It’s a known fact that having the right tools for a job is essential to getting that job done well. Authentic Asian cookery is so much easier with the right tools, so to encourage you in your Chinese cooking adventures I’ve put together a list of equipment to get you on the road to success.
I use all of these things in my kitchen, and the great thing about them is they are all inexpensive and easy to acquire.
The first utensil that comes to mind when thinking of Asian cooking is a wok, and you will never feel like you are an authentic Chinese cook without one!
Woks are made to withstand the high heat required to stir fry effectively, so if you are serious about delicious tasting Asian food, get yourself a good iron wok. I use my wok almost every day to make Yangzhou Fried Rice, Spicy Sichuan Chicken, etc.
If looked after properly, woks only get better as they age. A well-seasoned wok gives an edge of unique flavor to food that is not possible with other pans.
In my article The Ultimate Guide to Caring for the Wok, I examine all the features of a wok and how to maintain one.
Wok Spatula Shovel
A wok spatula’s sharp flat surface is perfect for stir frying as it cuts between the curved wok surface and the food without bruising or damaging it.
The aim is to toss large amounts of stir fried food so that it is not sitting too long on the hot surface, causing them to stick. It’s especially good for rice and scooping up smaller foods. A wok spatula allows for speed and effective stir frying. It’s curved up edges makes it different from an ordinary spatula or egg flipper, and means it can hold the food without it slipping off the edge, a little like a spoon.
You won’t know what you did without one once you start using it. If you are a novice at stir frying, this tool will speed up your skills. The worst thing about cooking a stir fry is having all the yummies sticking to the bottom, and compromising the final flavors. But with this little wonder, you will soon become a proficient stir fryer!
Ever tried to scrub your wok with a plastic dish brush? Throw that thing away! A bamboo wok brush is hardy and tough enough to get your wok properly clean without having to use detergents, and won’t ruin the patina on your seasoned wok.
It’s also larger than a standard dish brush, so it gets the job done quicker. A wok brush is the best cleaning tool for baked on food such as cheese, egg, and sticky sauces, and will last you a lot longer than any dish brush or scourer.
Bamboo Scrubber Video
Chicken wire on a stick. That’s how I think of my trusty skimmer/strainer. Seriously, though, the larger holes in this ‘Chinese spider’ drain oil and water much better than those with tiny holes and its shallow shape means you can skim stuff from the bottom of the pan better.
Fine Mesh Strainer
I find I use a fine mesh strainer often, whether it’s just to pull something out of a pan of hot oil, straining spices from chili oil or sauce, sifting flour, or making a fruit coulis. It also makes the best mashed potato (no lumps)!
A finer strainer is better used for fishing food from water than oil as oil tends to ‘hang around’ a little longer on a fine surface. Having a few different sizes is very handy in the kitchen, especially if you have more than one job for a strainer.
Choose a sturdy one that can take a bit of pressure as you will need to press some foods through the mesh.
We all love a good sharp knife and cutting up meat is when we really notice how sharp or not our knife is. A boning knife is designed with flexibility in mind. The curved blade and sharp point make preparing meat easy, especially if you are trimming it from the bone or need to get into difficult to cut spaces.
Butcher’s Knife or Chinese Meat Cleaver
My butcher’s knife /meat cleaver is the knife I use the most because it’s not just the blade that is useful.
The sharp point can peel the skin off a fish, onion or ginger; the flat of the blade can crush garlic; pounding with the back of the blade can tenderize your meat or crack open a coconut; and of course, the blade can cut vegetables paper thin and chop or slice meat. It’s weighty and powerful, yet delicate, making it the most versatile knife in your kitchen. Because it’s large, I also like that I can hang it in my pantry out of harm’s way.
Stir fries are quick to cook, but the preparation can often take longer. Slicing up all those veggies is so much faster with a mandoline. You can slice and julienne to different thicknesses until your heart’s content. I use it to make Chinese Cold Noodles, vegies for dips, coleslaw, and salads, and of course, stir fries.
A mandoline can be a little intimidating, but if you wear a cut resistant glove, and use the guard, you will soon grow to love it.
Cut Resistant Gloves
I’ve had a few stitches in my time, but those moments are few and far between now I have improved my technique. However, it’s great to reduce the risk, and I have a couple of pairs of these cut resistant gloves in my kitchen, which I wish I’d had years ago.
They are four times tougher than leather, will fit either hand and come in different sizes. Use them when chopping, slicing with a mandoline, or grating; also good to use when shelling oysters or other shellfish. Get a small pair for your kids and avoid a visit to ER.
How to Use a Mandoline Video
No Chinese banquet is complete without a clay pot dish. Clay cooking pots have been around for thousands of years, and there’s nothing like the flavor they give to your food. Consider them the Chinese equivalent to a Western clay casserole dish.
