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tashirosgt
2012-Aug-24, 07:23 AM
The sauces in many Chinese restaurants seem (to me) to be thickened with corn starch. I read that Columbus introduced the Euopeans to corn, Did the Chinese before the time of Columbus already know about it? Or did they use other thickening agents? - or perhaps their sauces weren't thick at all.

Perikles
2012-Aug-24, 07:29 AM
I read that Columbus introduced the Euopeans to corn, Wow - I puzzled hard over that one (early morning, half asleep), until I realized that you mean what Europeans call maize. OK, carry on.

Jens
2012-Aug-24, 07:46 AM
The sauces in many Chinese restaurants seem (to me) to be thickened with corn starch. I read that Columbus introduced the Euopeans to corn, Did the Chinese before the time of Columbus already know about it? Or did they use other thickening agents? - or perhaps their sauces weren't thick at all.

No, obviously they didn't know about it. And they didn't know about chili peppers either, which are a common ingredient in Chinese food today. I don't know for certain, but I'm sure they used starch from some plant. It may be in the US that Chinese food is usually thickened with maize, but I think in Japan it's usually potato starch (also an import from the new world). They might have used rice starch or wheat starch, and it may have depended on the region.

Jens
2012-Aug-24, 07:49 AM
I suppose I should have read a bit more, but the extraction of starch from vegetables wasn't started until the 1840s, so nobody used cornstarch before that time in any case. I used to eat at an Indian restaurant where they thickened the sauce with powdered almonds. So I suppose there are lots of possibilities.

Perikles
2012-Aug-24, 07:55 AM
I have always understood that when you boil rice, the rice grains are covered with starch, which you can wash off with boiling water to make the rice nice and clean. Surely they could have used this rice starch as a thickener?

HenrikOlsen
2012-Aug-24, 10:38 AM
Thickening sauce with wheat starch is easy (see roux (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roux)), egg yolks and yogurt can be used as well.

ravens_cry
2012-Aug-24, 10:42 AM
Tapioca and arrowroot can also be used as thickeners. To increase flavour while thickening, a simple reduction by boiling away the water content can work, though this tends to take a while. For sweet sauces, sugar plays a great role.

Ara Pacis
2012-Aug-24, 11:43 AM
Tapioca and arrowroot can also be used as thickeners. To increase flavour while thickening, a simple reduction by boiling away the water content can work, though this tends to take a while. For sweet sauces, sugar plays a great role.

Arrowroot maybe, but Tapioca (cassava) is from the new world.

swampyankee
2012-Aug-24, 12:26 PM
Grain grinding technology is quite old -- it may well predate settled agriculture -- so thickening sauces and food with various forms of flour is probably quite old. One can also use okra, with its interesting texture.

danscope
2012-Aug-24, 02:45 PM
What we call "chinese food" in the west seldom reflects actual chinese food, but for the fact that
it is prepared in a wok. And the fortune cookie was created in America.

Fazor
2012-Aug-24, 04:54 PM
What we call "chinese food" in the west seldom reflects actual chinese food, but for the fact that
it is prepared in a wok. And the fortune cookie was created in America.

That was going to be my response as well. I've never traveled Asia, and I won't likely get a chance to visit the pre-Columbus Asian food scene (unless Doc Brown gets that car back up and running.) But my impression is that actual "Chinese food" seldom has the thick, sticky sauces we Americans are used to in our "Chinese food."

Additionally, even among US chefs, "Corn starch" as a thickener is considered a cheat, and looked down upon by most of the 'Top level' chefs I've seen. Regardless, the point is there's many other ways to thicken a sauce. Corn starch is used because it's a cheap and easy way to do it, not because it's the only way to do it.

NEOWatcher
2012-Aug-24, 06:55 PM
Additionally, even among US chefs, "Corn starch" as a thickener is considered a cheat, and looked down upon by most of the 'Top level' chefs I've seen.
How about Canadian chefs? Stephen Yan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Yan) used "wonder powder" all the time.

Fazor
2012-Aug-24, 08:25 PM
How about Canadian chefs? Stephen Yan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Yan) used "wonder powder" all the time.

Well, yeah. But I'd expect a Canadian to -- oh, sorry. :) No, I know *some* chefs use it. Others hate it. Personally, I think it's a bit snobbish of the later. *I* do use it, since it's the only way I've ever been able to successfully thicken sauce. Though I am getting better at making reux and I do like that better. Just more work.

swampyankee
2012-Aug-24, 10:41 PM
What we call "chinese food" in the west seldom reflects actual chinese food, but for the fact that
it is prepared in a wok. And the fortune cookie was created in America.

Chinese people -- like every other immigrant group -- modify their cuisine to reflect local ingredients and, if they're in business, to local taste. In any case, "Chinese food" is not really accurate, even in China, as there are numerous regional cuisines, not some sort of standardized national one.

Just like real food in the US. Just about impossible to get a lobster roll or real fried clams -- with the bellies -- in most parts of the US. And don't get me started on what the chains try to pass off as pizza.

DoggerDan
2012-Aug-25, 02:57 AM
Never been to China. Just Korea on a three-week repair job after typhoons slammed five of six cranes about ten years ago. Did a lot of other damage, most of which never reached the newspapers. That's the thing about diving. Most of what we do never reaches the headlines.

Anywho, we fixed it.

In the meantime, we ate well, and I found the food to be delicious! Strange, yes, but very good!