The Chinese Pantry
These ingredients offer authentic flavor for Chinese cooking. You can find many of them in large supermarkets, and all of them in an Asian grocery.
You’ll find two varieties: light, which has subtle flavor and a high smoke point that makes it ideal for stir-frying, and dark, which has a nutty flavor and aroma, and is typically used to finish a dish or a dipping sauce.
We used readily available shiitake mushrooms (also called Chinese black mushrooms) for recipe testing. But try any variety or combination of Asian dried mushrooms, such as wood ear, cloud ear, and Chinese black. (Left to right: cloud ear, shiitake, wood ear)
This fermented rice wine (pronounced shaow-SHEEN) is produced in northern China. If you pick up a bottle labeled “Shao Cooking Wine,” know that it might contain added salt, so you may need to cut back on salt in the recipe. Substitute dry sherry in a pinch.
Chinese Black Vinegar
This assertively flavored rice vinegar is often used in stir-fries. Substitute: balsamic vinegar.
Made from soybeans, sugar, garlic, Chinese five-spice powder, and chiles, this thick sauce lends sweet flavor and a reddish hue to stir-fries and other dishes.
Redolent with the briny essence of oysters, this smoky-sweet sauce has a thick texture and dark-brown color. It is used in noodle dishes and stir-fries.
Made from fermented soybeans and roasted wheat or barley, this condiment lends a meaty saltiness to Asian fare. We call for low-sodium soy sauce to keep sodium in check, along with dark soy sauce, which has richer flavor and color.
A noodle dish is crucial to Chinese New Year celebrations, since long pasta represents a long life. You’ll often find several types of dried Asian noodles at supermarkets, and all manner of dried and fresh varieties at Asian groceries. Just follow the package directions for cooking the noodles before adding them to a stir-fry. Sturdy wheat noodles with added egg, such as e-fu, lo mein, or Shanghai-style noodles, are good candidates. (Back to front: fresh lo mein, Shanghai-style, dried lo mein)