BEGINNERS GUIDE TO COOKING ASIAN FOOD & WHERE TO START!

white riceHello again!

So I wanted to start off with saying thank you so much for all of the love and support shown not only to Shauna LeAnn Blogs as a whole, but my recipes! I have really been enjoying listening to your comments that you have sent me and it means the world to me that you have been loving my dishes! I would love to hear from you on my blog so send me those pictures and leave comments! I want to hear it all from you, so let’s connect. 

So today’s post I wanted to talk about Asian food in specifics. Asian food is vast, very culturally specific, and it is daunting to those who have never cooked it before. I have had a few requests asking to go into specifics about Asian cooking, so today we are going to be talking about Asian cooking in the sense as though one has never attempted to cook this delectable cuisine. I will be sharing with you some tips and tricks I have learned to help guide you into becoming the best that you can be at cooking Asian cuisine. By the end of this post you should have a little better sense of who you are, what cultural cuisine you tend to aim towards more, as well as have a general starting guidance to help you perfect any dishes going forwards.

I want to be honest with you, when learning any cuisine… it will take time. Whether this is a few weeks, a few months, or a few years… everyone works at their own pace. I have worked in the food industry for a bit over a decade and I am continuously learning [even failing]. No body is perfect and I want you to know that while you may at times become frustrated because a dish may not of turned out the way you like, practice will make perfection. I believe in you and your ability to learn and to have the passion to cook. It’s one of the greatest passions there is!

[I may be a little biased here…but I really love food!]

Let’s talk about what you will be learning here. There are so many things that I could talk about when cooking Asian food, however since this is a beginner’s guide I will keep it real simple. Here is what I will be talking to you about today:

Your Passion, Your Spark, Your Drive
Asian Cuisine – Where to Start & Which Culture Moves You
Beginner Basics – Tools
Beginners Tips & Tricks When Cooking

As always if you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave them below, as I always love hearing from you! I hope that this guide will be able to help you on your journey to home cooked Asian food. Let’s get into it!

Your passion, your spark, your drive:

I am a true believer that before anyone can begin to cook, it is essential that you know why you are cooking. This goes for learning to cook as well. So before we dive any deeper, let’s take a moment to rediscover ourselves. Ask yourself, what is the main reason that I am wanting to learn/cook Asian food? It is because you love eating it? Is it because you love and appreciate the culture and you wish to experience it a little bit more on a personal level? Are you wanting to learn to cook for yourself, your friends, you significant other, or your family? Is there someone you want to impress or make an impression with? Regardless of your reasoning, simply take a moment to ask yourself these questions.

Here is why.

Knowing the reason that you are interested in cooking, results in knowing the passion behind your drive. It will be the main thing that motivates you time and time again when learning to cook. One reason is no better than the other. What drives you, motivates you, and moves you is specifically your reason and no one else. Cherish that and trust me in the end it will make you a more seasoned cook.

Asian Cuisine – Where to Start & Which Culture Moves You:

Asian cuisine is very vast. You have everything ranging from Japanese food, to Chinese food, from Korean food, to Thai food, and that is to just name a few! Each section of Asia, each culture… has different climates, different flora and fauna, and different traditions.

A great place to start here is to figure out which dishes are your favorites and go from there. Do you like to order Chinese food when you are out? Do you stop in at a small sushi restaurant? Thai restaurant? Korean Bistro? While I would say most of us truly enjoy eating a variety of different Asian cuisines, by knowing which one or which dish is your favorite will help you stay focused.

If you are not quite sure where to start or what cuisine to start with, below is a short summary of Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai to help.

Japanese:
Think: Sushi, Japanese Curry, Ramen, or Katsudon.
Japanese cooking is all about great flavor and beautiful clean preparations. The Japanese take great pride in their cooking and they take the steps to ensure that their food is at the best quality that it can be. Traditional Japanese food is not spicy vs other Asian cuisines. A lot off their dishes are comprised of chicken, pork or seafood, while their beef is prized [and expensive!] Japanese cooking can be slow to create at times, as they take steps [such as skimming and soaking] to create dishes. If you are looking for a cuisine that isn’t spicy, and you can be proud of the efforts spent then give Japanese cooking a shot!

