of Indochinese cuisine is the sauce. Due to the short cooking time, liquid sauces are preferred over dry powdered ingredients. Although there are many variations of sauces, the general idea is to use a sauce that is source of salt, umami, sweetness and acidity. This is why soy sauce, which is salty and rich in umami, is an integral part of any stir-fry sauce. For acidity, you can add either tomato ketchup, if you prefer a milder flavor, or a chili sauce, which adds heat and acidity (thanks to the vinegar). You can also use oyster sauce, which is the perfect balance of sweet, sour, and umami. Now that you have the flavor elements in place, you need a thickener. It is usually corn starch powder mixed with a little water. Due to the quick nature of stir-fry, it’s best to prepare this sauce mix ahead of time. The starch solution will thicken on heating and coat your ingredients.

Read also | What makes ‘thukpa’ the hottest winter dish

If you are making noodles, you need to precook them in advance. Immerse the noodles in boiling water and let them cook until they are as firm (or soft) as you want, then wash them in cold water to stop the cooking process. Now add some oil and mix it with the noodles to prevent them from sticking. Adding a drop of oil to the boiling water to prevent it from sticking does nothing. It is a myth, and a waste of oil. For rice dishes, it is better to use cold cooked rice in the refrigerator. Freshly prepared rice is too sticky. A refrigerator dehumidifies the rice and using it you get the tastiest fried rice.

A particularly unique feature of Indo-Chinese meat dishes is their silky texture and juicy mouth feel. This is achieved by a technique called “veloutage”. The first step is to marinate the pieces of meat in a combination of salt (or soy sauce), cornstarch and egg whites. Egg whites are basic (not acidic) and therefore tenderize the meat. You can also use a small amount of baking soda in place of the egg whites. Salt helps meat retain moisture. Blanch briefly (in hot water) or fry the pieces then use them in your dish in the appropriate place.

Indochinese cuisine is everyone’s food. The ultra-high temperatures of the wok and the use of standard processed ingredients like noodles and sauces mean that more often than not the ramshackle truck near you serves Hakka noodles that are just as good (and also safe to eat). than the ones you pay for. through the nose in a gastronomic establishment.

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Read also | Why pani-puri is a frying wonder

Krish Ashok is the author of Masala Lab: The Science of Indian Cooking.

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About Linda Jennings

Linda Jennings

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