Pantry Extras – Part 1: Asian Seasonings

Soon, we’ll be taking a look at the next level of kitchen, pantry and dining equipment, tools and foods to have. We’ve looked at basic equipment in the kitchen. We talked about the minimum things we should have in our pantries. We even discussed the minimum pieces and tools you need to eat with. Now, it’s time to love to the next level.

Let’s start in the pantry this time. And let’s start with something near and dear to my heart, Asian sauces and spices. You don’t have to make a lot of stir-fries or other asian dishes to find these seasonings useful. These are some of my favorites, you may find others useful depending on the type of cooking you do. And some of these may not be too much to your liking. As always, follow your own instincts but don’t be afraid to try something new.

Tamari is a Japanese type of real soy sauce. Most of the commercial soy sauce you get at the store is not really soy, but wheat. Look at the ingredient list. Water is always first, but it’s the next couple of ingredients that really tell the story. You’ll see on the major brands that soy is way down on the list, almost more of a flavoring than a real component of the sauce. Tamari also has some wheat in it, but soy is a primary ingredient. I usually buy the reduced sodium version. You may find limited choices in your supermarket, but getting real soy sauce is worth the search. The taste difference is amazing. If you can’t find or don’t want Tamari than get a regular soy sauce to add to marinades, stir-fries and lots of other dishes.

Hoisin. I like to think of this as a sort of Chinese barbecue sauce. It’s made with fermented soybeans and some sort of sweetener, like sugar or plums. Its spiciness is subtle. It’s a great addition to any sauce for red meat or poultry.

Teriyaki sauce is not something you have to buy very often. In fact, you could make your own if you want. Teriyaki, a Japanese sweet and sour seasoning and cooking style, adds a tangy flavor to all kinds of food, including fruit.

Sesame oil. There are two varieties of this, each offering different qualities, neither should be used exclusively for frying or in place of other cooking oils. The taste is too strong for that. Sesame oil is used more as a seasoning than a cooking oil. Regular sesame oil is blond in color and has a strong but not overpowering taste. You can use a little more of this than of the toasted variety. Toasted sesame oil, my favorite, needs only a few drops to add a whole lot of flavor to all kinds of dishes. This oil has a less harsh but just as strong a flavor.

Ginger. Dried and fresh versions of this ancient spice have many uses. Fresh ginger has been used as a medicine. In some forms, it is a delicacy. Ginger is in the same family as turmeric and cardamom. When choosing fresh ginger, younger rhizomes are juicy and have a mild flavor suitable for flavoring oil or making candy. This is the ginger one pickles, which might be something you’ve seen on sushi plates. Older, mature ginger is fibrous and dry. It is usually used as a spice in all sorts of Asian cooking from Japan to India. Dried ginger has less potent taste and thus is used to flavor things like gingerbread.

Five Spice Powder. Perhaps you’ve heard of this Asian spice blend. While it is a must for lots of Chinese cooking, it’s also used for many other Asian cuisines. This blend reflects the Chinese idea of balance: strong and weak, hot and cool, pungent and subtle. Usually, this is a blend of star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Szechuan pepper and ground fennel seeds. There are other variations that might include powdered cassia buds (like cinnamon), anise seed or ground ginger. Five Spice Powder is especially good on greasy meats like pork or duck, but goes will in stir-fries or as part of a dry rub.

Fish Sauce. Like the English Worcestershire sauce, this is a fermented blend containing fish. It is a pungent staple condiment in many Asian dishes, especially Filipino and Southeast Asian cuisines. There are many different blends and brands and styles. You may have to experiment to find the type you like best.

Even if you don’t do a lot of Asian cooking, these spices and condiments make a great addition to The Bachelor’s Kitchen pantry.

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