Chinese[Americanized]:
Think: General Tso, Kung Pao Chicken, Sweet & Sour Pork, or Beef & Broccoli
Dishes we all know and love, growing up oftentimes Chinese food would be a great option away from pizza as they were the only other restaurant that would deliver to your home. While traditional Chinese is rare to find in the U.S. in some areas, Americanized Chinese food is everywhere. The difference is actually quite large. If you are interested I would suggest dining at an authentic restaurant, reading books, or if possible, exploring China.  Often times cooked in a wok with a plethora of vegetables and meats and sauce, Chinese food ranges from sweet, to savory, to spicy. There is a little bit of something for everyone with Chinese food.

Thai:
Think: Pad Thai, Tom Gha Kai, Chicken Khao Soi, or Thai Wings
Thai food is probably mine and my husband’s current favorite. The reason why? The spice! Thai food is FULL of flavors and spices galore! One dish has the ability to be sweet, savory, salty, bitter, and spicy. The spiciness[hotness] of Thai cooking is usually what draws a lot of people in. Unlike Japanese curries that are traditionally on the sweeter side, Thai curries are spicy! Often made as either red or green[depending on the chilis], each one has loads of flavor! If you are a fan of spicy food, give Thai food a try. Our local restaurant creates a cashew chicken dish that is delicious, however to save money for our household I recreated it! You can try the recipe here.

Korean:
Think: Bibimbap, Bulgogi, Kimchi, or Ddukbokki
Korean food is another contender in the world of spicy Asian cuisine! Kimchi is well known in the Korean world for it’s spice. My husband and I had the pleasure to try Ddukbokki [spicy rice cakes] and we fell in love! They are crispy and crunchy on the outside and sticky and chewy in the middle. They are cooked in a very spicy chili sauce that is fantastic! Korean food is about packing as much punch into their dishes as they can with textures, flavors, spices, and hot spice. Also Korean cuisine is known for serving meals with many different sides. [It’s almost like a little buffet!] If you have never had Korean food, definitely look for a restaurant to give the cuisine a try first! Unless living in a big city, sometimes Korean ingredients are hard to find and can be expensive in terms of shipping [due to items needing to stay cold.]

Regardless of which cuisine you want to try, take your time. Try a few dishes at a restaurant that you may want to recreate. Do your research. Look for recipes with good reviews or look authentically good. I would say in the beginning avoid buying cookbooks until you have built up your taste to dishes. Buying a $20.00 cookbook only to find out you like only two recipes from is quite a let down and a waste of perfectly good money!


Beginner Basics – Tools:

I am going to keep this simple for you. There are only three tools that I want to suggest to you in the beginning. These tools are not only needed [if you cook asian food often,] but they are fun too!

1] A Rice Cooker! If you will be cooking Asian food often or even semi often, a rice cooker is an absolute must! It is a lifesaver as well! While you are working on chopping vegetables, prepping meat, or working on cooking your dish you simply toss the rice in the cooker, washed with water and let it do it’s own thing. Rice cookers now a days allow you to also be versatile and cook rice a variety of ways. There are settings for making sushi rice, regular, brown rice, quick cook, porridge. It is actually pretty awesome! Be sure to do your research when deciding which rice cooker would best fit your needs. This is the rice cooker I currently own, and it has been great! Click here to see. [It even sings to you hah!]

2] A Wok! Another must have necessity with Asian cooking, a wok. The shape of a wok and cooking methods ensure you end up with a dish that has a variety of textures! Meant to be cooked in quickly… to ensure that vegetables stay crisp, a wok is a tool that does indeed require oneself to practice. There are many sizes and many types of metal, however fear not! I have a blog post I had written a little ways back to help you on your way to understanding woks! Click here for the blog post. You do not have to spend much on a wok. A standard carbon steal wok is both affordable and long lasting. I would honestly say that you cannot cook asian food without one and get the same results. [dumplings, gyoza, etc don’t count when I say this hehe.]

