Unusual Ingredients

As for special Chinese ingredients (listed below) one hardly ever needs more than 10 or 12 of them. They are all easily obtained in the Chinese stores and supermarkets that can now be found in many provincial towns. In London, of course, there are three or four dozen of them. With their help you can launch into Chinese cooking with the fullest confidence and produce typical (and authentic) Chinese dishes.

Soya Bean Products

Soy Sauce
Used extensively for flavouring or as a condiment or dip. Light soy sauce has a more delicate flavour and delicately flavoured dished. When the colour is not specified in a recipe, this is the one to use Dark soy sauce imparts a rich colour to food and is used for red- cooking for dark stews and meats.

Yellow bean paste or sauce
Available in jars or cans in Chinese food stores. Often used instead of soy sauce when a thicker sauce is required.

Black bean paste or sauce
Similar to yellow bean paste, only darker.

Salted black beans
These are very salty indeed and need to be soaked for 5-10 minutes before use. They are then usually mashed into the cooking oil or sauce over high heat.

Hoisin sauce
(also called barbecue sauce) A thick soy-based sauce with a sweet, hot flavour.

Bean curd
Also known as tofu. An almost tasteless substance made from pureed yellow soya beans, which are very high in protein. It looks like junket, and is sold in cakes about 7.5 cm (3 inches) square.

Dried bean curd
Also sold in cake form. It can be cut into strips or slices and stewed, braised or fried.

Bean curd cheese
(fermented bean curd) Made by fermenting bean curd cubes in rice wine or salt. Available in two forms - white, or the Southern China red, which is more strongly flavoured. Both are very salty and strong-tasting.

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Dried Vegetables and Fungi

Chinese dried mushrooms
Widely used for their flavour and aroma. Soak them in warm water for 20 minutes before using.

Wood ears
(also known as cloud ears) Dried grey-black fungi which should be soaked in warm water for 20 minutes before use. They have a crunchy texture and a mild flavour.

Straw mushrooms
are completely different to other Chinese mushrooms in flavour and texture. They are only available canned.

Dried chestnuts
Soak overnight in cold water then simmer in fresh water for 20 minutes.

Lotus nuts
Available dried or canned in syrup. If dried, they should be soaked for 24 hours before use.

Lotus leaves
Often used to wrap food before cooking, in the same way the West uses foil. The food is then usually steamed, the leaves imparting a special flavour to the food. The parcels are usually served whole and unwrapped at the table, the leaves being discarded afterwards.

Tiger lily buds
(golden needles) They have a musky, slightly acrid flavour. Soak for 30 minutes in hot water before use.

Dried tangerine peel
Gives a strong orangey flavour to meat and stews. Soak for 20 minutes in warm water before use. You can dry your own.

Dried seaweed
Sold in wads. When deep-fried in oil it becomes crisp and has a toasted fragrance.

Hair seaweed
Fine black dried seaweed. A traditional ingredient of some vegetarian Buddhist dishes. It should be soaked for at least 20 minutes before use.

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Canned Vegetables

Water chestnuts
Available canned ready peeled. They have a mild, sweet taste and a very crunchy texture. Bamboo shoots
(not to be confused with beansprouts) Available canned in large chunks. Often used in stirfrying to give texture to dishes.

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Dried Fish and Seafood

Dried squid
Tastes quite different from fresh squid and is regarded highly as a delicacy. Used to give extra flavour to dishes. Soak before use in a solution of bicarbonate of soda, to soften it. Dried shrimps
Widely used to flavour savoury dishes. Soak in warm water for 30 minutes before use.

Fish maw
Comes from the shark. Dried, it looks like a small yellow sponge, and has to be soaked for 2 hours before use.

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Snow pickle
This is salted mustard greens. It is greenish in colour and has a milidly sour flavour.

Winter pickle
Salted cabbage, brownish green in colour, is savoury and mildly salty. Sold in earthenware jars.

Szechuan pickle
is hot and salty, with a peppery flavour. Often used to intensify the spiciness of a dish.

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Sauces, Pastes and Oils

Chilli sauce
A hot-tasting sauce made from red chilli. Similar in flavour to Tabasco. Greatly used in Szechuan.

Oyster sauce
A thickish brown sauce made from soy sauce and oysters. Used mostly in the south.

Sesame paste
Paste made from seame seeds - very similar to peanut butter. Extermely rich and aromatic.

Sesame oil
Widely used for its nutty, aromatic flavour. Sold in jars. It will keep almost indefinitely.

Chilli oil
The oil is made by frying small red chillies slowly in oil. The oil is reddish in colour and very hot.

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Rice and Noodles

Egg noodles
made from wheat flour and eggs, can be round, like spaghetti, or flat ribbons. They can be bought fresh or dried in Chinese supermarkets. Italian pasta can be used as a substitute. Fresh noodles need a very short cooking time -- 3-4 minutes.

Rice noodles
(also called rice stick noodles) are white and thread-like. They can be found both round and flat, and are sold in packets in Chinese supermarkets.

Pea-starch noodles
(also called cellophane noodles) or vermicelli, are white and translucent and resemble candyfloss. They should be soaked for 5 minutes before use. Glutinous rice
Round-grained rice used for stuffings and puddings such as Eight Treasure Rice. Pudding rice can be used instead.

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<>   Last Modified by Xiaoniu SuChu Hsu (p) in May 1998    suchu@techart.nia.edu.tw