Have you ever wondered what it is that makes a particular cuisine unique? Every region has its own specific flavors that originate from the foods that grow in that area, the spices and preservation methods that are commonly used, and the environment as a whole.
Many home cooks who are more familiar with Western food feel intimidated by the idea of tackling Asian cuisine. Even though they may love eating Asian food at restaurants, it can seem like a big leap to make these dishes at home. But in reality, once you master a few useful skills and put in some practice, you can create simple, delicious Asian meals at home that rival those you can get at restaurants.
Know Your Ingredients
Asian cuisine uses a lot of fresh produce, spices, and sauces that give each dish its distinctive flavor and aroma. It’s a good idea to get to know these and the relative proportions in which to use them. Many people get Asian cooking wrong because they rely on the wrong ratios.
Some of the common ingredients that you will encounter in Asian cuisine are ginger, garlic, lemongrass, cilantro, basil, mint, chili peppers, soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, coconut milk, curry paste, and more. But they are quite easy to get used to once, you put them into the following categories:
- Flavorful ingredients, such as curry paste, lemongrass, and ginger
- Salty ingredients, such as soy sauce and miso
- Hot ingredients, mainly various types of chilies
- Sour ingredients, such as vinegar and lime
- Fat-containing ingredients, such as peanuts, sesame oil, and coconut milk
Combining all these elements is what produces Asian flavors, whether it’s something simple or complex.
Master Knife Skills
Whether you’re just venturing into Asian food, like learning how to bake chicken thighs in a light coconut broth or preparing fresh sashimi, mastering knife skills and prepping ahead of time is essential for the proper preparation of Asian food.
Having everything prepared before you start to cook will ensure mistakes and stress are minimized and flavors maximized. Asian cuisine requires lots of slicing, chopping, and julienning, so having a good grasp of these skills can help you immensely. The size and shape of each ingredient are also pivotal in determining how quickly it will cook, so make sure you pay attention to these details.
The better you get at knife stills, the more even the cooking and presentation of your dishes will be. Having a sharp knife is also a requirement for producing great knife cuts and minimizing injury to yourself. Invest in high-quality knives and a good knife sharpener to set you up for success.
Learn The Right Cooking Techniques
The final skill is to learn proper Asian cooking techniques. Some techniques that you may not be as familiar with include stir-frying and steaming.
Stir-frying is a quick way to combine a variety of ingredients into one cohesive dish. Start by adding oil to the pan and frying up your aromatics (garlic, ginger, green onions, etc.) Make sure you add ingredients that take the longest to cook first, such as green beans, carrots, or broccoli, so that everything will be perfectly cooked at the same time.
Steaming is a great alternative to baking, if you don’t have an oven. You can make buns, dumplings, or vegetables in a fast and healthy way. All you need for steaming is a large pot of boiling water and a steamer basket to place on top. The hot steam cooks the food quickly, without causing it to be waterlogged, like in boiling.
You want to know how to control the heat when stir-frying or deep-frying. You should also become acquainted with seasoning and marinating ingredients, including meat and tofu. The trick to Asian food is to bring out all the flavors in the underlying ingredients without overcooking them. Asian food celebrates the vibrancy of ingredients, ensuring vegetables retain their bright colors, flavors, and textures.