The Only 5 Chinese Recipes You Need to Know

People are fascinated by Chinese cuisine because it’s one of the oldest, most ancient cuisines in existence. However, it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly is “authentic” Chinese food — which really, is a big part of its mystique. 

“China is a very big country, so the regional cuisine is very different,” explains Chef Pichet Ong, operating partner and pastry consultant at NiHao in Baltimore, and author of Sweet Spot: Asian Inspired Desserts. “With all the migration that has happened over the past century, there have been lots of localized adaptations and changes over time to traditional heirloom recipes.” 

For the same reason, there isn’t really such a thing as “main ingredients” in Chinese food — it varies based on geography. Northern areas of China are colder, so their dishes tend to be carb heavy (all of the dumplings, please). Some land locked areas rely heavily on river fish and carp. Other regions focus more on veggies and soy beans.

But one thing all regions of China have in common? Food is a huge part of their culture. “Food is something that people in China are born into,” says Ong. “The dinner table is a big part of a Chinese household. We all make food together with our families; it’s a very communal experience.” 

While you’d expect a Chinese chef to be aghast over the orange chicken and other Westernized Chinese dishes you see on menus in the U.S., Ong actually has a different perspective on American-Chinese food: “It’s more of a cross-over blend of different types of chinese food from the various regions. Pre-war, there was an influx of the population from China that migrated to the United States, many of which opened restaurants.” 

It’s why he’s careful not to stamp certain recipes and methods as authentic or not. “Different regions bring what they know. While stir fry is the American hallmark for Chinese food, there are many other dishes that never made it over here,” he says. 

If you’re looking to expand your at-home cooking repertoire to include more Chinese cuisine, Ong shares five of his favorite must-know recipes.

Yu Xiang Eggplant (with Bell Pepper Pickle)

“Yu Xiang” translates to “fish fragrance,” which is ironic since the sauce contains zero fish. “Yu Xiang is my favorite sauce because it really encapsulates the Chinese food mystique for me,” says Ong. “It has a strangely oceanic flavor and I’ve always wanted to perfectly capture it.”

Yu Xiang sauce does go great on fish, but it’s just as frequently served on veggies, pork, and chicken, fried or steamed. In theory, you can buy “fish flavored soy sauce” at the supermarket, but it’s easy (and way better) to make your own: 


Pickled Pepper

  • ½  red bell pepper, seeded, cut into 1” squares 
  • ½ green bell pepper, seeded, cut into 1” squares 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Yu Xiang Sauce

  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper, ground
  • 1 tablespoon like soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon black vinegar (chinkiang)
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine 1-tablespoon sweet rice wine (mirin) 2-tablespoon cornstarch
  • 3-tablespoon chicken or vegetable stock

Eggplant Stir Fry

  • 2 Chinese eggplants
  • 1-tablespoon ginger, minced
  • 1-tablespoon garlic, minced
  • 2 scallions, cut in 1/2 lengthwise and into 1” batons
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1-tablespoon salt
  • 1-tablespoon spicy broad bean paste
  • 8 leaves of basil, roughly torn, plus 4 more pieces to garnish


In a pot, bring vinegar, sugar, and salt to heat and stir to melt. Pour into a container with peppers and let sit for at least 4 hours to pickle, covered. Remove pieces of peppers to add to the stir fry (pickling liquid may be reused).

In a bowl, whisk all sauce ingredients together to make the Yu Xiang sauce for the stir fry.

Prep eggplant by cutting it in half lengthwise and sprinkling salt on the cut side. Let it sit for 15 minutes until the eggplant starts to sweat, then take a paper napkin to wipe off the salt and water that’s generated from the salt cure. Turn eggplant halves upside down and score the skin side half way through the pieces, ¼-inches apart, then cut each half into 2.5-inch pieces.

In a hot saute pan or wok, heat 2 tablespoons of oil, sear, and stir fry the eggplant pieces, tossing a few times until softened and oil is mostly absorbed; move eggplant to the side of the pan. Over high heat, add remaining oil and add ginger, garlic, broad bean paste, and scallion batons, then stir fry until fragrant. Stir in pickled bell peppers and mix all together for 30 seconds.

Stir together sauce again to break up any clumps and add to vegetables and stir fry, tossing constantly until mixture comes to a gentle boil for 20 seconds. Stir in basil. Transfer all to a serving plate; garnish the top with more fresh basil.

Pro tip: Traditional Chinese recipes often include sugar, but Ong prefers to cook with sweet wine. Shaoxing is a Chinese white rice wine that works nicely in Yu Xiang sauce , but Sherry and sweet Riesling are also good options. 

Sweet and Sour Pork

Don’t make this mistake: inaccurately dismissing all sweet and sour sauce as Americanized. “Sweet food with a lot of sugar is often misconstrued as inauthentic, but Asians have a sweet tooth,” says Ong.

