Essential Ingredients for Making Chinese Dishes At Home

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These essential ingredients are exactly what you need when you’re making your favorite authentic Chinese dishes. Many of them can be found in large supermarkets, or at Asian grocery stores. With these basic building blocks of flavour, great-tasting Chinese food is just a stir-fry away.

Equip Your Kitchen With These Essential Ingredients For Chinese Dishes

Light Soy Sauce

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With a milder flavour than dark soy sauce, light soy sauce is useful for flavouring without overpowering the other elements of a dish. Look for low-sodium varieties. When using, start with less, and add more to taste as required. Some soy sauces are available in gluten-free varieties.

Oyster Sauce

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Oyster-flavoured sauce doesn’t really taste much like oysters, but this thick brown sauce is essential for enhancing the flavour of meats and seafood. It is often mixed with water and cornstarch to season and thicken sauces. Look for brands without monosodium glutamate (MSG).

White Rice Vinegar

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This mild white vinegar is used in many Asian cuisines and is often used to marinate cold dishes, or as a component in dressings. It is also used to add a slightly sour component to sweet and sour or hot and sour dishes.

Ginger and Garlic

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Two of the most basic elements of Chinese cooking, ginger, and garlic, are used in almost every dish. Ginger imparts both heat and flavour to soups, sauces, and steamed fish, and slivers of ginger are often consumed along with the food. Minced garlic is a basic flavouring for stir-fried vegetables, and many vegetable dishes are simply composed of leafy greens, garlic, oil, and salt. It is also added to almost any dish.

Vegetable or Peanut Oil

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Chinese food is usually cooked at high temperatures, so it is important to use an oil with a high smoke point. Peanut oil is the oil of choice for many chefs, but it also has a distinctive taste and may cause allergies in some people. Vegetable oil, while it has a lower smoke point, is generally sufficient for Western stoves (which do not get as hot as authentic Chinese stoves), and does not have a distinctive flavour.

Dried Red Chilies

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Spicy dried red chilies are often used, seeds and all, in many Sichuan dishes. Chopped and heated in oil, they can also be used to make a quick chili oil to use as a condiment. They can also be added to soy sauce to make a spicy dipping sauce. Dried red chilies are not eaten, and are often left on the plate after the food has been consumed.

Sesame Oil

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Chinese cooking uses the dark brown type of sesame oil (it is darker because the sesame seeds have been toasted) as a flavouring in sauces and many vegetable dishes. Toasted sesame oil is delicious drizzled lightly over stir-fried leafy greens, or in dressings for cold dishes.


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Used to thicken sauces, cornstarch should be added at the end of cooking, because its thickening properties break down when cooked too long. Cornstarch creates a shinier, smoother sauce than sauce thickened with flour. It is also used to marinate thin slices of meat and tends to make the meat tenderer.

Dried Shiitake Mushrooms

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These black mushrooms can be bought by the bagful from Asian food stores. They have a strong, pungent aroma, and should be soaked in water overnight before cooking (alternatively, soak them in boiling water for 45 minutes). Their intense flavour means that a little bit goes a long way. They are often used in pork and mushroom dumplings, vegetable dishes, and paired with other fungi and chicken.

What About Useful Ingredients and Equipment For Chinese Dishes?

There are tons of useful condiments, though not essential, include Shaoxing rice wine, dried scallops, dried baby shrimp, hoisin sauce, black pepper sauce, black bean sauce, spicy pickled vegetables, and Sichuan peppercorns. Useful equipment includes a wok, a rice cooker, and a steaming rack.

With these essential ingredients at your disposal, cooking Chinese food becomes much easier. When possible, use the Asian ingredient instead of a Western substitute. This will ensure that your Chinese dishes will taste as authentic as possible.


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