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Seasonings, Spices, and Other Flavorings
Sauces, Seasonings, and Spices
Fall Volume: 2018 Issue: 25(3) pages: 34 to 37
Confucius did say he would never eat anything not
well seasoned; and he meant not seasoned with
a good sauce. Those who want well-flavored
Chinese food should take his words to heart. All Chinese
cooking should have ‘deep penetrating flavor.’ It should
use one or more seasonings, cooking methods, sauces,
spices, herbs, and when appropriate, one or more
reconstituted dried foods drained well. All seasonings
can enhance the flavor of a dish, and here are some
thoughts about them.
In China, the practice of using herbs or other seasonings
probably did begin more than five thousand years ago.
Then, they were used medicinally. That was long before
Fo Hi, a Chinese emperor, knew he and his people were
using thousands of them as remedies. They did so early
on, probably long before 2700 BCE. Why that year?
Because then, a Chinese book translated as The Classic
Herbal mentions one hundred spices and herbs for
medicinal purposes. Some were also added to foods
as were essences or extracts of ground spices mixed
with alcohol as were emulsions or spices mixed with
essential oils. One of the most distinct and appreciated
was from an evergreen tree and called star anise.
Botanically known as Illicium verum, the Chinese like
it in soups, stocks, and main dishes as it has a taste
similar to licorice or anise seed and they do use it to
flavor marbled eggs and other foods, herbal teas, many
foods, and many medicines, too.
We recommend storing it in small glass containers.
That is better than keeping it in plastic ones. Some
Chinese also chew it as a digestive or use it to sweeten
their breath. It can also be found in many Chinese
bakery items, fruit dishes, and liqueurs. It is also one
ingredient in five-spice powder; the others often are
cassia, cloves, fennel, and Sichuan peppercorn known
botanically as Zanthoxylum simulans>/i>. Some call it
fagara, wild pepper, Chinese pepper, flower pepper,
or anise pepper. It is the dried berries of the prickly
ash tree; tastes sharp, numbs the tongue, and is best
when reddish brown. There are other popular Chinese
flavorings, and we suggest you get to know and use
them all. Below we group them for convenience and
Basic Chinese Seasonings include
salt, pepper, vinegar, regular and sesame oil, wine,
soy sauce, sugar, flavored oils, various starches called
flours such as cornstarch, water chestnut flour, lotus,
sweet potato, and other flours. