From My Wok to Yours - Taking the Mystery Out of Everyday Dining and Meals!!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Christmas Feasting...Christmas Meal Plans - Do You Have One?

What are we having for our Family Christmas Gathering this year?  My wife's uncle asked me if I wanted to do some sort of seafood (fish or shrimp) dish, to which I replied "Abso-frickin-lutely."  I am a HUGE fan of seafood, and I don't believe that anyone could ever go wrong with it. 

I was trying to think of what kind of Asian inspired dish I could come up with, and I remembered that I actually cooked for the masses a few years ago, doing massive portions of Kung Pao Shrimp, Broccoli Beef, and Teriyaki Chicken.  (I had to come up with menu selections that would not scare away the novice Chineses Food eaters.)  It was a true challenge, given that the preparation for 25 people worth of food was done within the confines of a small kitchen, and the cooking was done with a large gas powered wok, OUTSIDE.

I often marvel at how easy cooking a great tasting Chinese food meal truly is.  When one goes to a restaurant and orders from a menu, there is often a great mystery surrounding the overall preparation and procedure involved with creating an elaborate dish that paying guests will want to eat.  Thankfully, with the help of my mentor, the mystery is gone.  But with the unknown out of the picture comes a downfall: I now have a hightened sense of taste.  Gone is the belief that "It all tastes the same."

Welcome to the world where a poorer grade of cornstarch can REALLY make a difference.  Have you ever had a meal where the sauce tastes gritty? or chalky?  Usually that is a result of not cooking the cornstarch fully, and as a result, it does not bind to the fluids in the sauce.  Best Practice?  For larger portions, if you are cooking for a large group, take equal parts of water and corn starch (I recommend 1 cup water to 1 cup cornstarch) and mix very well.  Do not allow the corn starch to settle to the bottom of your container.  After the solution has been mixed to your satisfaction, cook about 1/4 of your solution on medium heat by bringing about 1 cup of water to a boil, then adding the cornstarch mixture slowly, stirring (preferably with a whisk) constantly and quickly.  The solution will start to clarify and lighten.  (Be aware that once it starts to clarify, because it is a sugar based product, it will burn, so attention to this detail is extremely important.)  After your mix is evenly cooked and somewhat translucent, CAREFULLY pour the cooked cornstarch into the container with the uncooked mix, mixing while you pour.  The end result? A thicker blend of cooked cornstarch that will bind your sauce together and create a shiny glaze to your food.

From a culinary standpoint, all cornstarch sold at the grocery store is the same. However, from an experience standpoint, there are some subtle differencse in processing, that create minor differences in the end result, but I have yet to encounter cornstarch that isn't flavorless or that works any better as a binding agent than any other.

I ordinarily buy the cheapest cornstarch available, which on any given day is usually, by one and a half to three cents per ounce, the store brand. They are usually comparable in quality when cooking meals that are not highly dependant on sublteties such as graininess or grittiness.  But when trying to create a meal that is supposed to be visually appealing, with clear or colored sauces?  I have found the only one that works the best is Argo Cornstarch.

While I am not sure that I will have a practical application for corn starch this Christmas season, I may be able to slip it into some sort of sauce that is made, if we do end up making some sort of seafood or fish dish that requires a smooth sauce or gravy.  (If I am asked to make Shrimp Scampi, I will forgo the corn starch.)

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1 comment:

  1. Colin, what a mouth-watering article.
    I like the idea of having Chinese for Christmas; my husband wants conventional, so I think I'll do a roast, and make a stir fry tonight.
    I've experienced the chalky cornstarch taste.
    How true that you can't really mess up a stir fry. I love mirin, oj,5-spice, sweet chili sauce added to the mix.

    Have a great Christmas, Colin!