Celebrated chef Kylie Kwong says one of the things she loves most about Chinese cooking is that you can achieve stunning results using the simplest of ingredients.
Kylie Kwong, who is the owner of Billy Kwong restaurant in Sydney, has recently released the book Simple Chinese Cooking Class, featuring 130 new recipes and step-by-step guides to techniques.
She takes a break from her busy schedule to share her top tips for simple Chinese cooking.
In your latest book, you say you want to demystify Chinese cooking. Do you think it is a cuisine many, especially home cooks, are still trying to grasp?
Although people have become much more adventurous when eating Chinese food in restaurants, keen to try different ingredients and regional cuisines, it seems that many people are hesitant about cooking Chinese dishes at home.
When I talk to them about this, they're worried that the ingredients are too exotic or the techniques too difficult.
I wrote Simple Chinese Cooking to try to address these concerns by presenting simple recipes using everyday ingredients.
It seemed to really strike a chord as people discovered how easy it was to produce delicious Chinese meals for their family and friends. With Simple Chinese Cooking Class I want to offer more of the same - simple, authentic Chinese recipes using the best-quality fresh produce - but I also want to encourage people to take the next step, by introducing them to some exciting new ingredients and techniques.
You tackle classic techniques in the book, one of which is tea-smoking. What does this involve and for what type of dish would a home cook use this technique?
Based on a traditional Chinese method, this involves cooking food over a smoking mixture of tea leaves, sugar and rice in a wok.
It adds an exotic and complex flavour to all kinds of seafood, poultry and meat.
Oysters, which I use to demonstrate the technique in my book, are a good way to start, and are delicious eaten on their own as a snack or added to stir-fries.
Tea-smoking also gives fillets of oily fish a beautiful caramelised, smoky taste. Try flaking tea-smoked salmon or ocean trout into salads.
What are your tricks to cooking a juicy duck?
The most important thing is to start with a really good quality, free-range duck. At Billy Kwong, we marinate and then gently steam the duck for tenderness before deep-frying it to get that crispy skin we all love.
If you're cooking duck at home, roasting is often a more practical option.
In my new book, I've included a recipe for Chinese roasted duck. With this, the secret to juicy meat is allowing the duck to rest for 15 minutes after cooking, so the flesh relaxes and becomes tender.
What is your favourite recipe in this book?
One of the things I love most about Chinese cooking is that you can achieve the most stunning results using the simplest of ingredients, such as deep-fried soft-boiled eggs with iceberg lettuce and chilli salt.
I also love the clean, contemporary flavours of the sashimi of snapper with chilli-lime dressing - I could happily eat sashimi every day of my life.
What recipes would a complete novice to Chinese cooking be best to attempt first?
Braised chicken wings with fresh pineapple has been a Kwong family favourite for years, and is easy to get on the table after work. If you have a little more time to spend in the kitchen, braised chicken drumsticks with black bean and chilli is a great meal-in-one with a bowl of steamed rice and some greens.
I've also included some really simple recipes for omelettes and fried rice - it's Chinese comfort food.
Can you explain what you mean by "investment cooking" and give some examples?
What I'm talking about are those little extras that can be made in advance and then stashed away - having a few homemade sauces and pickles in your fridge is like having money in the bank.
Some time spent in the kitchen at the weekend or when you have a quiet evening can make supper on busy weeknights or an impromptu dinner for friends so much easier - and tastier.
That's why I've included a whole chapter on sauces and salts.
Here you'll find some of the staples of the Chinese kitchen, such as spring onion-ginger sauce, sweet chilli sauce and the famous XO sauce, an intensely-flavoured garlic and chilli paste that can transform anything from scallops to fried rice with its layers of flavour and complexity.
Another classic is braised Chinese mushrooms. With a batch of these on hand, you have the makings of at least another eight simple Chinese recipes in this book, from stir-fried vegetables or lamb to steamed fish fillets.
What are the staples every Chinese kitchen should be stocked with?
Rice, of course, the classic aromatics of garlic, ginger and spring onions, and some good-quality naturally fermented soy sauce.
Shao hsing rice wine is handy too, and remarkably inexpensive to buy, although for most dishes you can use dry sherry instead, as many traditional Chinese cooks do, my mum among them.
All of these are generally available at any supermarket but do explore the shelves of your local Chinese supermarket or grocer, where you will discover a whole new world of flavours.
There's no need to fill your cupboard with endless bottles of half-used sauces and condiments, but the addition of, say, salted black beans or lup cheong sausage to a stir-fry or some Asian mushrooms to a soup will add a new dimension of taste and texture that will lift your cooking from the simple to the sublime.
* Simple Chinese Cooking Class by Kylie Kwong (Lantern $70) is distributed in New Zealand by Penguin Books.