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Cooking note: Corn flour mix for thickening the sauce

You probably have noticed in many Chinese recipes, especially in stir-fry recipes, it is very common to use corn flour mix (corn flour mix with water or with other seasonings) to thicken the sauce in the wok.

I understand that a similar method is used in many Western food recipes as well, but I want to talk about the differences when using it. Hope it is helpful.

This method is called ‘Gou (1) qian (4)’ in Chinese. It is not only for thickening the sauce and make it evenly wrap the content, but also it is good for giving the food a very ‘shining’ and ‘smooth’ appearance, which is normally one of the presentation requitements  for Chinese food.

Corn flour is commonly used for thickening the sauce in Chinese recipes, however, others like potato flour, or even wheat flour can also do the job. As for the proportions of the amount of the water and the flour, it is normally 1.5 : 1 (it needs a little bit more water for wheat flour).

When adding the corn flour mix, the fire needs to be very strong, so the process needs to be very quick. This is particular important for crispy recipes, otherwise, the food will get too soggy and soft.

There are actually a few different ways of ‘thickening’ and ‘seasoning’ Chinese dishes with corn flour mix, depending on what you are cooking.

use corn flour mix to thicken the sauce in Chinese recipe
Chinese corn flour mix

I have just mentioned the first one: cook the food with all the seasonings first, then add the corn flour and water mix to thicken the sauce at the very end of the cooking process.

The second way is to add the seasoning mix with the corn flour into the wok at the end of cooking. For example, when cooking  ‘di san xian’, the vegetables are stir fried in the wok, normally without any seasoning at all; then, the ‘seasoning mix’ is added, which is mixed with corn flour, water, soy sauce, cooking wine, salt, garlic, ginger… all together. This way, the taste of the sauce will stay “on the surface” of the food, and you can still have the original taste of vegetables in the inner part.

how to use corn flour thickening in Chinese stir fry
Di San Xian

Third, to add the corn flour thickening with seasonings in the wok first, and when it is bubbling and thickening, add the pre-prepared food in. This is a very popular way of cooking, and it is used for example in ‘crispy beef recipes. But you do need to have a very quick hand for it, otherwise, as I said before, the ‘crispiness’ could get lost (and it does need to be served as soon as it is done).

Chinese crispy beef
Chinese crispy beef

The last one is to thicken the sauce separately, then pour it on top of pre-prepared food. For example, some fish recipes or jiao zhi’ tofu recipe use this method. The thickened sauce can even function as ‘decoration’ in this case.

Salmon in Chinese sauce
Salmon in Chinese sauce

Hope this helps. :)) Happy cooking!

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