Asian Recipes

Asian Recipes Blog

The Unrivaled Practical Guide for Asian Cooking

Why is there always a sweet and sour dishes on every Chinese menu?

Chinese culture is based on the yin-yang concept of universal balance and absolute harmony. Sweet and sour are only two of the many opposite elements which symbolize this philosophy, but they are the most commonly encountered. The permutations of sweet and sour are endless as long as you stick to the fundamental principle, balancing honey and wine vinegar, honey and malt vinegar, even marmalade with balsamic vinegar or tomato sauce and pineapple juice. It is a matter of ingenuity and the ingredients you use are less important than achieving a sauce that is a harmonious blend.

Traditional Chinese sweet and sour dishes are made with plum sauce and rice wine, vinegar or lemon juice. The authentic sauce is easy to reproduce. You can make a large batch, omitting the cucumber and the onion, and refrigerate it for up to a week. Add the vegetables just before cooking.

If you are using previously fried, battered pork or chicken, simply combine the sauce and coated meat in a wok or pan and stir to blend. Pork cubes are best floured and refrigerated for a few hours before being deep-fried for a sweet and sour dish as this makes them crisp.

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08:18:43 on 11/28/08 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

How to ensure that sugar does not go hard in the cupboard?

Sugar should be kept in an airtight container in a cool dry place, and once opened, packets should be resealed between use. Moist light and dark brown sugars are the ones that tend to go hard and lumpy, as exposure to air dries them out. Adding a slice of apple or bread to the container in which the pack is stored for a couple of days should restore moisture. If you want to use the hardened sugar immediately, blend it in a food processor and then sieve it, or heat in a microwave oven. Wrap the pack in a damp tea towel and microwave it on Medium for a minute or two or until the sugar begins to soften. You can then use it as normal.

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08:19:04 on 11/27/08 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Different types of brown sugar

It depends on the sugar. There are various types of brown sugar, with different levels of coarseness and colors that range form pale beige to deep dark brown - the darker the color of the sugar, the richer its flavor will be. Demerara has a crunchy texture and is good for making chutneys, for grilling as a topping on creme brulee and for glazing baked ham. It should not be used when a quick-melting sugar is needed, or for jellies, as it will make them cloudy; for these, use white sugar instead.

Light and dark brown sugars can be used in fruit cakes and other moist cakes, some biscuits, fudge and chocolate icings, toffee and fudge, chutneys and some sauces (barbecue, sweet and sour, chocolate and so on). As these sugars are moist they should not be used in light cakes which need creaming or whisking, or in light icings where the additional flavor and color would not be desirable.

Black or very dark brown sugar (also called Barbados sugar) contains molasses; the darker the color is, the more molasses and therefore the stronger the flavor. It is used in the same way as light and dark brown sugars and is perfect for Christmas cakes and puddings, but take care it does not mask delicate flavors.

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07:21:27 on 11/26/08 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Is brown sugar any healthier to eat than white sugar?

Most brown sugar is refined sugar that has been treated with color and flavor, and so there is no evidence to suggest that brown sugar is healthier than white. Golden demerara sugar and the light and dark brown sugars have traces of minerals and vitamins, so it could be claimed that they are marginally healthier than other sugars. However, to gain any benefit from these minerals and vitamins you would have to eat an enormous amount of sugar, which would not be healthy.

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15:21:43 on 11/25/08 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

How to avoid ruining the pan when making caramel?

As caramel is usually made in fairly small amounts, it is important to use a small pan as then it is easier to control the degree of heat and prevent the caramel from sticking. In a large pan there is the danger that the sugar will caramelize quickly, burn and stick to the pan. The pan should also have a heavy base: a thin pan will buckle, then heat will not be evenly distributed and, again, the caramel will burn. If the caramel does stick to the base of the pan, the easiest way to clean it is to add some cold water, return the pan to a low heat and stir gently; the hardened burnt caramel should gradually dissolve. Repeat this process until the pan is thoroughly cleaned.

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06:43:28 on 11/24/08 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Does sugar syrup always require the same ratio of sugar to water?

