Tips from a Chinese Master


Helen Chen shared her Chinese cooking wisdom with a crowd in Jackson last week.

Last week, Belle Cose offered Jackson residents an opportunity to learn about Chinese cooking, ingredients and kitchen tools from a master of the craft, Helen Chen. Helen is the daughter of Joyce Chen, a pioneer of Chinese cooking in America who is responsible for the menu number system almost always used for ordering in Asian restaurants today.

Chen grew up in the family restaurant and almost solely around Chinese cooking. After her mother passed away, she decided to carry on the tradition and began her own line of Asian cooking products and cookbooks. Her Asian cookware can be found under the name Helen’s Asian Kitchen and is sold at Belle Cose.

In the class, Chen taught us some of her life-learned tips and how to properly use ingredients and cookware. In addition to the dishes, I learned a lot of helpful tips and facts for properly cooking Chinese food:

  • Canola oil is perfect for stir-frying. It is low-acid, low in saturated fat and flavorless.
  • Sesame oil is only used as a flavoring tool, after the ingredients are cooked.
  • A typical Chinese kitchen has no oven; almost everything is steamed and stir-fried, including desserts.
  • Cooking rice at a higher elevation will take longer; if you use the right tools (check out her perfect rice steamer), you can never overcook rice.
  • Choose ginger that is hard with tight skin.
  • Never use mirin (it is sweet). Dry sherry can be used as a substitute for Chinese rice wine, which can be difficult to find.
  • If you add cornstarch to chicken before you cook it, it will help the chicken retain moisture and not dry out.
  • Never use a metal spoon to serve rice. Use a wooden paddle, which won’t cut the rice.

Below is one of the recipes Chen prepared. All her dishes were simple and quick to make, so the recipe would make a great weeknight meal to serve with rice and steamed broccoli.

This chicken with cashews has always been one of Chen’s family favorites.



Helen Chen's Chicken with Cashews


  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated, peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 pound skinless boneless chicken breast, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 4 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed with the side of a knife and peeled
  • 1 cup whole raw cashews, toasted at 350 degrees until fragrant and golden
  • 1 teaspoon of sesame oil


  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the cornstarch, wine and ginger. Add the chicken and mix well.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, hoisin sauce, sugar and 2 tablespoons of water.
  • In a wok or stir-fry pan, heat the canola oil over high heat. Add the garlic, and cook until the oil is hot and the garlic sizzles. Stir the chicken mixture, and add it to the pan. Cook, stirring until the chicken turns white (1-2 minutes). Remove and discard the garlic if desired.
  • Reduce the heat to medium, and add the soy sauce mixture. Stir until the ingredients are well-blended. Add the cashew nuts, and stir for another 30 seconds. Drizzle with sesame oil, and mix well. Serve immediately.

About Author

Writer. Cook. Hockey player. Skier. Snowboarder. Mountain biker. Mother of two great danes. Wife. Marketing expert. And, most fulfilling, Co-editor of Dishing!

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