How To Make Chinese Appetizers?
So appetizers are one of those concepts that are kind of tough to translate between cultures.
Italian Antipasto is different from Korean Bonchon which is in turn different from the American massive plate of shared fried stuff.
To us, there are two different Chinese concepts that could be thought of as appetizers: first, in a traditional Chinese banquet, there’s lengpan cold dishes which would include something like Cantonese white cut chicken, or drunken crab up in the Shanghai region, that kind of thing.
Then there’s kaiweicai, which you can see served in one form or another at almost every Chinese restaurant these are basically just a small bowl or two of little snacks you can munch on along with tea or beer before the meal starts.
How To Make Chinese Appetizers?
So, we wanted to show you how to make those snacks.
These can be different in different regions, but some of the most common would be some sort of fried peanut or peas, one of the multitudes of Chinese pickles, which we’ll show you with some quick-pickled daikon, or a liangban cold dish, which we’ll show with mu’er wood ear mushroom but.
Also give you a recipe for an all-purpose liangban sauce that you can top over pretty much anything.
That said if you did come here looking for something that would fit as a larger American-style appetizer, honestly feel free to use basically like any Chinese dish.
Because most Chinese food’s meant to be shared if you look at recipes online tons of Chinese dishes that decidedly aren’t
appetizers here tend to be categorized and tagged as appetizers, so go nuts.
But today, we wanted to focus on stuff that was actually true Chinese kaiwaixiaocai.
First up, liangban cold dishes.
We’ll be using mu’er wood ear mushrooms for this, but know that you could really use whatever vegetable you want – smashed cucumber, slices of kelp… so totally get creative.
This dish relies on this sauce, which is an all-purpose liangban sauce.
It can be made well in advance, so let’s start there.
At its core, this sauce is four parts light slight sauce, so here four tablespoons, two parts or two tablespoons dark Chinese vinegar,
one part oyster sauce, one part sugar, and two tablespoons worth, or about four cloves of garlic, finely minced.
We’ll also be tossing in one fresh Heaven-facing chili, sliced into half-centimeter pieces, and feel free to sub in Thai bird’s eye and also about two springs of cilantro.
We’ll be using half of that in the sauce and eyeball the remaining quantity to top off the final dish.
So just mix together the soy sauce, vinegar, and the oyster sauce then mix in that tablespoon of sugar and season with a quarter teaspoon salt and an optional but recommended sprinkle of MSG.
Then toss in the garlic, the chili, and half of your chopped cilantro top it off with half a tablespoon of toasted sesame oil mix well, and that’s it.
Wrap it up, toss it in the fridge and use it anytime in the next couple of days.
Now we’ll be mixing that with 30 grams of mu’er wood ear mushrooms which’s one of my personal favorites for liangban dishes.
This stuff is almost always sold dried, either loose like this or compressed in a tiny little box.
So reconstitute those with cool water, you can get away with soaking those for as little as 30 minutes but they’ll end up fluffier
if you go for longer, so we went three hours in all.
After that time, thoroughly rinse your mushrooms.
Now, depending on how large your mu’er is you might want to rip the mu’er into more bite-sized pieces.
Most of ours were basically bite-size as is, but you do want to check for some larger pieces like this and tear them once or twice.
Then, to a pot of boiling water, toss in the mushrooms.
Blanch those for three minutes, then transfer them over to a bowl of cool water to stop the cooking process.
Now we’ll be refrigerating this, but the timing’ll be totally up to you – I personally like my liangban dishes quite cool so I would
keep it in there for at least three hours.
But you could go as little as 15 minutes or at the other extreme up to a day so drain that, and toss in the fridge.
Assembly then is as easy as you think it would be, but obviously, if you’re using this sauce for some other vegetable you’ll need to
eyeball it and see what feels right.
Generally speaking, you’ll want enough so there’s a slight pool of sauce at the bottom of the bowl, and usually, it’s better to add too much than too little.
So then just sprinkle on some more of your chopped cilantro for extra soapiness and your liangban mu’er is done.
So right, fried peanuts.
If you did a comprehensive survey of restaurants in China I’d probably guess the most common appetizer would be either these guys or fried peas.
The fried peas are generally purchased in bagged form.
I really did want to figure out how to make these from scratch for you but unfortunately, there’s not a lot of information out there
because again, restaurants usually just purchase the bag.
