How To Cook Chinese

It’s Friday night, your fingers reach for the phone. A quick call and you could have a Chinese takeaway at your door, bringing with it the familiar sweet and sour pork or sticky ribs in plastic tubs, the dash for plates and a dent in your purse.

Chinese food

No more. We challenge you to try a Chinese fakeaway.

It's easier and quicker than you might think to make restaurant-quality Chinese food at home. "Start with what you know how to eat," says Jeremy Pang, head chef at School of Wok, who treated us to a preview of his Flavours of China tour in London's Chinatown last week. "Wok cooking is so fast, it's great for people who might only have 10 minutes to cook a meal," he explains. "It's 90 per cent preparation and 10 per cent cooking."

Here are our hints and tips for swapping a takeaway for a home-made feast:

Know your ingredients

Ginger, garlic, coriander and spring onion make up the basis of Chinese food. Always have these to hand when cooking, alongside light and dark soy sauce - the lighter to season and the darker for colour and texture. The same goes for the famous Chinese five spice, made from fennel seeds, star anise, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon, but don't go nuts - the best chefs use this sparingly.

Keep it authentic with some distinctive vegetables, available in Chinese supermarkets and now in many high street supermarket chains.

  • Experiment with white pak choi instead of green for a more moist texture.
  • Chop up Chinese vegetable Morning Glory, add chilli and oyster sauce, and flash fry for 30 seconds as an accompaniment.
  • Deep fry tofu before you marinade it so that it absorbs the most flavour.
  • For a sweet finish, mangosteen is known as the queen of fruits. Crack one open with your hands for a healthy treat.

Be Prepared

Don't let the prep time put you off because the cooking itself often takes just minutes. There are, however, some handy tricks to remember...

  • Wet garlic before you crush it with a knife to remove the skin so that it pops off more easily.
  • Peel ginger with a teaspoon by scraping the edge of the spoon across the skin to remove it quickly and easily. These will save you time and patience.
  • For noodles that are perfect every time, soak dried noodles for 5 minutes, lay them on a tray and pop them in the oven with just the fan on to dry them in preparation. They will be less greasy than fresh noodles, which are often coated in rapeseed oil.

Practice makes perfect

The most popular question on Jeremy's course is: how do you stir fry? "A common mistake people make is not getting the wok hot enough," says Jeremy. "Most people use a wok like a casserole dish, but a stir fry should take just a few minutes." That's right, it has to be smokin' hot.

  • Get your wok sizzling, then practise controlling the temperature by lowering the heat, taking the wok off the heat or tossing the ingredients to get air into the pan. It's a skill, but Chinese chefs aren't just showing off when they flick their woks.
  • The order that you put the ingredients in is also crucial. In a veg stir fry, the carrots need to finely chopped and go in first otherwise they won't cook in time. Bean sprouts, on the other hand, should be flash fried for just 30 seconds. A true stir fry should be ready in a flash, or around 3 minutes.
  • To wash your wok, fill it with water, bring it to the boil, empty it, wipe it clean, then dry it back over the hob. Ready for next time.