You can use them on the stove top and in the oven, and they look pretty on your table – perfect for ‘one pot’ recipes. You can see how to use a clay pot in my Chinese Claypot Street Food recipe.
A Chinese clay pot is also called a ‘sand pot’ and is traditionally glazed on the inside, though may be rough or unfinished on the exterior, and as such needs to be prepared before its first use by soaking it in water for several hours.
How to Season your New Clay Pot
Portable Gas Stove
One of my favorite recent acquisitions is a portable gas camp stove. If you don’t have a barbecue or don’t have room for one, you can take this little beauty outdoors and cook a whole meal or heat something up.
It can be used indoors as well, so it is a good backup if your oven or stove stop working – panic stations around here when that happens! The disposable butane gas bottles are small and simply clip in.
You can use it just like an ordinary gas cooktop. I’ve pulled together some amazing meals with this gadget, and this particular one comes with a non-stick grill plate, so there’s nothing to stop you now.
There is definitely skill in cooking rice well, but let’s face it, you’d rather be cooking something more interesting, right? Having a rice cooker, to be precise, a Japanese rice cooker is a real boon in the kitchen. You don’t need to spend a fortune to get a good basic one, but if you’re willing to spend a bit more, there are features worth paying for such as the Umami setting.
The Umami setting extracts the sugar from the rice into the surrounding water and then reattaches it to the outside of the grain making the rice taste sweeter. It will add a yummy flavor dimension to your rice.
Second only to a wok, a bamboo steamer is an essential tool for Chinese cooking. They are very inexpensive, and you can stack them up to cook large meals or a variety of things in one go, making them very energy efficient and economical. Rice cakes come out perfectly, and these darling soup dumplings are a snap.
Cooking three times faster than conventional methods, a pressure cooker is an excellent time saver. I use it to make large meals, or when I’m in a hurry. A pressure cooker locks in the moisture, raises the cooking temperature and so saves on energy, all while producing the most amazing dinners.
I like a 12-quart stock pot as it allows for evaporation and still makes enough soup for the week. A large stainless-steel pot with a heavy base will serve you many years.
A ginger grater grates ginger to an almost powder consistency, without the stringy fibers, and so it blends into your food rather than being ‘dragged’ through it.
It’s a must for a serious Asian cook, but it will also serve you well for other grinding jobs such as nutmeg, sesame seeds, parmesan cheese, and lemons, etc. Use it to make ginger garlic water.
Spice and Oil Rack
Asian cooking is noted for its profuse use of spices, so a spice rack is an absolute must for a cooking enthusiast. Glass jars are the best so you can see at a glance how much of each spice you have to avoid running out. You will probably need a bigger set than the one pictured, but I’ve included this one because it has oil bottles as well – another must-have for your Chinese kitchen.
Oil bottles with a small pouring spout give you more control than the supermarket bottle it comes in, or if you buy your oil by the tin, you will need a smaller container to store it in for everyday use. An oil bottle is also necessary for storing your chili and spiced oils.
Chinese Rolling Pin
If you make your own noodles or wonton wrappers, you will want a good Chinese rolling pin. I like the small sized rolling pins, as they give you more control over gaining an even thickness with your dough. It’s a matter of preference and comfort on whether you use a tapered or straight ended rolling.
Cooking chopsticks are extremely versatile in the kitchen once you get a handle on using them (check out my guide to using chopsticks). This one utensil can do the job of many kitchen tools. Think of them as a pair of tongs that you can manipulate or a pair of fingers.
I use them for moving things around or fishing things out of hot oil or water; they drain better than a spoon and are quicker than a sieve. Swishing and separating noodles is made easier with chopsticks which are fine but still tough enough to dislodge noodles from each other and the sides of your pan. Chopsticks are also great for picking up delicate foods like steamed dumplings, or micro herbs.
Chopsticks used for cooking are longer than the eating kind, usually over 30cm. Bamboo or wooden chopsticks give good grip, don’t heat up and are comfortable to use. Silicon chopsticks which are not only heat resistant and won’t scratch your cookware, are easier to clean than wooden ones.
Just as no Chinese banquet is complete without a clay pot dish, neither is it complete without gorgeous Chinese rice bowls. Choose matching bowls or choose a color scheme of differently patterned bowls. Eclectic dinnerware on your table is very trendy right now, and a collection of oriental designs will create mood and add a touch of authenticity to your Chinese meal.
Rice or soup bowls are designed to be cupped in your hands and used in conjunction with chopsticks.
So, there you have the basic arsenal of cooking tools to get you on the road to producing authentic Chinese food. Check out some recipes and get that wok fired up for your next Chinese banquet!