Essential Ingredients for Chinese Cooking

Essential Ingredients for Chinese Cooking

If you’re looking to get into Chinese cooking, chances are you won’t have all the necessary ingredients in your cupboards. Fundamentally, most Chinese dishes are made up of or utilise a few basic ingredients. Some of which you may have in your home already, some which you may not.

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That is why we have compiled a list of the must-have Chinese ingredients you should stock your cupboards with:

Shaoxing Wine

Shaoxing wine is a cooking wine that is traditionally used in Chinese cooking. A lot of Chinese cooks and cooking enthusiasts find that a good-quality Shaoxing wine can be difficult to source outside of China, particularly because a traditional Shaoxing wine should contain no salt. Salt is usually added to Shaoxing wine because it makes it easier to sell without liquor restrictions in some countries. It is therefore recommended that you buy this product from specialist sellers such as Oriental Mart to ensure you get a truly authentic product.

Soy Sauce (Light Soy Sauce)

The majority of Chinese dishes will use soy sauce because it is the foundation of Asian cooking. Oriental soy sauce is made up of a simple mixture of soybeans, wheat, water and salt. Whilst supermarkets offer a couple of generic brands, you will be better off sourcing this vital ingredient from a specialised seller because the type of soy sauce you get can affect the overall taste of your dishes.

The light soy sauce, which we recommend getting, is generally lighter in colour and tastes less salty than the darker options, which if overused can ruin the dish. If required, a splash of dark soy sauce can be added to a meal to add some colour.

Dark Soy Sauce

As it is fermented for much longer than the light version it brings a completely different taste to dishes.

Chinkiang Vinegar (known as Black Vinegar)

Both Chinkiang vinegar (Chinese black vinegar) and rice vinegar is used in Chinese cooking; however, Chinkiang vinegar is perhaps the most favoured. As the name indicates, Chinkiang vinegar is much darker in colour and can be compared to dark soy sauce, and this rich colour comes from the long ageing process the vinegar goes through. Richness is also translated to its flavour which is somewhat tart, with undertones of malt and wood that set it miles apart from the fruity Korean rice wine alternative. It all depends on the flavours you want to achieve.

You can expect Chinkiang vinegar to be used in such things as a sweet and sour sauce. So, if you’re wanting to make everything in your Chinese meal from scratch a Chinkiang vinegar is a must-have product to stock in your cupboard.

Oyster Sauce

This tasty sauce adds a little extra to every dish it is combined with, much like hoisin sauce. However, the differences between hoisin and oyster sauce are that the latter is far less sweet, boasting a rich umami flavour. We would recommend adding a splash of oyster sauce to simple dishes such as noodle soup to achieve a dish with much more depth. Alternatively, oyster sauce can be a key ingredient in marinades for chicken or BBQ pork.

Dried Shiitake Mushrooms

The shiitake mushrooms are added to Chinese dishes that require a little extra flavour; they can be characterised by their strong flavouring which is guaranteed to add an extra level to your dish. Many renowned Chinese dishes use this ingredient, such as hot and sour soup and egg rolls, and can even be used in noodle or braised meat dishes.

Dried Chilli Peppers

What kitchen is complete without a stash of dried chilli peppers to call upon to add a little kick to your meals? Dried chilli peppers are used in a wealth of cuisines for this sole purpose. Within Sichuan cuisine, there are a variety of dried chilli peppers to choose from, such as the spicy ones to the ones that add a smoky taste.

Sichuan Peppercorn

Perhaps one of the most important ingredients in Sichuan cuisine because it is used in complimentary sauces and dips such as chilli oil or spicy garlic sauce. Sichuan peppercorn is usually infused with hot oil to produce very delicious, and easy-to-make, stir fried dishes.

Authentic Sichuan peppercorn can be particularly difficult to source; however, we have some in stock for you to buy.

Five Spice Powder

Five spice powder which should be a staple in your cupboard. Five spice powder is a really important ingredient within braising and marinating, however, it can also be a great addition to other styles of cooking to add a little more depth. The key thing to remember with five spice powder is that a little bit really does go a long way!

Sesame Oil

Made from ground sesame seeds this oil added at the end of cooking brings a distinctive Chinese flavour to any dish.

Garlic

Used in many a Chinese dish, garlic one of the essential flavours. I always have fresh garlic bulbs on the side and also a jar of garlic paste as well.

Ginger

I have 3 versions of this, ginger in the fridge to keep fresher for longer, I use this for making julienne to add burst of flavour to dishes. I always store some in the freezer and it’s easier for grating and I also have ginger paste in a jar.

Garlic and Black Bean Sauce

Great for making super quick sauces by adding water and a bit of sugar.

Rice

Rice is a major staple food in China. It is mainly grown in southern China. Chinese people eat rice almost every day for meals. People also use rice to produce wine and beer. It is one of the most popular foods in China and is used in many dishes.

Noodles

Noodles are a basic staple food in China. Chinese people love noodles very much, especially in the north. Chinese noodles are generally made from wheat flour, rice flour, or mung bean starch.

Noodles are often served in soup, or stir-fried with meat, eggs, or vegetables.

Onions

Chinese people use onion in a wide variety of dishes, especially in stir-fries. It can be stir-fried alone as a dish, or stir-fried with pork or other meat like beef or mutton.

Spring Onions

Used in cooking and also garnishes, spring onions are cut into small pieces and cook quickly especially in the wok

Bamboo Shoots

Bamboo shoots that are fresh, dried, or canned are very popular as an addition to stir-fries. They are used in numerous Chinese dishes and broths.

Bean Sprouts

You can either buy these fresh but they don’t keep for long or you can buy them tinned.

Chilies

Not many provinces have spicy food in China, chillies are used to create a mild heat and flavour.

Coriander

Fresh coriander is the herb of choice in Chinese cooking.

Chinese Sausage (Lap Cheong)

Chinese sausage, known commonly by its Cantonese name lap cheong. The term, in fact, is generic and covers a broad range of sausage, both fresh and smoked, and extends to sausages from Vietnam and Thailand