Every region of China has a different version of sweet and sour sauce, with varying notes, spices, and even colors; while some areas prefer the flavors of sweet vinegar, others prefer lots of ginger and garlic. This means there’s a lot of room for playing around and adjusting the flavor range to your preference and still keeping  the recipe “authentic!” Some people like to sweeten their sauce with ketchup (hence the red color), but Ong utilizes pineapple for its sweet-and-salty tang.


Sweet and Sour Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup pineapple, ½-inch dice, ripe, with liquids 
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper, ground
  • 1/2 cup sweet rice wine (mirin)
  • 1/4 cup Shaoxing wine or a good white wine 
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup light soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons black vinegar (chingkiang)

Stir Fry

  • 1/2 pork neck, pounded and cut into bite size pieces 
  • 1 teaspoon light soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoons shaoxing wine
  • 1/2 cup + 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/8 teaspoon white pepper, ground
  • 1 egg
  • 2 + 1/2 cups of oil for frying
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 tablespoons garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons ginger, minced
  • 2 scallions, 1” batons, smashed 
  • 1/4 cup red onion, 1” cuts
  • 1/4 red bell pepper, cut into 1” squares 
  • 8 broccoli florets, blanched and cooled 
  • Cilantro for garnish


In a sauté pan, heat oil with pineapple pieces and white pepper, cooking until mixture is dry and slightly caramelized. Add mirin, Shaoxing, and rice vinegar, then cook until mixture is reduced by half and thickened, about 8-10 minutes at a simmer. Add soy sauce and black vinegar.

Transfer pineapple mixture to a blender or a container to process with a stick blender. Taste the sauce, adding more soy or vinegar to taste; reserve for use later.

Marinade pork with soy, wine, 1-tsp. cornstarch, and egg for 20 minutes.

Heat oil to 350 degrees. Dredge Pork pieces in ½ cup cornstarch and drop pieces into hot oil to fry one piece at a time, moving them around constantly so they remain separate, about 3-4 minutes.

Heat wok or sauté pan over high heat; add oil, garlic, ginger, scallion, red onion, and bell pepper, then sauté until fragrant and scallions start to caramelize. Add pork pieces, broccoli, and ½ of sauce, mixing all together to coat evenly. Transfer to a plate and garnish with cilantro to serve.

Pro tip: Caramelize your aromatics — shallots, ginger, and garlic — to release the starches in the sugar. Additionally, lean cuts of meat can also translate to “dry and tough” when cooked; try using marbled cuts from the neck or shoulder instead. 

Red Braise 

If you really want to wow your dinner guests with some kitchen sorcery, perfect your red braise recipe. 

Hailing from the Shanghai region, this ancient technique involves slowly and fully cooking your meat until it develops this aged red hue in the shiny, caramelized sauce. Ong himself isn’t sure why the fully cooked meat turns red — he calls it “culinary magic.”

Over the years, red braise transferred to various other countries in Southeast Asia including the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand. Ong compares it to the Chinese version of Bolognese — its iconic flavor became infused with individual local cultures, each of which is proud of their own version’s unique spin.


  • 1 beef short rib
  • 1/4-cup Shaoxing wine or rice wine 
  • 4 ginger coins, ¼-inch thick
  • 1 teaspoon five spice powder 
  • 1/8-teaspoon white pepper 
  • 1-teaspoon salt
  • 3-tablespoon vegetable oil 
  • 1 tablespoons sugar 
  • 1/8-teaspoon white pepper 
  • 4 ginger coins, ¼-inch
  • 3 green onions with roots, cut into 1-inch batons 
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled, cut into 1-inch cubes 
  • 1/4 cup daikon, cut into 1-inch cubes

Red Braise Braising

  • 2 tablespoons sweet rice wine (mirin)
  • 1/4 cup Shaoxing wine or good white wine 
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoons thick sweet soy sauce
  • 2 cups chicken or pork stock


Trim and cut beef short rib into 3-4 smaller pieces (about 2-inch cubes) and pat very dry with a paper towel. In a bowl, stir together remaining ingredients and add pieces of meat. Ideally, keep meat in marinade for 2-3 days for optimal flavor, turning daily.

When you’re ready to cook, preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Drain meat and let dry for 20 minutes at room temperature, reserving marinade liquid. Stir together red braise braising seasoning liquids. Toss beef pieces with 1 tablespoon of sugar and white pepper.

In a skillet over medium heat, add two tablespoons of oil and sear pieces of beef on all sides, flipping them occasionally to ensure even browning. Transfer beef to a small baking dish and scatter pieces of vegetables around the beef.

In the same skillet, stir fry ginger, green onion, and star anise until fragrant. Add reserved marinade liquid and cook over medium heat and let boil for two minutes. Add braising liquids and bring the entire mixture to a rolling boil for 3 minutes. Then, pour entire braising liquid on the meat and vegetables and cover the baking dish with foil.

Let food braise in oven for 80 minutes; flip the meat pieces over and braise for another 75-80 minutes, and check tenderness with a paring knife for tenderness (meat should yield easily).

