I like to party and have a good time...
July 4, 2013 1:46 PM   Subscribe

Every so often, I meet up with friends. One thing leads to another and pretty soon we're saying "Oh my god, we're so drunk... lets get some chinese food".

We go to a hole-in-the wall chinese restaurant. Fried rice is somewhere between $4 and $11. The meat menu items are somewhere between $4-$12 depending on time of day, and inclusion of shrimp. The noodle menu is somewhere between the two. They mostly want us to leave, so the only thing I can say about the atmosphere is "hostile". A lot of that is our doing. But man is that food good.

Its awesome. Of course its awesome, just like white castle in that same state. But white castle sucks when you're sober. I recently had the same hole-in-the-wall chinese food out of necessity while sober, and it was REALLY REALLY good. I mean I know I'll end up losing my shape if I eat like this all the time, but it was REALLY good. I'm headed over there now to get an order of shrimp fried rice just to find out how its made. I'm going to look through the cash register area to the kitchen and find out what kinds of ambrosia they use to cook these meals. It probably won't work, but thats how badly I want this.

One of my "bucket list" items is to eat everything on that sweet banquet of a menu taped unevenly on the wall starting with the more popular stuff...I think this qualifies.

So give me your recipes. Hole-in-the-wall chinese food recipes.

I'll be making it at home, and just realized I have no wok. I will spend 2 hours researching and obtaining a really good wok to cook hole-in-the-wall chinese food recipes. Today. That's how much I want to do this. Tell me what to get if its a specialized food or kitchen item. Otherwise just tell me how to recreate this food at home. Maybe I'll get two shrimp fried rice orders. One for research, the other for eating. Oh yeah, I'll eat them both. I want this bad.
posted by karathrace to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
I really have no idea what you're talking about but the key to a wok is the heat, not the wok. If you don't have an industrial strength burner, don't worry too much about it. Get some MSG and some fresh ingredients and a cookbook and experiment.
posted by kcm at 1:52 PM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oops. Missed the "food/drink" classification. If a mod could do this, I'd appreciate it.

No. Just wanted to convey that I want chinese food restaurant recipes I can do at home.
posted by karathrace at 2:02 PM on July 4, 2013

Well to start off with, the best Chinese Food has MSG in it. It's a flavor enhancer. Some people say that it gives them headaches, but it's really great.

If you want to fry rice, use cold left over rice. The oil is probably peanut, but I also like a dash of roasted sesame oil. Throw some leftover veggies, scramble an egg, a splash of soy sauce and some fish sauce, just a bit. Toss, toss, mix, mix. Done. Eat.

BUT! If you're drunk, you shouldn't be near a stove because it's dangerous.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:03 PM on July 4, 2013 [7 favorites]

[Changed category! ]
posted by restless_nomad at 2:18 PM on July 4, 2013

kcm is dead on about the heat/burner issue, but doesn't really quantify it. The big commercial woks probably used at your Chinese restaurant are usually fired by gas rings capable of 50,000+ BTUs of heat. With the burner turned up for cooking, those things rapidly bring the wok to searing temperature, and insure that the food being cooked doesn't shock cool the wok on introduction to below frying temperature. Hence, both the texture and taste of the food, and its relatively short preparation times. And as soon as an order is cooked and scooped out of the wok, the cooks usually cut the burner way, way down, to holding heat, and clean out the wok by rinsing/steaming with a short shot of water from an overhead shower spout, followed by a swish of high temperature oil (usually canola or soybean oils in restaurant use).

Unless your home is equipped with commercial scale range hoods, and air handling equipment, there's no way you'll reproduce restaurant results, indoors at home. You can get gas ring burners that will kick out 35,000 or so BTUs, intended for outdoor use with propane tanks and turkey fryers, and if you use little 18" diameter or less home woks with them, outside, you'll get decent results. Or, you could fire your wok with coal, or wood embers, as actual Chinese people still do, both of which can burn hot and be built as fires that throw up a bunch of infrared radiation, along with all their combustion by-products.

And don't ever cook with this kind of equipment while drinking, or wearing loose clothing. The heat involved is 3x or more what your usual kitchen stove burners put out, and things go badly wrong in seconds, if you don't stay on top of it, constantly.
posted by paulsc at 2:18 PM on July 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

In addition to the high heat and the MSG you will be horrified to see how much corn starch and shitty cooking oil there is in that food.

Like that one of kind chinese food texture on chicken and broccoli? Yeah that comes from "marinading" chicken in cornstarch, soy and shaoxing wine then frying it in not very hot oil.

So yeah - I adore the Fuschia Dunlop books for cooking less horrifying chinese. Every Grain of Rice is her newest and most general book. You'll never order takeout sober again.
posted by JPD at 2:25 PM on July 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

The other thing to keep in mind about the stuff you see served up (I worked as a waitress in a Chinese food place) is that there's more than just MSG going into things- egg, salt, sugar, rice vinegar, stock and so forth are important.