The fried peanuts might seem less interesting at first blush but the technique that’s used is really quite cool.
Those peanuts rely on some seasoned salt though,so, let’s start there.
So toss two tablespoons of salt to a pan and heat that up over a medium flame.
We want the salt to be hot enough that it’d be uncomfortable to touch so still not hot enough yet but about two minutes ended
up doing the trick on our stove.
Then shut off the heat and add in a teaspoon of five spice powder.
Quick mix, then take it out.
For the peanuts then.
I see a lot of people soak these in hot water first, but they really don’t need it.
The key is to start the peanuts in a cool wok with cool oil.
You want enough oil that it’ll submerge the peanuts, so for our 250 grams of peanuts that were a touch over a cup of oil for this
Now swap the flame to a low heat and let that slowly come up to temperature.
At first, this won’t need too much maintenance just stir every three or four minutes to make sure none of the peanuts are scorching at the bottom.
Then, after about ten minutes or so, you should see a more hefty bubbling from the peanuts, which means that the oil’s up over 100 Celcius and that the peanuts are expelling their moisture.
At this point try to be a bit more active here keep a watchful eye, slowly stir more or less constantly, and after a few minutes
start to taste them.
The peanut’ll still be soft, you’re just looking for something that tastes ‘cooked’.
Getting there took about eight minutes more with this batch, so transfer those over to an oven sheet and spread those out.
Sprinkle over some of your seasoned salt – apologies that we won’t be using up all of that, it’s just really awkward to make small batches of the stuff and let it sit until crunchy and cooled down completely.
So then just transfer over to a bowl, ideally more elegantly than I did, and you’ve got yourself some fried peanuts just like they
make at the restaurants.
Now before we get started we didn’t want this to be our pickle video.
See, most pickles in China are the lacto-fermented sort you toss some vegetables in a big jar like this and let them ferment over weeks or even months.
We will get to that eventually, but in the meantime wanted to show you a quick 24 to 48-hour pickle and I’ll leave some links
to the lacto-fermented sort down in the description box.
We do quite like this Cantonese pickle though it’s completely dead easy, and makes for a great kaiweixiaocai.
So, we’ll be using half of a Daikon for this.
So first peel your Daikon, then slice that hot dog style and cut them into half-centimeter semi-circles like so.
Now, you could stop there, but to let the pickling juice infuse into them better, make little cuts into the daikon, slice that in
half, then continue with the rest.
This cut is called comb-shape in Chinese cooking and another benefit is that it looks like it takes way more impressive knife skills
than it actually does.
So then just toss those in a bowl and sprinkle them over about a half teaspoon of salt.
This process purge some of the excess moisture just like it does coleslaw, and it’ll also remove some of the harsh raw taste of
So let that sit for five minutes, and after time you should see a little puddle of water in the bottom of the bowl.
Then transfer over to a strainer, thoroughly wash the salt off, then spread that all in one even-ish layer.
Let that dry for at least two hours.
Now for the pickling liquid.
To a box first add in 250 grams of sugar and dissolve that with 250 grams of distilled water.
This is going to feel like a lot of sugar, but the type of quick pickle we’re making is actually a sweet and sour sort.
Mix until dissolved, then add in 50 grams of dark Chinese vinegar, 50 grams of rice vinegar,40 grams of light soy sauce, 30 grams of dark soy sauce for color, and an optional but recommended teaspoon of fish sauce which does make a rare cameo in Southern Chinese cooking.
Then toss in about two cloves worth of minced garlic, an inch and a half of minced ginger, and an optional but recommended one fresh heaven facing or Thai bird’s eye chili.
So once your daikon slices are dry on the surface, toss them in the pickling liquid and leave them in the fridge for 24 hours.
To get a sense of what they’ll look like, this was a batch from yesterday – they’ll obviously deepened in color and taken most
of the flavor of the liquid.
So with that, just toss in a bowl and serve whether as a snack, or of course, as an appetizer.
So what we did in the video is restaurant appetizers.
Like many families in the West, Chinese families often don’t have appetizers.
Mine doesn’t, but some of my friends from Jiangnan, Shanghai, and Nanjing region will have boiled Peanut and Edamame to munch before and during the meal.
We also see people pickles lying around, so this totally just depends on the family or the restaurant.
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