No. Sugar syrup is simply a solution of sugar dissolved in water, and different concentrations are used for different recipes. A thin syrup is three parts water to one part sugar; a medium syrup is two parts water to one part sugar; and a heavy syrup is equal volumes of water and sugar. In simple, clear syrups, the sugar and water are stirred over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved, the mixture is boiled for a minute than removed from the heat.

If any of these syrups are boiled for a longer time, more water evaporates, the temperature of the syrup increases and the sugar changes color, deepening from pale yellow to dark brown and eventually turning into caramel. There are various stages to which the sugar syrup can be boiled and different recipes will require different stages of caramelization.

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15:57:09 on 11/23/08 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Can low-kilojoule sugars be used in cooking in place or ordinary sugars?

Generally, artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes are much sweeter by volume than sugar and cannot be directly substituted for them in cooking. However, some brands of white sugar substitutes are specifically designed to be used in exactly the same quantities as ordinary sugar in cooking, so check the instructions given on the packet.

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09:23:55 on 11/22/08 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Can we substitute ordinary white sugar for caster sugar in a recipe?

It depends on the recipe. In cakes made by the rubbing-in method, you can use the white sugar as it is. If you need a finer sugar, it is possible to grind white sugar in a blender or coffee grinder: the result is more like icing sugar than caster sugar but it would be acceptable for making biscuits, pastry, icings and so on. Home-ground sugar is not, however, suitable for creamed cake mixtures as the volume of sugar will be reduced and result in a cake with a hard crust.

15:23:31 on 11/21/08 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Where does suet come from?

Suet is the hard, concentrated, white fat that surrounds beef and sheep kidneys. It is now less often sold in solid form from butchers for grating at home - in supermarkets you will find suet sold already shredded and floured in a mix ready for use. A rich, pure fat that contains a high percentage of saturated fatty acids, beef suet is traditionally used for cooking many dishes including dumplings, fruit mince, suet crust pastry and steamed puddings.

Lamb suet is not widely available although butchers will be able to order it for you; it has a stronger flavor than beef suet and is therefore less adaptable in cooking and a poor choice for sweet dishes such as steamed puddings or pastry.

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06:00:33 on 11/20/08 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Is there a risk of salmonella poisoning if we stuff the cavity of a bird?

Meat and poultry are highly vulnerable to salmonella and the bacteria is only killed by thorough cooking. With a large bird, such as a turkey, it is safer not to stuff the entire cavity, especially if you use a sausage meat stuffing. This is because there is a risk that by the time the rest of the bird is cooked and ready, the heat will not have penetrated to the center of the substantial amount of stuffing used to fill a large bird, so it will not have cooked enough to kill off any bacteria. It is safe to stuff the neck end, which holds a lot of stuffing, as there is less meat between the source of the heat and the stuffing and there is a better opportunity for thorough cooking.

It is completely safe and also simpler to put an onion studded with cloves, a lemon, or a handful of peeled chestnuts into the body cavity of the bird to add flavor. With a small game bird, such as pheasant or quail, you could stuff the entire bird as it takes less time for the heat to cook the smaller quantity of stuffing, providing you do not pack it too tightly.

There is some risk of salmonella in wild game birds as well as in farmed game birds and chicken and turkey. If you are going to stuff any bird, it is important that both the meat and the stuffing are are thoroughly cooked to guarantee safety. If you want to be completely assured that there is no risk of salmonella, cook the stuffing separately. Place in a buttered dish, cover, then put in the oven for the last 30 minutes cooking time.

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15:50:31 on 11/19/08 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Are stuffings and forcemeats the same thing?

These two words are often used interchangeably, and there is some confusion about their exact meanings, probably because forcemeat, which is finely chopped and usually made of spiced meat or poultry, is often an ingredient in stuffings. Both are used to fill meat, poultry and vegetables and have been used for centuries, especially to make roast meat go farther and to add flavor and moistness.

The staple ingredients for stuffings are breadcrumbs, which add bulk, and egg, which binds the stuffing mixture together. This can be confusing for cooks because it is natural to think that breadcrumbs will make stuffings stodgy, and that the egg will make it creamy because it visibly loosens the mixture when added to it. But, in fact, a high proportion of breadcrumbs will give a soft and tender stuffing, while using too much egg makes a stuffing stodgy once it has been cooked and the egg has set.

