Braly: Cooking Chinese at home presents problems

Braly: Cooking Chinese at home presents problems

January 18th, 2012 by Anne Braly in Life Entertainment

My father and grandfather were born in China. One of my first cousins married a Chinese man, so through their daughter I have a Chinese blood relation.

My house is decorated with many ancient Chinese touches, too, collected by my great-grandparents and grandparents while they lived there.

Monday begins the celebration of the Year of the Dragon across the world.

Interestingly enough, I've only tried cooking Chinese from scratch one time. It was about 30 years ago, and I made shrimp egg rolls. But I had gotten some bad shrimp, and we were sick for days, so much I've never wanted them again.

I have tried making Chinese foods from kits, but they were nothing compared to the cuisine I can order in Chinese restaurants around town. My dad and I used to try a new place about every week.

I recently found an interesting page about Chinese cooking on the website

At first glance, recipes can seem daunting with so many ingredients. Some ingredients are not available at regular grocery stores, so a trip to a specialty market is in order. That extra step causes many people to forgo preparing a Chinese meal.

The site offers these ideas for deconstructing a Chinese recipe to help make the process easier.

* Soy sauce refers to light soy sauce. A recipe will state if dark soy sauce is required.

* Rice vinegar refers to white rice vinegar. The recipe will specify if black or red rice vinegar is to be used instead. Occasionally, a recipe may use the term "brown" in place of "black" rice vinegar.

* Since pale dry sherry is the common substitute for Chinese rice wine, recipes will sometimes list only sherry without mentioning rice wine as a possibility. If a recipe calls for pale, dry sherry and you have a good Chinese rice wine on hand, feel free to substitute.

* If cooking oil is on the ingredient list, it's probably for stir-frying or deep-frying. Use either peanut oil or vegetable oils such as canola.

* Figure out which ingredients are used in a marinade and/or sauce.

The Chinese almost never fry meat without marinating it first. Also, it's common to add a sauce to fried food in the final stages of cooking, often thickened with cornstarch and water mixture.

* Whenever you see cornstarch followed by water, there is a good chance the two will be combined and added near the end as a thickener. Sometimes the mix is called a "slurry." Don't add the two ingredients straight into the wok, but combine and then add to the dish, stirring quickly to thicken.

Now that you have the basics down, here's an easy recipe from to get you started on your Chinese New Year celebrations -- or just any time you want a change of pace.

Chinese Beef and Broccoli

1/3 cup oyster sauce

2 teaspoons Asian (toasted) sesame oil

1/3 cup sherry

1 teaspoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon white sugar

1 teaspoon cornstarch

3/4 pound beef round steak, cut into 1/8-inch thick strips

3 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more if needed

1 thin slice of fresh ginger root

1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed

1 pound broccoli, cut into florets

Whisk together the oyster sauce, sesame oil, sherry, soy sauce, sugar and cornstarch in a bowl, and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Place the steak pieces into a shallow bowl, pour the oyster sauce mixture over the meat, stir to coat well, and marinate for at least 30 minutes in refrigerator.

Heat vegetable oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat, and stir in the ginger and garlic. Let them sizzle in the hot oil for about 1 minute to flavor the oil, then remove and discard. Stir in the broccoli, and toss and stir in the hot oil until bright green and almost tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove the broccoli from the wok, and set aside.

Pour a little more oil into the wok, if needed, and stir and toss the beef with the marinade until the sauce forms a glaze on the beef and the meat is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Return the cooked broccoli to the wok, and stir until the meat and broccoli are heated through, about 3 minutes.

My hotel stays usually take me out of town. Not so for my most recent one. Over the holidays, my husband and I boarded the Delta Queen for a night out. The historic boat's rooms are quite romantic, and the views of the river are even better. It was a chance for us to experience our beautiful city for a 24-hour period from a new vantage point.

Going to sleep looking out over downtown with the bridges overhead was breathtaking. When I opened my eyes the next morning, the fog had overtaken the river, and downtown lights were barely visible. It was simply breathtaking. I developed a new appreciation for the Scenic City.

This is something I would definitely recommend you do. Other people onboard were visiting Chattanooga and thought it was interesting that we were locals. Several remarked that our fondness for the city gave them favorable opinions as well. One woman with whom I played cards in one of several common areas called me a good ambassador for the town.

If you're looking for a good place to take your Valentine, now's the time to book a room. I recommend asking for one that overlooks the river. Check it out at

Email Anne Braly at