3] Chopsticks! While chopsticks may not be necessary they are fun! They are a staple in their country of origin, once you master the chopsticks you can eat anything with them! You can be a savvy saver by buying the 6 count basic bamboo chopsticks that you oftentimes find in the Asian/Ethnic aisle of the grocery store, patterned ones sold at Asian grocers, or you can invest in a really nice pair. [I was gifted pearl chopsticks growing up.] To find a very beautiful and unique pair of chopsticks, I would highly suggest heading over to Etsy and type “chopsticks” into the search field. If you know someone who loves eating Asian food with chopsticks, they would make a great gift!


Beginners Tips & Tricks When Cooking:

Lastly, here are just a few tips when working with Asian food to help you along your journey.

  • Prep everything ahead of time: Cut your meat, chop your vegetables, season what needs it, and make your sauce. By prepping everything ahead of time, you will have everything more organized and ready to go. Once items have been prepped, they also can be moved closer to the stovetop or where you will be cooking. Asian food often times requires a quick hand to avoid vegetables going soggy or becoming burnt, so it makes things easier to have everything right next to you.
  • Read the recipe ahead of time: As stated right above, oftentimes Asian cooking requires you to cook quick[stir fry]. Be sure to read your recipe ahead of time, even a few times to have a good understanding of the steps you will need to take. This will keep dishes from burning, smoking, or becoming soggy.
  • Understand your wok: Every wok is different. There are different sizes, different ways to cook with the types of metal. You can cook on high heat with a non stick, but you cannot with a stainless steel. Take a few to learn your wok and how to cook your dish in it. It will take practice, but the results will be well worth it! I also want to mention that the bigger the wok the more air space you will need to cook! There is lots of frying, steaming, and sizzling involved. Unless you have a range powerful enough and arranged to push kitchen fumes outside I personally wouldn’t go larger then a 14 Inch. Also be leery with small animals such as birds or fish in open rooms connected to the kitchen. The fumes are not good for them therefore I recommend removing them[to another room] until cooking has been completed and settled for a bit.
  • Be quick! Woks can be finicky… one minute your dish isn’t quite done and the next minute it is burnt to hell. Make sure you have everything close at hand, you know the recipe, and you have no distractions when you are cooking. I want to mention that while you have to be quick, you still want to make sure you aren’t rushing certain aspects! Make sure you are cooking your meats adequately and thoroughly through. The main part you need to worry about are sauces that contain sugar. At high heat sugar with caramelize. If a sauce is cooking at high heat without constant stirring, the end result could be a sticky, burnt, gooey mess that not only leaves you with a ruined dish, but some pans can be ruined as well.
  • Asian food CAN be gluten free! This is what excites me right here! I have had a few people mention to me about how asian food is not gluten free and that they cannot have it, but here is the beautiful thing! While you may not be able to have it in a restaurant, you certainly can have it at home! More then ever, companies are creating asian sauces gluten free! This is a huge step forwards for those who love making asian dishes but cannot have it outside of their home! Companies like Lee Kum Kee, San-J, and Kikkoman all sell a range of gluten free products. Just click on the names of each brand I just mentioned to see what selections they have for you!
  • Have fun with the process: Cooking can be stressful, but it should be fun! Make sure that you are enjoying the cooking process because when you cook while stressed, it just doesn’t taste as good. You know the saying, “Homemade is the best because it is cooked with love. Pick a dish that you like. Choose vegetables and meats that you enjoy cooking. Turn on some music that you love to get you in an upbeat spirit!

And… with that we have made it to the end! You now know a little bit more about yourself, what drives you to cook Asian food as well as what kind of Asian food you would like to cook. I mentioned the top 3 tools that I think are what every person who cooks Asian food needs to have, as well as some tips and tricks to make your adventure into Asian cuisine more manageable, simplistic, and less intimidating.

I hope that you were able to get something from this to help you on your journey. In the future I would love to do an intermediate guide for you all that would include things like more focused and specialized tools, specific techniques in cooking, an overview of spices and needed ingredients, etc. Be sure to leave me a comment down below and tell me what you would like to learn. How did this guide help you today? What questions would you like answered and what recipes would you like to learn? I would love to chat with you and help you in any way that I can!

Until next time, take care.

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