Lots of dishes I did learn from my parents, my dearest beloved auntie, recipe books, and ‘invented’ based on the restaurant taste. But, no matter what, I have to improvise a lot sometimes, because the food or the ingredients are not exactly the same in UK, or simply because I could not remember all the details. :))
Now, about the ingredients, not a lot, and not all necessary for each dish:
- Oil: Again, in my hometown (Northeast) we normally use soy oil, healthy, aromatic. Unfortunately, here, it is not easy to find soy oil, (I used to be able to only buy it from ‘8th Day’ in Manchester). When I run out of soy oil, I normally use Veg oil instead, as it claims having soy oil as its main ingredient, although the taste is not that same. I use it especially for deep frying, and it can be more economic.
- Salt: I normally use fine sea salt, unless cook very different food.
-Soy sauce: I use ‘light soy sauce’ for the taste, and ‘dark soy sauce’ for the colour, although I prefer the natural colour of food nowadays.
- Vinegar: I prefer rice vinegar, which is traditionally used in China along with ‘Old vinegar’ （Chen Cu), it is soft, mild, not as sharp as, for instance, wine vinegar. And sometimes, the ‘Old vinegar’ is used for some particular dishes.
- Sugar: Lots of people are surprised that there is sugar in Chinese dishes. But a little pinch of white sugar could enhance the taste of the dish. In fact, you will be amazed of the taste that a mixture of a pinch of sugar and a drop of vinegar can bring to a dish. However, do be careful and do not put too much, otherwise, although the dish does not necessary taste sweet, it is not super healthy, and can make you thirsty afterwards.
- Cooking wine: This is only a kind of Chinese cooking wine I normally use, I get it from Chinese supermarket. The most famous brand, which has existed in China for centuries, is ‘Shaoxing cooking wine’. In fact, ‘Shaoxing rice wine’ is not bad either for drinks.
- Anise star
-Sichuan pepper: (Hua jiao) I am not sure if it is accurate to call it Sichuan pepper, although we normally use it as function of Sichuan pepper, there is another ‘real Sichuan pepper’ my Sichuan friends showed it to me, it is slight bigger in size, and stronger in taste, have more distinctive Sichuan spicy taste.
-Sichuan powder (Hua jiao mian)
-Five spice powder: Actually, there is another one we call 13 spices powder, which I normally use, I guess the taste and smell is richer. But, anyway, I would suggest not to buy it from the regular supermarket, they taste different, try Chinese supermarket, I prefer the brand “Wangshouyi”.
-Spiced water: Ha… :)) I named it myself, it is actually my mum who taught me how to do this, a secret. :) You put a little bit of anise star, cinnamon stick and Sichuan pepper in a little bottle, fill in water, let it soak for a bit, then pour a little bit into your dish. It can last for a few days. (I keep it in the fridge.)
-Sesame oil: Recently I prefer to buy it from M&S, it is much cheaper than the ones in Chinese supermarket, smell and taste great!!
-Sesame paste: Although a friend of mine told me she bought it in the normal supermarket, I have never been able to find it. So I buy it from Chinese supermarket here.
-Chilli Oil: You can make this at home easily by using dried red chili, it will cause some smoke, but the smell is amazing, at least to me. :)
There are some more small things that it is not necessary to have in hands all the time, if I come across when I am cooking, I will write them down then. :)
As for the woks, traditional Chinese wok is made of iron, it is thick enough for not burning the dish, and thin enough for instant heating up. Here a friend got us this steelless double layered posh wok. It does the job. Anyway, the most important thing is it has to have at least one longer handle for holding when you cook and for pouring the plate later. Saying that, there is kind of wok with two small short handles, although in English it is called ‘wok’, it is different in Chinese. A steamer is very useful. And of course a few sauce pans.
The cooking methods I normally use:
Shao: I don’t know how to explain the difference to stir fry exactly, let’s me when I actually ‘Shao’ one dish. :)
Zhao: deep frying
Jian: similar to shallow fry, but with less oil.
Ok, for now, let us see what we can do with all these. :))