So you wanna learn how to cook an authentic Chinese meal? Or, perhaps you already know how to, but are looking to refresh your skills. Either way, it’s important to know the basics, and knowing the basic seasonings and ingredients that go into Chinese cooking is essential for beginners to know and masters to not forget. Look no further as Wok Fusion presents this list of the essential ingredients you need to make an authentic Chinese meal:
Seasoning is basically the process of adding flavors, or, otherwise, enhancing the natural flavor of food. You probably already know all the common American seasonings: salt, pepper, herbs, and spices. Interestingly enough, many of these are also used in Chinese cooking.
One of the most important things in Chinese cooking is to add the ingredients or use the seasoning in a particular order. Adding different seasonings at different times than when intended can result in a meal that does not taste exactly how you wanted. So, remember the basic rule: Be careful with your seasoning!
Also, it’s important to remember that, in many cases, seasoning can be added according to taste. For example, if you like your food really salty, it is sometimes good to add a little bit more salt according to how you like it. When making Chinese cooking, experimentation is not only encouraged, but expected! So, play around with the seasoning to find out exactly what you like best.
Seasoning can be divided into two basic classes: solid and liquid. The names describe the state of the particularly seasoning. If it can be held and grasped, it’s a solid seasoning. If it flows in your hand and is poured out of a bottle, it’s a liquid seasoning.
Five of the most common Chinese herbal seasonings or spices are fennel seeds, star anise, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, and cloves. These are staples in Chinese cooking that have been used throughout the centuries. In fact, the famous five-spice powder is created through a combination of these five seasonings. Five-spice powder is most famous because it is a representation of the basic five flavors in Chinese – sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty. Many recipes for five-spice powder include an equal amount of each ingredient, but some have more of one than the other in order to specifically identify one taste.
Aside from the Chinese seasonings are a variety of common known solid seasonings. Salt, for example, is used on nearly everything and can be found relatively easily.
Pepper, as well, is very common and can be bought for a cheap price. You should keep in mind that there is a huge difference between different kinds of peppers. If a recipe calls for black pepper, it’s usually a good idea to use black pepper and not white pepper, unless you know what you are doing.
A bunch of different solid seasonings can be bought in the store in crushed or diced form. These are usually sold in small jars or containers. There are an insane number of companies that make their own crushed seasoning, so just remember they’re out there. A quick example of an American-made seasoning you probably know would be Mrs. Dash. These seasonings work similarly to the other solid seasonings in that they serve to enhance the original flavor of meals.
Mostly everyone has heard of the most common type of Chinese liquid seasoning – soy sauce. Similar to the pre-made seasoning from above, soy sauces are produced by a variety of different companies. These companies try to differentiate between each other by slightly changing the formula, like Coke and Pepsi, but they all taste relatively the same. Like many things in Chinese cooking, it all depends on your personal tastes to say which soy sauce is the best.
Soy sauce is made from fermented soybeans, wheat, salt, and water. There are two kinds: light and dark. Light soy sauce is fairly think in texture and lighter in flavor. The darker kind will often have caramel added to it, and is much sweeter and thicker.
The second most common type of liquid seasoning would be sesame oil. Sesame oil is oil made from sesame seeds. It is made from roasted seeds and has an amber color, with a rich full flavor.
Other types of liquid seasoning include rice cooking wine, chili paste with garlic, and chili oil.
Seasonings are used to accentuate food – to create an overabundance of flavor and insight the senses. Remember to experiment a lot with your own mixture of seasonings to figure the flavors that are right for you.