SAY "CHINESE cooking" and the first thing that comes to mind is chopping and stir-frying. Stir-frying is an important technique, of course, and any one who has opened a Chinese cookbook knows that chopping and cutting are basic to the cuisine. However, there is much more -- for instance "master sauce braising."
This master sauce idea makes the French chef who carefully saves his fonds look like a wastrel.What is this master sauce? It is a spiced braising liquid that is used to cook all kinds of meat dishes. It is saved from one use to the next, retaining every drop of juice and every smidgen of flavor. After several meat dishes are cooked in this sauce, it can be used to flavor a dish of noodles, or a bit of rice, to steam and sauce some vegetables, or as a very rich soup base. It is similar to having a stock pot going on the back burner except that the additional seasonings of ginger, five spice powder and star anise give it a truly spectacular taste.
There are two basic kinds of master sauce, or looo, as some Chinese call it; light and dark.Each chef or family cook will have a secret ingredient or two that make his sauce unique, yet there are some basic ingredients which seem common to all. In designing your own looo, try to give it a personality of its own, and never give away the secret. Having a secret recipe is in itself worth the effort.
The basic ingredients for the dark looo are water, soy sauce, rice wine, sugar and star anise. The sugar is often caramelized to increase the dark brown color, and rock sugar is often called for although granulated will do as well. In addition, you will find any or all of the following ingredients called for: five spice powder, stick cinnamon, cloves, szechuan pepper, dried tangerine peel, fennel, licorice, garlic, ginger, green onion, honey, dried chilies and Chinese parsley. If this sounds vaguely familiar to you, the reason is that many good Chinese cookbooks tell you to use these ingredients for making red stewed dishes, brown sauce dishes, chicken stuffed with eight treasure rice or cold braised beef shins. What they do not say is that you are using a master sauce or looo which should be saved and used again and again to cook other meals. All too often the writer, who assumes that you will not have a looo of your own, will tell you to make this braising liquid, then reduce the sauce and thicken it. You will find that, treated this way, the sauce is too salty and has too strong a flavor. If, on the other hand, you use your looo properly, you will take a cup of it and taste to see if it needs to be strengthened or diluted. If it needs to be stronger, reduce it by cooking it in a saucepan until you like it. If it is too strong, dilute it and thicken with cornstarch. The good Chinese chef will usually finish the sauce with a splash of sesame oil. This adds both flavor and sparkle to the sauce.
The remaining looo should be strained to remove the whole spices. These might make it too spicy if allowed to sit. Then either refrigerate or freeze it. When the sauce is to be used again, bring it to a boil and taste it. It may need a little more wine, another star anise, a piece of tangerine peel and probably some water.
Meat cooked by this method is usually marinated in, or rubbed with soy sauce. This gives an attractive color and characterisic flavor. It is fried in oil to brown it and to sear the meat. Many cooks will make a bod of green onions in the bottom of the wok for the meat to rest on during the braising. Soy sauce used for marinating may be added to the looo. Obviously this looo is going to change as you cook pork in it one time, chicken the next, and perhaps duck the time after that, until you have you own personal cooking sauce. It will make your duck in brown sauce a truly memorable experience. And you might try adding it to your Irish stew or Hungarian goulash.
As for the second kind of looo, it is the light looo used almost exclusively for poultry. It is made of water, rice wine, salt and sugar with additional ingredients much the same as the dark sauce. However, it never has soy sauce or garlic added. This too may seem familiar because you've seen it in recipes like white cut chicken, salty water chicken, bon bon or pon pon chicken and green onion chicken. After cooking several chickens in this sauce you will have a stock beyond comparison. I also recommend this sauce for boiled or poached chicken to be used in chicken salad or creamed chicken dishes. It will not taste oriental, just delicious. This light looo may be used as a concentrated soup stock. Treat it like the dark looo for reuse, adding whatever seems necessary. You will probably want to remove the fat from the top while it is congealed.