And yes, the stove shoots up huge helacious gouts of flame. Ours used to discharge directly behind the deep fryer.
posted by Phalene at 2:28 PM on July 4, 2013

I made general tso's chicken recently using this recipe and was surprised at how close it was to restaurant Chinese. Not exactly the same, but I've always regarded restaurant Chinese food to be a mystical substance I was not capable of reproducing.
posted by geegollygosh at 2:38 PM on July 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

Actually the sugar is a huge point. I kept making a traditional recipe for cucumbers in like a chile oil/soy/black vinegar thing. Never tasted exactly like I remembered in a resto. Dumped a huge tablespoon of sugar in the last time. Et Voila.
posted by JPD at 2:46 PM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

PBS's Americas Test Kitchen has come up with some pretty good reverse engineered versions, I like the Kung Pao Chicken.
posted by 445supermag at 2:55 PM on July 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oil, sugar, salt, and MSG. Those are the ingredients that make "drunk food" taste good for drunks.

If you want to replicate fast-food restaurant flavors (of any cuisine, not just Americanized Chinese), basically take any recipe and double the stated quantities of oil/fat, sugar, salt, and throw on a couple spoonfuls of MSG for good measure.

For Americanized Chinese food in particular, if you master deep frying (which is kind of a pain to do in a home kitchen) you pretty much have it.

I once had a quest to replicate the neon orange chicken tikka masala I ate in Indian restaurants, and basically discovered I needed to add a ton more butter, fat, and salt than the recipes had been telling me.
posted by pravit at 3:07 PM on July 4, 2013


Oyster Sauce. Get some asap.

It is that secret extra flavour in chinese stirfry which makes it taste special and different. It is to chinese like fish sauce/lemongrass is to thai.

oyster sauuuuce.... and hoisin. but I have an unhealthy addiction to hoisin so be careful around that sweet, sweet goodness.
posted by greenish at 3:13 PM on July 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

seconding oyster sauce. oyster sauce + fish sauce + light soy sauce (in equal portions) = the base for many southeast asian chinese dishes. you probably won't need any msg at all.

regarding the heat, here's what i've learned about adapting to western/indoor kitchens - find a thin-bottomed wok (the one I have is given to me, it could be steel). it gets close enough to that 'char' (fried? fire?) taste but you need practice to work very fast so that your stuff doesn't stick to the wok. this is where the lashings of oil comes in.

cooking oil is almost always vegetable or peanut oil. sesame oil is to be used sparingly.

for fried rice, there's generally 2 ways i find works best to get those fluffy egg bits (i am devoted to those eggy bits) that doesn't result in a mostly sticky rice: crack the egg after everything else but before the rice, and remove it after scrambled, or if the rice is at least room temperature and you've already broken it down to crumbliness (and not stuck together chunks cold rice inevitably gets), leave the egg in, well scrambled, and quickly stir in the rice, coating it in everything. (2nd method may leave with smaller egg bits) you don't need a wok, but a flat pan with a large enough surface for the serving. the key is at the point that you're adding the rice, you should increase the heat so the rice doesn't become wet.
posted by cendawanita at 3:36 PM on July 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Fushsia Dunlop's cookbooks, especially "Every Grain of Rice" had recipes that are accessible and delicious.
posted by snickerdoodle at 3:48 PM on July 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

This book is really good: the Chinese takeout cookbook
posted by askmehow at 4:41 PM on July 4, 2013

In addition to learning about cooking in a wok, you'll also need to season it. This video is "the" video on how to season your wok. Your wok will not be non-stick to begin with, so just be aware that you'll need more oil when you first start using it. Over time, though, you'll get the patina that is much sought after.
posted by frizz at 5:37 PM on July 4, 2013

Get two types of soy sauce, the salty and the sweet (also called ketjap manis). While stir frying use a combination of these (along with MSG and white pepper) to get the right flavor and color.
posted by alchemist at 11:56 PM on July 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

There are a few basics for cooking Chinese food. I only really have experience with Sichuanese food, but these are what I keep on hand:

—Scallions (young and old)
—Ginger (not too young)
—Garlic (in cloves)
—Chinese chives (if available)

—Doubanjiang (fermented chili and soybean paste; the staple of Sichuanese cooking)
—Whole pickled chilies (I mostly prefer Chaotianjiao, but am loving the tinned Mexican stuff lately!). Used a lot for "Fish fragrant" dishes.
—Whole fermented soy beans
—Light Soy Sauce
—Dark Soy Sauce (used sparingly for colour)
—Shaoxing Cooking Wine (several bottles)
—Chinkiang/Zhenjiang vinegar (black, sweet, unctuous)
—Rice wine vinegar
—Oyster sauce
—Fish sauce
—Chili oil (best made fresh with dried chilies (Chaotianjiao) blended and then ladled and stirred slowly with 140c oil—smells like sunshine)
—Fermented glutinous rice

—Cornstarch (used to thicken more than you'd think!)
—Wheat flour
—MSG (I prefer this over chicken salt (jifen))
—Sichuan pepper
—Dried chilies (again, chaotianjiao)

I probably forgot a few, but this should get you started!
posted by flippant at 6:41 PM on July 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here is a cooking class of Chinese takeout dishes
posted by shothotbot at 7:04 PM on July 10, 2013

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