Celebrate Chinese New Year with us by purging your pantry shelves of old, out of date ingredients and taking a trip to your Asian supermarket to stock up with the essentials for spur-of-the-moment meals. Here's a list of what we consider essentials and how we use them, plus a couple of our favourite recipes.
Chilli Oil: Totally easy to make yourself but why would you when there are really great ready-made versions available at Asian wholesalers and increasingly in your local fruit and veg shop. Use to garnish Asian soups and stir frys, add a bit of a kick to dressings and marinades and it’s surprisingly good over eggs! Lee Kum Kee’s oil is readily available, has a nice rounded flavour and is a good place to start.
Fresh garlic and ginger – Always. Have. Heaps! A paste of fresh garlic and ginger, in equal quantities, with or without the addition of a fresh chilli or two is the foundation of a multitude of Asian dishes. Look for both with fresh, thin skins with no mildew or soft spots. Steer clear of sprouting garlic at all costs – that green shoot is very bitter.
Hoisin Sauce – This thick brown Chinese dipping sauce is made from fermented soybeans, garlic, vinegar and sugar and is that ‘secret sauce’ on your Peking Duck pancakes. Combine equal quantities of Hoisin and Sriracha sauces for the perfect drizzle for Vietnamese Pho and include in stirfry sauces and marinades for all things chicken.
Mirin – Essentially Japanese rice wine used exclusively for cooking. Slightly viscous and deliciously sweet and salty, it is wonderful in sauces, glazes and finishing dressings used at the end of the cooking process to preserve its subtle flavour.
Miso – white miso is my preference for its versatility but you may also find red miso which has a deeper, more earthy flavour. Whatever the colour, miso is essentially fermented bean paste. A spoon or two will contribute salty, earthy umami (buzz word alert) flavour to soups, dressings, marinades and sauces, not to mention got-to-be-good-for-you miso soup. Readily available from the supermarket in plastic tubs with a good shelf life (store in the fridge) or my recent favourite from Urban Hippie (made in NZ). I love miso dressings – try this over just warm roasted vegetables: combine 2 tbsp white miso paste, 1 tbsp each lemon juice, rice vinegar, sesame oil, 1 tsp each brown sugar, minced chilli and grated ginger and 1 clove minced garlic.
Oyster Sauce – a delightfully salty, savoury sauce that’s not one bit fishy tasting, this quintessential Chinese condiment is widely used in stirfry sauces and braises. Click HERE for my favourite Chicken and Tofu in Oyster Sauce recipe.
Sesame Oil – too strong to be used as a cooking oil, sesame oil should be used sparingly at the end of cooking to add nutty, toasty flavour to dressings and sauces, stirfries and meat dishes.
Soy Sauce – pretty sure there will be a bottle or two knocking around in everyone’s pantry. My favourite is Kikkoman (middle of the road in saltiness, not too deeply flavoured which makes it useful for a multitude of dishes) closely followed by Tamari.