With both the light and dark looo you will find that the sauce becomes more gelatinous as more meat protein cooks into it. At this point it is good to consider making a soup with part of it or giving some to a friend, along with a copy of this article, of course. It is an ancient Chinese custom (All Chinese customs seem to be ancient, don't they?) to send a container of the family looo to a friend who opens a new restaurant. DARK LOOO 1 tablespoons sugar 4 cups water 1 cup soy sauce 1/4 cup rice wine 1/4 teaspoon five spice powder 1 cinnamon stick 2 whole cloves 1 star anise
Put sugar in your wok and heat it while stirring until it is caramelized. It is important not to burn the sugar, as this will ruin the flavor. (You don't need any water to caramelize the sugar; it will become lumpy, then melt, then begin turning a golden color.) Add water, soy sauce, rice wine, five spice powder, cinnmon stick, cloves and star anise. You may also add whatever other spices you choose or are called for by your recipe. I'm not telling my secret ingredients, but they are all mentioned in this article. COLD SPICED BEEF 2 pounds shin beef 2 tablespoons soy sauce 1/2 teaspoon grond szechuan pepper 1 teaspoon grated ginger 1 cup oil 6 green onions Dark looo Chinese parsley or other green leaves and tomato wedges for garnish
Marinate shin beef in soy sauce, ground szechuan pepper and grated ginger. Rub this mixture into the beef and let sit 15 minutes. Put oil into a hot wok and fry the beef until browned on all sides. Pour off the oil, and lay green onions in the bottom of the wok. Place the beef on the onions and cover the meat with dark looo. Simmer for 3 to 4 hours until the beef is tender. Allow to cool in the looo. Slice the beef in thin strips about 1 inch by 2 1/2 inches, and arrange in a small bowl. Take 1/2 cup of the looo and adjust strength as necessary, pour over the meat and refrigerate overnight. Unmold on a platter and garnish with Chinese parsley or other green leaves and tomato wedges. STUFFED PORK ROLLS 2 pounds boneless pork loin 4 very large dried mushrooms 1 whole bamboo shoot 4 green onions
Marinade: 1/4 cup soy 1 tablespoon rice wine 1 clove garlic, mashed 1 cup oil Dark looo 1 tablespoon rice vinegar 1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with a little water for thickening
Cut a pork loin into 14 thin slices. Carefully pound each slice with the side of your cleaver until it is quite thin and forms a circle about 3 or 4 inches in diameter. Soak dried mushrooms in hot water until soft, remove the stems, cut the mushrooms in 14 julienne strips. Cut a whole bamboo shoot into julienne strips about 3 inches long. Quarter green onions to form strips. Place a strip of mushroom, green onion, and bamboo shoot on each circle of pork. Roll like a jelly roll and tie with kitchen string. In China these are tied with garlic leaves, which impart a gentle garlic flavor to the meat. The garlic leaves are a little difficult to find unless you grow your own. I substitute by adding garlic to the marinade. Marinate the rolls in soy, rice wine and mashed garlic. Put oil in a wok and bring to the smoking point. Fry each pork roll separately. When all are browned remove the oil from the wok and return the rolls to it. Cover with dark looo and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove all but 1 cup of looo from the wok. Taste it and adjust strength if necessary. Add rice vinegar and sesame oil. Thicken with 1/2 teaspoon of cornstarch mixed with a little water. Put the pork rolls on a platter and pour sauce over them. I like to serve a green vegetable at the same time. BONELESS CHICKEN WITH EIGHT JEWEL RICE STUFFING 3 pound frying chicken 1 cup cooked short grain rice 1/2 cup each: ham, dried mushrooms, bamboo shoots, green onion, tiger lily buds and lotus seeds or chestnuts, cut 1/4 inch cubes where possible 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons oil 1 tablespoon rice wine 2 tablespoons soy sauce Granulated sugar to rub chicken 1 teaspoon five spice powder 6 green onions 3 slices ginger 4 to 5 cups dark looo Lettuce leaves for garnish
Bone fryer by cutting the skin down the back bone. Using your fingers and a small knife, work the meat away from the rib cage. Carefully cut through the wing joint where it joins the breast. Also remove the thigh bone, leaving the drumstick in place. Nearly all of the meat should be lying on top of the skin. Make a stuffing with cooked short grain rice, ham cubes, soaked dried mushrooms, bamboo shoots, green onion, soaked tiger lily buds, and soaked lotus seeds or chestnuts. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a wok and stir-fry the green onion, ham, bamboo shoots, chestnuts, mushroom and tiger lily buds. Add rice wine and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce. Add the rice and mix well. This is your stuffing. Fill the boned chicken with this mixture.