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04:39:48 on 11/18/08 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

How should fresh eggs be kept?

Eggs can be stored perfectly safely in any cool spot, although they will keep for longer in a refrigerator and should always be refrigerated in hot climates. The cartons carry a "use by" date, so it is easy to keep track of their age. If you store them in the refrigerator, take them out an hour or so before using: cold eggs will crack when you boil them and room-temperature eggs will whisk to a greater volume than cold ones.

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13:26:04 on 11/16/08 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Does keeping fresh bread in the refrigertor prevent it from going moldy?

The answer is yes. Using the refrigerator will prevent mold development, but as it is a very dry environment it also makes bread go stale very quickly. The best way to store bread for long periods of time, is to slice it and keep it in the freezer. Slices can be toasted from frozen very successfully, and they can be defrosted in very little time if they are to be eaten untoasted.

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12:20:55 on 11/15/08 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Why do stock recipes use only parsley stalks?

Recipes for stock often specify the use of parsley stalks because they have more flavor than the florets, which will turn bitter if cooked for several hours. This is also economical as the parsley leaves can then be used for garnishing. Other herbs suitable for adding to stocks are the woody ones that will stand up to prolonged cooking: sprigs of marjoram, tarragon and thyme, as well as bay leaves. A slice of lemon or pared lemon rind is a good addition to chicken stock and onion or tomato skins can also be added to give a strong golden color and extra flavor.

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06:34:20 on 11/13/08 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

How long will stock keep?

Stock should be cooled then kept, covered, in the refrigerator for four days (two days for fish stocks) or in the freezer for up to three months (two months for fish stock). It is best to reduce the stock by rapid boiling to get a concentrated stock for freezing. Frozen stock can be defrosted or reheated straight from frozen, but should be simmered for at least 10 minutes; it can also be diluted.

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05:11:13 on 11/12/08 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

How does fish stock differ from a fumet or court bouillon?

Fish stock is made in the same way as meat stock in that the fish bones, heads and tails (and the shells of shellfish) are simmered in water with vegetables and flavorings. But fish stock is cooked for only 20-30 minutes as lengthy cooking will make it bitter. Once the stock has been strained it can be concentrated by further boiling. A glass of dry white wine added to the stock improves the flavor considerably.

After straining, the stock can be boiled slightly to reduce it to a more intensely flavored fumet. Fumet can be used in fish sauces, soups and stews. Court bouillon is the liquid used for poaching fresh fish such as salmon. It is made from water, white wine (or lemon juice or vinegar) and flavorings, but unlike fish stock, it does not contain any fish trimmings. Court bouillon is rarely featured in the finished dish.

** Making Stock **

10:09:36 on 11/11/08 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

What to do when stock never seems to thicken even with hours of simmering?

Stock is not supposed to thicken while it is still cooking, but a well concentrated meat stock should gel on cooling and any fat can then be scraped easily off the top. When the collagen that is contained naturally in the meat bones dissolves during cooking, it forms the gelatine that later sets the stock. To make a really good jellied meat stock, try to get hold of a raw veal knuckle, calf's foot or beef marrow bone, and simmer it in plenty of water with vegetables and flavorings for about 4 hours before straining and cooling. If this stock is then reduced even further, it will form a syrupy glaze called a glace that is often used in classic sauces. Glace can be frozen in ice cube trays for convenience.

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09:17:36 on 11/10/08 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Why does stock always take so long to make?

Meat or poultry stock needs long, slow cooking in order to extract as much flavor as possible from the bones. But vegetable stocks can be made quickly or slowly and fish stocks are always made quickly. Cooked bones can be used for stock and do not need blanching, but will have lost some of their flavor and are not as good as raw bones. For poultry or game stock, use the carcass from a roasted bird. Avoid using lamb bones, which give an unpleasant flavor.

It is often better to place raw bones in a pan of cold water, bring them to the boil, then drain and refresh before using them to make stock. This will remove impurities that would give the stock a tainted taste and unpleasant grey color.

