Love Chinese food? If you’re looking to make a healthier, and even tastier version, of the classic cuisine at home, Starts at 60 chatted with MasterChef champion Adam Liaw, 40, to find out how to master Chinese cooking in your own kitchen.
Born in Malaysia to an English-Singaporean mother and Hainanese Chinese father, the former lawyer turned famed foodie knows a thing or two about Asian-style cooking.
He says there’s a big misconception when it comes to Chinese food because many people think of it as one distinct cuisine, but according to Adam “there’s no such thing”.
In fact, every region within China has a cuisine with a very different taste. But due to the large number of immigrants from the south of China in the 20th century, our idea of Chinese food “is an Australianised version of Cantonese food”, which is very different from the rest of China.
“Our understanding of Chinese cuisine in Australia barely scratches the surface. It’s limited mainly to Cantonese cuisine from three decades from the 1950s to 1980s,” Adam explains. “But China has hundreds of different cuisines that go back thousands of years.”
A lot of cooks are intimidated by Chinese dishes because of the plethora of flavours and ingredients, but it isn’t as difficult as you think.
Adam says the trick to mastering Chinese cooking is keeping the recipe “very simple”. The minimal ingredients work together to create a balance in texture and flavour, with harmony between sweet, sour, spice and salt the key.
“People that aren’t familiar with Chinese food just use too many ingredients,” Adam explains.
Although soy sauce is a popular seasoner in Asia, it doesn’t mean that any meal slathered in this condiment is considered Chinese. In fact, the most common seasoning in Chinese cooking is chicken stock, a pinch of salt and a hint of shaoxing wine, traditional Chinese wine.
For all those starting out, he reckons a wok is the one piece of cooking equipment you should purchase before you start, adding steaming, stir-frying, deep-frying and boiling are some of the most popular cooking methods every aspiring Chinese cook should master.
“Steaming is a very useful, quick [and] efficient way of cooking,” he adds.
Adam’s love of creating simple and exciting dishes has transcended into all areas of his professional life and since 2012, he has been travelling the globe filming Destination Flavour, a television series dedicated to unveiling the world’s most authentic dishes.
The Sydney-based chef has since presented five highly-successful series — Destination Flavour, Destination Flavour Japan, Destination Flavour Down Under, Destination Flavour Scandinavia, Destination Flavour Singapore and now Destination Flavour China.
“With every series of Destination Flavour, we try to go behind the curtain, using food as a tool to discover culture,” Adam explains.
“Chinese cuisines have had more impact around the world than any other. They were curing ham thousands of years before the Italians, brought tea to the English, and even gave Australia good old tomato sauce. It’s without a doubt the most fascinating food culture on Earth.”
And he reckons Chinese food is a really useful cuisine for all Aussies to learn as it’s healthy, when done right, and fast.
“If I’m making dinner for my family I can be done in less than 10 minutes,” the doting father-of-two adds.
The Australian chef has made a name for himself in the food industry, turning his 2010 MasterChef win into a hugely successful career — but he says it’s all thanks to his parents’ bold approach to cooking.
“We had a lot of different dishes growing up,” Adam said. “From Chinese to Malaysian cuisine, to English to Australian cuisine — we never really stuck to one thing.”
And when it comes to cooking, the Sydney-based chef says the greatest dishes are often the most simple. So what does his ideal dish look like these days? For Adam is a simple meal of steamed fish with ginger and spring onions.
Feeling inspired? Adam shared with us a tasty recipe from Destination Flavour China — a definite must-try at your next family gathering!
Destination Flavour China airs Wednesdays at 7.30pm on SBS from November 28.