Chinese Cooking Terms and Techniques

Here are some useful Chinese cooking terms and techniques that will help you master your Chinese cookery.

Xing wei This is a term used to describe the “rawness” flavor and smell of meat or fish. Good Chinese cooking will allow the flavor of the ingredient to shine through without this “rawness” on the palate. For example, if you have ever had bad soft-shell crab, you can taste the fishiness of the crab, whereas it should taste sweet and fresh, not raw or overly fishy. Chinese love to use rice wine — distilled, aged, made from rice or barley, or a combination — and add it to dishes to take away the “rawness” from meat or fish.

Cao (“stir-fry”) The most impressive cooking technique in Chinese cookery is mastering the art of wok cooking. The intense heat, timing, maneuvering and seasoning fascinate cooks in the West. The smoky wok flavor is what all good Chinese cooks must deliver. The trick is cooking the ingredient at its optimal time, temperature and balance of seasoning to ensure maximum flavor. Hence, Chinese cooks must understand all the ingredients to bring out the best in each. For example, a beef and celery stir-fry will call for different cooking times and temperatures in the wok. The chef may cook the celery first by either blanching it, poaching it in stock or quickly stir-frying it depending on the recipe. He or she may then scoop it out and set it aside. Then the beef may be precoated with a cornstarch and egg white slurry to protect it as it cooks for a few seconds in the hot wok, and the chef will add the celery back into the wok with seasonings such as rice wine, soy, sugar, vinegar and sesame oil, combining it together and then plating it up.  Stir-frying is easy and at its heart simple, but to cook a masterful wok dish takes a wok master! It is also complicated to get an array of wok dishes to be served at the same time piping hot — that takes a lot of preparation.

Hong shao Otherwise known as the “red braise” or “red cooked” technique, this was traditionally used to cook pork belly with spices and rock sugar. This slow-braised cooking technique gives melt-in-the-mouth results.

Zheng (“steaming”) — This technique is the healthiest of all in Chinese cookery. It is used to soften dried ingredients and prepare them for cooking. It is a popular technique used in the south of China, as fresh produce was not traditionally abundant and cooks wanted to enjoy the ben wei, or “original flavor,” of the ingredient. The traditional Chinese equipment used for steaming was a bamboo steamer placed over a rack, set over a wok of boiling water. The food to be steamed was placed in muslin cloths, wrapped in lotus/bamboo leaves or set on a plate that fit inside the bamboo steamer, depending on what was being cooked. 

Hui guo (“return to the wok”) This technique refers to returning already stir-fried ingredients back to the wok to be incorporated with the other ingredients ready to be seasoned.

Zha (“to fry”) Frying is a popular Chinese cooking technique to add crispness to ingredients. Ingredients can be shallow- or deep-fried.  Ingredients should not be swimming in oil if the temperature is hot enough. The oil should seal the juices and flavors of the ingredient while the latent heat cooks the inside of the ingredient. Sometimes ingredients are “passed through the oil” to semicook the ingredients; this is to help seal in their juices, and then it is drained and added to a stir-fried or braised dish.

Keep Reading

Next Up

10 Essential Chinese Cooking Ingredients

Soy sauce is a must (both light and dark), but you’ll need these other sauces and spices to get your wok on, anytime.

Protein with Chinese Origins

Chinese consume standard proteins such as chicken, fish, beef, lamb, pork and shellfish just like in the West; however, there are certain sources of protein that originated specifically from China.

How to Cook Rice

Here are some of my tips to help you cook the perfect plain rice at home.

How to Cook With a Wok

Find out how to choose the wok that's right for you, then learn how to season it to create optimally flavored dishes.

Luke Nguyen Bio

Learn more about Luke Nguyen host of Luke Nguyens Vietnam.

Terms of Use

Legal Information: The information below specifies the Terms of Use for

Cooking With Fresh Herbs

Enhance your cooking with the flavors of fresh, fragrant herbs.

Get Cooking, Fine Living Fans!

Fine Living is now Cooking Channel and were glad youre here. You can expect the same best-quality food and drink shows plus chefs youve loved on Fine Living and more. Welcome and enjoy.


Top 5 Restaurants

10:30am | 9:30c

Guilty Pleasures

11:30am | 10:30c

Guilty Pleasures

12:30pm | 11:30c

Food: Fact or Fiction?

1:30pm | 12:30c

Unwrapped 2.0

3:30pm | 2:30c

Cake Hunters

4:30pm | 3:30c
On Tonight
On Tonight

Cupcake Wars

8pm | 7c

Cake Hunters

10pm | 9c

Crazy Cookie Builds

10:30pm | 9:30c


11:30pm | 10:30c

Cupcake Wars

12am | 11c

Cupcake Wars

1am | 12c

Crazy Cookie Builds

2:30am | 1:30c


3:30am | 2:30c
What's Hot
What's Hot

Cheap Eats

Wednesdays at 10pm ET

Pick a Side!

The Snackdown

In our new animated series, we debate the most-pressing food matters of our time, like is cereal a soup?

So Much Pretty Food Here