Why Doesn't My Chinese Food Taste Like The Restaurants?

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I follow recipes online to a t, yet I still don't get the similar taste that a restaurant delivers; even cheap Chinese takeout.

What is the secret? There must be something I'm missing...
 
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1) Ingredients

2) Equipment

3) Technique

Online recipes are mostly crap.  It can be easy or it can be good.   The best book I've read is this one   That author also has a very good blog.  Another blog I found useful being new at wok and rolling - http://thewoksoflife.com/

Stock up on these things and you are well on your way:

-wok

-outdoor wok burner

-20 lb propane tank

- metal wok spatula

Pantry

-dark soy sauce

- light soy sauce

-shaoxing wine

-ginger

-garlic

-dry chilies

-dry shiitake mushrooms

-peanut oil

-sichuan peppercorns

Other stuff get as the dishes require
 
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Definitely get corn starch and rice flour.   I've been using potato starch lately with success too. 

Water blanching and oil blanching,  steaming, frying, stir frying.  They are techniques you probably don't use as much in other cuisines.   Learn the basics and when to use them.
 

phatch

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Most home stoves don't have the heat output needed so you have to cook in small batches. That's one of the most common problems. 

The second problem is not doing the mise en place. Have everything cut, measured, marinated and ready to go. 

You should add oyster sauce to your condiment list as well. 

Most chinese restaurants in the US cook an Americanized style of cuisine that is much heavier on the sauces as well as sugar and salt compared to how the food is more traditionally cooked.  MillionsKnives mentioned oil and water blanching. Most everything in the chinese restaurant will have been par cooked to some degree. The brocolli will have been water blanched. Most protiens will have been passed through oil--that's what it's called. This is a low temp deep fry, about 250 degrees temp.  Take a look at http://www.cheftalk.com/t/72818/wonderful-technique-videos-thread/60#post_488718 for an example of how a pro kitchen can sneak in the passing through oil step.

And the  other thing people never think about when trying to cook Chinese food at home is that you don't have the kitchen to pull off multiple simultaneous stir fried dishes. A home cooked Chinese menu will need to combine multiple methods of cooking to bring the dishes to table at the same time. A soup, a cold dish, a steamed dish, a braised dish, and a stir fried dish...   And do make soup. It's a very traditional part of the Chinese meal. 
 
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kuan

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Staff member
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Hot wok, save your oil.

Those two things will get you close.
 

cerise

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I follow recipes online to a t, yet I still don't get the similar taste that a restaurant delivers; even cheap Chinese takeout.

What is the secret? There must be something I'm missing...

Welcome to ChefTalk.

"Chinese food" is a pretty broad term,. Most restaurants I have experienced in the last decade or so on the west coast, tend to serve somewhat Americanized versions of the same dishes. I prefer the flavors and dishes of Mandarin cuisine. You might seek out cookbooks that focus on authentic dishes you want to replicate from a specific region.

ETA - I was waiting for my to-go moo shoo dish at a local "Chinese" restaurant. The kitchen door was open, and I saw them open a package of Mexican tortillas.

If you have a 99 ranch market nearby, or are close to ethnic markets, shop for ingredients there.
 
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Like said above, American restaurant Chinese food is a beast all until itself. The equipment and techniques used are very adapted to it and it is hard to duplicate in a home kitchen.
I am friends with a family here in Sweden that is from China and I can honestly say that every thing I have ever eaten at their home has tasted and looked nothing like any restaurant Chinese food I have eaten. I even got a WTF look and chuckle from them when I did general tso's chicken for my 17 year old daughter's birthday last year ( tradition now) and they came for the party.
 
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I used to do Hot Wok demo stir-fry in my dining room for lunch ounce a week. I did from 80 to 100 orders over a 2 hr period working 3 woks at a time. The customers loved it,but, I really never thought it was as good as in Chinese restaurants. I'm really don't think recipes do justice to real Chinese ways of cooking. It's the same with Indian cooking, when cooks from India combine spices it's different than we would do at home. I think we maybe able to come close, I don't think we can hit it out of the park. I think if you really want the right way of doing things you need to be trained by people who know.
 
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Joined Apr 25, 2011
I used to do Hot Wok demo stir-fry in my dining room for lunch ounce a week. I did from 80 to 100 orders over a 2 hr period working 3 woks at a time. The customers loved it,but, I really never thought it was as good as in Chinese restaurants. I'm really don't think recipes do justice to real Chinese ways of cooking. It's the same with Indian cooking, when cooks from India combine spices it's different than we would do at home. I think we maybe able to come close, I don't think we can hit it out of the park. I think if you really want the right way of doing things you need to be trained by people who know.

Aside from dishes that require really obscure ingredients that even specialty stores don't carry, I think that it is possible to "hit it out of the park" if enough attention, repetition, and recipe tweaking is involved. I am almost always able to near exact duplicate anything I have eaten. Some take me longer to master than others, but I am very stubborn and cheap. Those two attributes go a long way in recreating an item. I like to eat top quality, but have a fast casual budget. Bonus, I get to have an extra cocktail or two with supper and don't have to worry about driving home :D
 
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lately every time I have had Chinese food is been pretty bad, not like it used to be. Only thing I miss is you can't buy a good egg roll out side if a Asian restaurant, all store brands have some kind of bad tasting sauce in them.  
 
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Yeah Americanized chinese food is a different thing for sure.   I recently saw this documentary "The Search for General Tso"  and that chicken dish is like kind of Hunan province but with more sugar.  Every americanized dish has way too much sugar.

Interesting tangent:  here in Boston, the Joyce Chen empire had a huge effect.  Pretty much every restaurant has exactly 10 appetizers and #4 is always peking ravioli (what we call the pan fried dumpling in boston).
 
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Yeah Americanized chinese food is a different thing for sure.   I recently saw this documentary "The Search for General Tso"  and that chicken dish is like kind of Hunan province but with more sugar.  

I watched and enjoyed that documentary very much. It is always been a hobby of mine to make authentic and americanized versions side by side and compare. There are definitely things that make it "Americanized" (read sugar) but harder to agree on authentic
 
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Almost every Chinese restaurant (Americanized) I've been to has been overpoweringly over-salted/over-soy sauced, too.

I'd also add white pepper powder, scallion, and possibly star anise to the list of 'should-haves' as well. And I'll echo the wok and high heat too. That's one thing that is commonly lacking in home kitchens. And just in case it's in the recipes for some reason, I'd stay away from using olive oil for stir fry. Seems like the smoke point is a bit on the low side.
 
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So True!  When I first joined this site, I started a thread about MSG and at the time believed it to be a horrible product and very bad for us.  After reading through the material presented to me from other posters on the site, I came to the conclusion that it is not only not that bad, but does help to create a pretty flavorful dish.  I don't use it all the time, but I no longer avoid it like the plague.
 
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Fermented and/or dried shrimp, and the almighty sesame oil, toasted or not, should be added the ingredient list. 

MSG is certainly a biggie. 
 
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... as well as knowing how/when to use the various soybean pastes.
 
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I was waiting for someone to say it and finally... So true... It's MSG. And maybe a well seasoned wok. You just cannot develop that kind deep flavor in such short time span without relying on a short cut. 
 

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