Do not boil stock during the cooking process as this will make it cloudy. But after the bones and vegetables have been strained off, the stock may be returned to the pan and boiled to reduce it. Raw beef bones can be used for an all-purpose meat stock.

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11:09:36 on 11/09/08 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Should we cut off all the fat and gristle from stewing steak before it goes into the pot?

Always remove any obvious gristle from stewing steak as this will not dissolve during cooking the way ordinary fat does. A little fat may be left on to add moisture and flavor to the stew, or trimmed off. A good compromise is to trim off any pieces of fat surrounding the meat but leave any marbled fat between the meat tissue as this will melt and add flavor to the dish. If you want to remove all the fat, make the stew a day ahead, chill and when cold, lift off any fat that has set on the surface. If you intend to trim off all the fat, remember to buy a larger quantity of meat.

Cooking your chosen meat on the bone, or adding the meat bones to the stew, will also give extra flavor and texture to the stew.

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02:29:11 on 11/08/08 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

How much meat should we allow per person in a stew?

As a general rule, allow 175-250g of boned meat per person depending on the proportion of meat to other ingredients. When you are catering for a large group, use the smaller amount of meat as people tend to eat less at big functions. A mainly meat stew will be rich and will need a carbohydrate side dish and a green vegetable or salad. Or the stew can contain everything for a complete meal.

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06:08:30 on 11/07/08 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Are there any golden rules for making a perfect stew?

Good stews are made or lost in the early stages of their preparation. In many stews the meat is fried first (sometimes with onions, carrots, leeks, whole or sliced mushrooms, peppers or shallots), to give a rich flavor and to add color to the sauce, which will be made with the browned sediment and dried juices that stick to the pan after frying.

If the sauce is not to look too pale and taste insipid, you must fry the meat until each piece is a good even brown color. Fry the pieces a few at a time, so as not to crowd the pan, and keep the temperature high so that the meat browns and fries rather than sweats.

If the bottom of the pan begins to get too brown, you can deglaze it between batches of meat by pouring in a few tablespoons of stock, wine or water. Stir it vigorously to loosen the sediment, taste the liquid, and, if it is not burnt, reserve it to add to the stew. It will not taste delicious at this point but as long as it has not burnt it will enrich and color the stew.

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11:03:16 on 11/05/08 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

In what way is steaming a better method of cooking than boiling, frying or roasting?

Steaming is the cooking of food in hot vapor rather than in liquid. As the food never touches the liquid, the loss of vitamins is significantly reduced. And as steamed food is cooked without fat, it is more digestible and highly suitable for invalids and those on low-fat diets. You must, however, ensure that you always choose excellent quality ingredients for steaming - there is no help to be had from the flavor of butter or oil, nor does the food caramelize during cooking, so the raw materials must taste good without such assistance.

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05:49:47 on 11/03/08 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

Can you cook steamed puddings in a microwave oven?

Yes, they can be made quickly and easily in a microwave oven and the result is a light, spongy texture. Cooking your steamed pudding in the microwave not only means you save on time, you also avoid having a lot of steam in the kitchen. A cup of hot water placed in the microwave next to the pudding will introduce some steam to the microwave oven and help to keep the pudding moist. This is also a good practice to follow when you are reheating precooked steamed and sponge puddings.

06:43:18 on 11/02/08 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -

If water has accidentally leaked into the steamed pudding, is there anyway to save it?

It depends on the quantity of water. If a lot of water gets into a steamed pudding while it is cooking, it will be soggy. If only a small amount of water has leaked in, the pudding may be affected only in a small area and will still be palatable. The best advice is to try to stop water getting into the pudding by covering it properly. Traditionally, steamed puddings are cooked in a deep bowl or basin that is covered with a piece of greased greaseproof or baking paper, pleated in the middle and topped with a cloth, or a piece of pleated foil tied securely with string. The pleats allow room for expansion when the pudding is cooked. The covering is needed to keep the pudding well protected from the boiling water beneath, so that it is cooked in the steam and is moist but not sodden.

When steaming puddings, do not let the water boil too furiously as this will make it lap over the top. Keep it at an even rolling boil, or boil the pudding in a slow cooker.

04:30:09 on 11/01/08 by Webmaster - Questions and Answers -