Quick Recipes and Easy

Chinese Cooking – Where Do I Start

When a new cook wants to attempt Chinese cooking, more often then not, he or she may be stunted with the wide variety of ingredients required. For starters, here are the basic ingredients for a Chinese pantry startup.

1. Vegetable Oil

Vegetable oil (such as corn oil, soybean oil or peanut oil) is the most basic ingredient in Chinese cooking and often used because of it’s higher smoking point (441° to 450°F) as compared to olive oil (about 375°F).

The higher the smoke point, the better suited the oil is for frying, reason being, if the oil is heated to the point that its smoke point is exceeded, it starts to emit smoke and acrid odors and this may transfer an unpleasant flavor to the food.

For stir-frying, olive oil can still be used, but certainly not virgin olive oil or extra virgin olive oil. But, for deep-frying, you should only use vegetable oil.

2. Light Soy Sauce

There are two basic types of soy sauce used in Chinese cooking. As the name suggests, soy sauce is made from soy beans.

Light soy sauce is a thin, dark brown sauce. It is used mainly for seasoning and is saltier than dark soy sauce.

3. Dark Soy Sauce

Dark soy sauce is darker and slightly thicker because it has been aged longer. It has a richer taste, is slightly sweeter and less salty than light soy sauce.

Dark soy sauce can be used to flavor a dish and also to add color. But, be careful not to add too much dark soy sauce at once as its dark color can ruin the appearance of the dish.

4. Oyster Sauce

A dark brown rich sauce, oyster sauce is made from boiling oysters and seasonings and is used to enhance the flavor of many savory foods such as meat and vegetable dishes. An ingredient often used as a topping for steamed vegetables such as kailan and in stir fries, a small bottle of oyster sauce can be expensive, but because only a small is required each time, a bottle can really last quite long.

5. White Pepper

White pepper is black peppercorn with the skin removed. Some say that white pepper tastes milder than black pepper.

White pepper is mainly used for aesthetic reasons, example when you do not want to see black flecks on your chicken, fish dish, rice congee or if you are making a light sauce.

6. Salt

Used as a flavor enhancer and in all types of cooking, Chinese cooking included.

7. Cornstarch (also known as corn flour)

Cornstarch does not add much flavor to a dish. Instead, they are used to seal in juices, coat meat with a shiny glaze, and thicken sauces and soups.

You will typically use equal amounts of cold water to mix with cornstarch to form a paste. Cold water (as opposed to hot water) is used so as to avoid lumps. When the paste forms, whisk it into the liquid you are trying to thicken. Cook briefly only, to remove the starchy flavor, else if overcooked, liquids thickened with some starches will thin again if cooked too long or at too high a temperature.

8. Garlic

Used as a flavor enhancer usually in Chinese stir-fry.

9. Ginger Root (or fresh ginger)

Mature ginger has a light golden brown thin skin. Fibrous and nearly dry, mature ginger roots are commonly used as a spice in Chinese cooking, to neutralize strong fishy flavors and to add its own aroma to dishes such as seafood and mutton.

Young ginger roots have a pinkish soft skin with a very mild taste. Juicy and fleshy, young ginger roots are most commonly pickled in a vinegar mixture and served with century eggs (preserved eggs).

Start with these nine basic ingredients and as you experiment with more and more Chinese cooking recipes, you gradually add more ingredients to your Chinese pantry list.

Yi Sim is a foodie who likes to experiment with new Asian recipes.

She maintains a food blog at simcooks.com www.simcooks.com

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