Use a needle and thread to sew the chicken, re-creating as much as possible the original shape. Dry the skin of the chicken and rub it all over with granulated sugar. Then massage into the skin 1 tablespoon of soy sauce. Sprinkle five spice powder on the skin and pat it in. Now heat remaining 2 cups of oil in a wok until it smokes. Brown the chicken on all sides, handling it with great care. Remove the oil from the wok and place the chicken with the breast side down on a bed of green onions and ginger slices. Add 4 or 5 cups of dark looo, cover with a lid and simmer for 20 minutes. Turn the chicken over and continue simmering for 10 minutes more. Place the chicken on a platter lined with lettuce leaves. With a sharp knife cut the breast open to expose the stuffing. LIGHT LOOO 5 cups water 1/2 cup rice wine 2 tablespoons salt 1/4 teaspoon five spice powder 2 teaspoons ground szechuan pepper 1 stick cinnamon 2 cloves 2 tablespoons sugar 1 piece dried tangerine peel 1 piece of peeled ginger (the size of your thumb), sliced
Combine water, rice wine, salt, five spice powder, ground szechuan pepper, cinnamon, cloves, sugar, dried tangerine peel and ginger in a saucepan and bring to a boil. SPOON METHOD FOR COOKING CHICKEN OR DUCK
If you were a Chinese housewife who had to cook dinner for the family over a pot of hot coals, you would not want to waste an hour of cooking time on a simple poached chicken. And I feel sure you would invent a faster method that used less of your precious cooking time. Of course, some very wise housewife did invent a method: Wash your chicken and pour boiling water over it to cover. Let sit for 2 minutes. This cleans the chicken and firms the skin. Now place 4 stainless steel tablespoons inside the cavity of the chicken. Put the chicken in a wok or stock pot and cover it with light looo. If there is not enough looo to cover, add water. Bring the pot to a rapid boil for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover with a heavy lid and allow to sit for 2 hours. You will find this chicken completely cooked, but very moist, with a rich flavor. BON BON CHICKEN OR DUCK
Cook as above and chill overnight in the looo. Take half of this chicken (use the other half for another dish) and remove the skin and bones. Shred the meat in long julienne strips. Set aside. 2 cups oil 2 ounces rice thread (mei fun) noodles Sauce: 2 tablespoons sesame paste 2 tablespoons soy sauce 1 teaspoon sugar 1 teaspoon szechuan bean suace 1 teaspoon grated ginger 1 teaspoon rice wine 1 crushed garlic clove 1 tablespoon minced green onion 1/4 cup light looo Leaves of Boston lettuce
Heat oil to 375 degrees in a wok. Put rice thread (mei fun) noodles in this very hot oil. The noodles will explode like popped corn. Turn them over immediately to pop the other side. Remove; they should not drown. They should be puffy and crisp, not hard. Arrange these on an oval platter and top with the shredded chicken. Carefully pour the following sauce down the center of the chicken. The chicken should be at room temperature and the sauce warm.
In a saucepan mix sesame paste, soy suce, sugar, szechuan bean sauce, grated ginger, rice wine, crushed garic clove and minced green onions.Add the light looo and bring to a boil. I usually serve this with leaves of Boston lettuce that have been washed and trimmed into circles. These are used like pancakes to hold some noodles and a few shreds of chicken. They are then eaten like tacos. WHITE CUT CHICKEN
Take the other half of the chicken and dry it with a towel. Brush sesame oil over the skin to make it shine. Then cut the chicken into 1/2-inch slices with a cleaver, cutting through the bone. Try to keep the shape of the chicken. Serve on a platter lined with lettuce leaves with the following sauces for dipping. GINGER SOY
Combine 4 tablespoons of soy sauce with 4 tablespoons of water and 1 teaspoon of grated ginger. SPICY ONION AND GINGER CHICKEN
Carefully reheat half of your chicken in the looo so that it is hot, but don't boil or it will toughen. Make a very fine julienne of green onion and ginger so that you have about 1/4 cup of each. Chop the hot chicken into 1/2-inch slices as above. And carefully arrange the ginger and green onion on top of the chicken. Combine 4 tablespoons of cooking oil (corn oil, peanut oil or other light oil) with 1 teaspoon of sesame oil (Chinese sesame oil, which is dark and tastes strongly of sesame) and heat to the smoking point. Now quickly pour the very hot oil over the ginger and green onion to carry the flavors all through the chicken. Serve immediately. NOTES ON THE CARE AND FEEDING OF YOUR LOOO
Never cook fish or seafood in your looo -- though you may use some of it in the sauce when it calls for stock. Never cook vegetables, rice or noodles in the main body of your loo, though it may be used to season these foods. You should bring the looo to a boil every 3 or 4 days if you are keeping it in the refrigerator. If it is frozen this is not necessary. Keep it in a wide-mouth container because it will become quite gelatinous after several uses and will be difficult to remove from a narrow jar. You may want to keep 1 cup of looo in the refrigerator for seasoning purposes and the remainder in the freezer.