The Popular Hunan Frying Pan In The United States (Worth A Visit)

Hunan cuisine (or Xiang cuisine) is one of the eight cuisines in China and it consists of more than 4,000 dishes. It is mainly characterized by an aromatic and spicy flavor as chili pepper is among the most important ingredients in the majority of the dishes.

Let’s find out what makes Hunan cuisine so special, why it became so popular in the United States, and, finally, how you can use a Hunan wok to create your very own traditional Hunanese dish.

What Is the History of Hunan Cuisine?

Hunan Wok
Hunan Wok

Chile first made its way to China in the late 17th century and the Hunanese became one of its earliest adopters. In the United States, ‘Hunan-style’ restaurants started emerging in the 1970s.

To figure out what makes the Hunan cuisine so special, we first need to take a look at the geographical location of this province. It is located in southeastern China, south of Dongting Lake where the summers are hot and humid, and the winters and cool and damp. Some of the most popular local products include bamboo shoots, citrus, wild turtles, fish, lotus seeds, bacon, and the world-known chili.

Another important reason for the popularity of chili in Hunan cuisine is the fact that many locals believed (and still believe) that the heat from the peppers helps prevent a lot of diseases as it assists in eliminating moisture from the body through sweating.

How Is the Hunan Cuisine Different from Other Chinese Cuisines?

Hunan Wok
Hunan Wok

Hunan dishes are typically a bit darker than those of other cuisines as in the majority of cases a lot of oil gets used.

Hunan food is usually compared to Sichuanese dishes, but they are different in two main ways – Hunan cuisine doesn’t use Sichuan peppercorn and the savory dishes lack the sweetness which is a great part of Sichuanese food. This means that while Sichuan dishes mainly revolve around spicy-savory-sweet combinations, the Hunanese prefer bold sour-hot, chili-hot, and savory tastes.

Furthermore, the Hunanese like their chilis to be vinegar-pickled with salt and those are constantly being used as a relish for one of the most popular dishes of this cuisine – noodles and steamed fish heads.

Chili flakes are commonly used in Hunan cuisine as an all-purpose seasoning and small dried chiles are typically used in broths. These fresh chilis add not only the iconic heat to Hunan dishes but also a beautiful, vibrant color.

However, this cuisine is not only about chilis. The Hunanese have also mastered the art of fermentation. They ferment tofu, winter sacrifice beans, and black soybeans. The latter, by the way, then gets added to dishes along with chilis, while in Cantonese cuisine, for example, the fermented beans get mashed into a paste with garlic.

Finally, there’s the richly red, fat bacon. Using a farmhouse kitchen fire to smoke bacon remains a cherished tradition in the Hunan province. In fact, the locals love their bacon so much that many apartment complexes have their own smokehouses.

What Are the Common Cooking Techniques in Hunan Cuisine?

Hunan Wok
Hunan Wok

Hunan wok is the main kitchen utensil that is used to prepare the majority of dishes. When it comes to the actual cooking techniques, the most remarkable skill of the Hunanese is stewing, but stir-frying, braising, and steaming are just as important.

The cooking techniques used would mainly depend on the style of Hunan cuisine that is presented at the restaurant.

  1. The Xiangyang River styleis typically represented by oily dishes that have a deep color. The flavors are spicy and aromatic, as well as fresh.
  2. The Dongting Lake styleincludes a lot of freshwater fish and poultry meat. The most frequently used cooking methods are stewing, braising, curing, and steaming. The locals that live in the area like to eat the food while it’s still stewing (just like in a hot pot).
  3. The Western Hunan styleis all about smoked bacon and preserved meats. The most notable flavors are spicy, sour, aromatic, and salty.

Fun fact: many Hunan locals don’t really like to eat extremely spicy foods but they do that anyway in order to eat more rice. That’s exactly why the absolute majority of Hunan dishes are paired with white rice.

Is Hunan Cuisine Popular in America?

Hunan is one of the most popular styles of Chinese food in the United States. It is famous mainly for turning up the heat, but that’s not the only reason why Americans love this cuisine.

Anyone will be able to find something to their liking among the hundreds of Hunan dishes. Whether you prefer pork, poultry, fish, or something a bit more exotic (like turtles) – Hunan cuisine has it all.

Even though the majority of dishes have been slightly Americanized, they are mainly loved by those who are looking for more traditional and authentic Chinese flavors.

The Most Popular Restaurants in the US That Serve Hunan Cuisine

Nowadays, you will find plenty of confusing Hunan/Sichuan restaurants in the United States. This misperception happened in the 1970s when chefs started bringing both Hunan and Sichuan cuisine to New York at the same time.

Experts agree that authentic Hunan cuisine (and even its Americanized version) is a lot more sophisticated than pseudo-Sichuan dishes. So, seeking out restaurants that cook and serve the ‘real deal’ would be truly worthwhile for anyone who is willing to give the amazing Hunan flavors a try.

Here are a few restaurants that you might want to check out:

What Hunan Recipes Should You Try?

  • Chairman Mao’s red-braised pork– you will find this dish linked with Mao Zedong on menus all across the States and China. The Chairman adored the pork belly with chiles, ginger, star anise, and cassia bark.
  • Duo jiao zheng yu– definitely not a dish that would instantly become everyone’s favorite, but if you’re feeling adventurous, give the steamed fish heads covered in pungent black beans and pickled chilis a try.
  • Sweet and sour spare ribs– this dish is especially popular in America, and though sweet flavors do not play a huge role in Hunan cuisine, the deep-fried ribs covered in thick sauce are definitely a staple.
  • Steamed bacon, smoked bean curd, and winter sacrifice beans– here, a Hunan wok is used to stir fry the strips of smoked bacon with smoked tofu and yellow beans. Everything, of course, then gets seasoned with chili flakes.

Try Out This Authentic Hunan Recipe!

One of the best things about this delicious Hunan chicken recipe is that you can easily customize how hot you want it to be.

  1. Marinate the chicken thighs for 30 minutes in a mixture of cornstarch, baking soda, sesame oil, rice wine, and soy sauce.
  2. Make the Hunan sauce by mixing chicken broth with soy sauce, oyster sauce, chili bean sauce, sesame oil, ketchup, and cornstarch.
  3. Stir fry the chicken in a Hunan wok. Before you place the chicken in the wok, add 2 tablespoons of oil and toss in the chicken only once it gets extra hot.
  4. Remove the chicken to a plate, add another tablespoon of oil to the Hunan wok, and add red jalapenos, carrots, bell peppers, celery, onions, and broccoli. Keep the veggies in the wok for 3 minutes, then add garlic and ginger and toss the yumminess for 30 seconds.
  5. Add the chicken and the sauce to the wok. In a minute or two the sauce will thicken, and that’s when your Hunan chicken is ready.

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