Transfer meat and veggies to a plate. Strain out the braising liquid into a pot and cook it down until thickened and the mixture starts to be syrupy, about 10-12 minutes (the sauce should coat a spoon completely). Glaze the sauce over the meat and serve warm or at room temperature with a cilantro sprig and scallion rings.

Pro tip: When choosing a soy sauce, it’s important that it also tastes great on its own. For this dish, Ong suggests using a double fermented soy sauce for a deeper flavor as the light soy part, and a thick syrupy dark soy rich in molasses flavor such as Kwong Hung Seng Sauce from Thailand.

Chinese Chicken Stock

“Stock- and soup-making is fundamental to any type of cooking and should be done in every home kitchen,” says Ong. Not only is it easy and not as labor intensive as you think, but it’s sustainable — all that excess pulled chicken meat is begging to be added to a stew, stir fry, or salad.

Plus it’s multi-use: You can use it for chicken soup right now, save some for later (it keeps well in the refrigerator for up to 10 days or frozen for a month) and you can sip it in lieu of tea and water to fortify the body.

You can keep your recipe basic (below) or add other veggies and spices for different flavors and aromas — lemongrass, carrots, celery, or a bay leaf, to name a few.


  • 1 whole chicken, with feet and neck
  • 4 scallions, with roots, cleaned
  • 1 large onion, skinned, cut into 1-inch pieces 
  • 5 pieces of ginger coins, ¼-inch thick
  • 2 tablespoon dried jujubes
  • 6 pieces of daikon rings, 1-inch thick
  • 8 pieces dried shiitake mushroom
  • 2 pieces dried ginseng
  • 6 cilantro springs with stem
  • 2 tablespoons whole white peppercorns 
  • 1 cup Shaoxing wine


Wash chicken thoroughly and purge it by soaking in ice water for at least six hours, making sure all the blood is washed away.

In a pot, place chicken, all the vegetables, white pepper, wine, and water to cover, about six quarts. Bring mixture to a boil over high heat, then reduce low, letting it gently simmer for three hours; skim the fat and foam off the top occasionally.

Remove chicken from the pot and set aside to let it cool (you can use it for other recipes!) Strain out the broth and let cool for four hours before refrigerating overnight.

The next day, you can remove the layer of fat for other uses. 

Pro tip: Cook with wine! Adding vino to your stock helps it develop more flavor. 

Kung Pao Chicken

Essentially a stir fry in a delicious tangy sauce, Kung Pao chicken (or shrimp, or pork!) “is a typical Chinese recipe and very unique, because no other culture uses a wok to cook,” says Ong. “Pao” means “explosion,” which is what happens inside the wok with all the smoke and steam.

The star ingredients of this recipe include cubed up meat, shrimp, and/or veggies of your choice (i.e., onion, celery, and peppers) plus nuts (Ong likes Cashews for their smooth flavor and shape), all tossed with the brown Kung Pao sauce. “It’s a very balanced sauce — not too acidic, sweet, salty, or spicy,” says Ong.

And fear not: You don’t need to invest in an authentic wok to make this recipe. A big stir fry pan will do just fine — you’ll just have to cook in stages and more slowly since you won’t have the intense wok heat.


Kung Pao Sauce

  • 1 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
  • 2 tablespoons thick sweet soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoon double fermented soy sauce 
  • 1 tablespoons spicy chili paste or sambal 1 tablespoon black vinegar (chingkiang) 
  • 1 tablespoon sweet rice wine (mirin)

Chicken and Stir Fry:

  • 2 chicken thighs, skin off, cut into 1/2” cubes 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons double fermented soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons potato starch
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine 2 tablespoons chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 6 dried chilis, whole
  • 4 scallions cut into 1/2” pieces, white and green separated
  • 1 tablespoons garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons ginger, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper, ground
  • 1/8 teaspoon green Sichuan peppercorns, ground
  • 6 water chestnuts, skinned, cut into 1/4” coins, rinsed and drained 1/2 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2” pieces
  • 8 asparagus, cut into 1” batons, blanched and cooled
  • 1/4 cup peanuts or cashews, toasted


Make sauce by stirring all liquid ingredients together.

Marinade chicken by mixing well the chicken pieces with sesame oil, soy, cornstarch, and chicken stock. Drain chicken to remove water.

In a hot sauté pan, heat ½ of oil and add dry chilis, white scallions, garlic, ginger, and spices; stir fry until fragrant. Push aromatics to the side or transfer to a plate.

Add drained chicken sauté into the skillet and cook until until meat is white, juices run clear, and the mixture is dry. Push the chicken to the side or transfer to a plate. Still on high heat, add remaining oil and stir fry with water chestnuts, bell peppers, asparagus, and nuts, and chicken pieces, tossing until bell peppers and nuts start to char a little (about 30 seconds). Add sauce and green scallion pieces to mixture, tossing to coat and until the sauce comes to a rolling boil. Transfer to a dish and serve!

Pro Tip: Make sure to cut your proteins and veggies all the same size and shape so they cook evenly and all to the right consistency.

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