Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Six ingredients in my pantry for chinese-takeout inspired recipes

Chinese food is a popular takeout option for most of us. The savory, aromatic comfort food is certainly one of my favorites to order, but a lot of times I have a problem with the cost of takeout food. It feels wasteful to me. If I'm going to eat food someone else has cooked, I'd rather enjoy it in their home (friends and fam) or have a full out restaurant experience. So I end up making my own version at home.

If you, like me, are looking to make more Chinese-style dishes in your kitchen for your family such as hunan chicken, or teriyaki chicken, fried rice in its various incantations, stir fry protein with vegetables, etc., consider these the staple ingredients:

1. Light soy sauce
As indispensable as ketchup is to me, soy sauce is used as a dipping sauce for a myriad of dishes, as well as using it for the base of stir fries and noodle dishes. If you want to start up your perfect Chinese pantry, light soy sauce should be the first ingredient on the list. It has a distinct saltiness and savory flavor and is always a welcome addition to a dish. I put soy sauce on many things and use it in a lot of marinades I make. I'm partial to Kikkoman, available at 90% of grocery stores.

2. Dark soy sauce
As well as light soy sauce, dark soy sauce is a good addition to your pantry. Dark soy sauce has a deeper and richer flavor than regular or light soy sauce and can be a great way to improve depth of flavor in a dish. It's slightly thicker, less salty and more sweet. I like to use it for braising meat or poultry. I'm partial to Lee Kum Kee premium dark soy sauce.

3. Sesame oil
Sesame has a lot of uses in the culinary world but the only way I use it is to add a savory, nutty flavor to a dish. I cook my vegetables and meat in sesame oil a lot even if I'm not making what I'd consider a Chinese-inspired dish. When searching for a good sesame oil it is important to look for one which is dark amber in color, as this indicates that the seeds were toasted, bringing a much richer flavor. I troll the foodstuffs at Marshalls and HomeGoods for Sesame Oil. Check that aisle out.

4. Chinkiang Vinegar
I use this in lieu of Shaoxing wine. Sometimes I just grab a run of the mill rice wine vinegar from the grocery and call it a day but I like to have this black vinegar on hand. It's a good dipper for pot stickers or steamed dumplings. It's awesome to mix with some sesame oil for a salad dressing. I like Gold Plum Chinkiang Vinegar (if you have an Asian market near you, it will likely be cheaper there).

5. Oyster sauce
If you are not a fan of seafood, the idea of oyster sauce might gross you out. In many Chinese dishes oyster sauce is used to provide a rich salty flavor and often doesn't taste fishy at all. Oyster sauce provides the umami flavor that is so important when balancing out sweet and sticky Chinese takeout dish flavors. If you've have created a dish and it feels as if it is missing something, a dash of oyster sauce is often the remedy. I use Lee Kum Kee premium oyster sauce.

6. Cornstarch
So not what you expected, right? LOL. When creating thick sauces and glazes for food, cornstarch is sometimes added to a sauce to thicken it. When creating a sauce such as a thin soy sauce based-hoisin, mixing some cornstarch in water and pouring it into the wok is the ideal way to thicken the sauce, giving it some body and stretch to allow it to coat everything in the pan. 

Do you make Chinese-inspired dishes at home? Do you like copy cat make at home recipes of popular restaurant or takeout items? If so do you have a favorite to share? I'm only mid-way through life and running out of ideas of what to make for lunch and dinner daily. Help a sister out. Right now I'm working off of Omnivore's Cookbook recipes

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