Must Have Chinese Pantry
Modern Cooks, Chinese-cooking lovers will always have the following on hand.
Chinkiang or Chinese Black Vinegar: has a sweet, mellow flavor. Made from glutinous rice in Chinkiang, in southern China, this vinegar is used for dipping sauces, braised dishes, soups, and in noodle dishes. It is one of the secrets of Sichuanese Fish Fragrant Sauce, known in American Chinese restaurants as “Garlic Sauce,”.
Chili paste or sauce. A spicy seasoning made of crushed chili peppers, oil, vinegar, garlic, and other flavorings.
Dark toasted sesame oil. Nutty and rich, it's made from roasted or toasted sesame seeds and is not interchangeable with the pressed sesame seed oil found in health-food stores. Primarily used as a seasoning as a flavoring and not for stir-frying.
Dried chili peppers. We carry the lovely, fiery, mellow Tien Tsin chilies that can perk up any dish - chinese or others. These peppers are used in Chinese cooking to infuse oils, sauces, and dressings with their spicy flavor.
Dried Chinese mushrooms. Pungent dried shiitake mushrooms (also called black mushrooms) impart a strong smoky flavor. Another variety, dried wood ear mushrooms, is relished for its crunchy texture.
Fermented or salted black beans. Used to season sauces, these are black soybeans that have been fermented and dried. The beans should be rinsed and drained before using; they keep indefinitely. Fermented black beans may be paired with garlic, scallion, ginger and chile.
Ginger. One of the most widely used seasonings in Asian cooking. When buying fresh ginger, look for hefty, smooth, shiny knobs. Ginger also comes in crystallized and pickled forms for other applications.
Hoisin sauce. A sauce made with soybeans, sugar, vinegar, and spices. Sweet and fairly thick, its main uses are in marinades for barbecuing and roasting, and in dipping sauces.
Oyster sauce. A Cantonese staple, usually sold in bottles, that's made from oysters, salt, and seasonings. It's often used in sauces for seafood, meat, and vegetable dishes. Oyster sauce can be used in stir fries to add the xian (umami) flavor to your dishes. It is a popular sauce for cooking jie lan/gai lan (Chinese broccoli).
Plum sauce. Also known as duck sauce, this is made from plums, apricots, vinegar, and sugar. In China it's often served with roasted goose or duck; in the United States, it's the ubiquitous table sauce in American-Cantonese restaurants.
Soy sauce. Made from fermented soybeans and wheat, its flavor varies by manufacturer and aging process. Regular soy sauce contains 1,030 milligrams of sodium per tablespoon; light or low-sodium versions have 484.
Shao Hsing/Xing Rice Wine. This is China's most famous rice cooking wine, named after the city that produces it. It has a nutty and warming personality and is used for marinating meats before stir frying, braising, and adding to fish before steaming to help get rid of any fishy odor. It is also the main ingredient for drunken dishes, where meats are soaked in a mixture of wine and soy sauce.
Other more common items may be found in your pantry such as sugar, salt, peanuts, chicken broth, rice, peanut or canola oil, and black pepper. Chinese spices include star anise, cinnamon or cassia bark, fennel, cloves, nutmeg, cilantro/coriander. Szechwan peppercorns, garlic, ginger and a thickener like cornstarch rounds out the spice shelf. Beef, lamb and pork and an endless variety of fruits and vegetables are used.
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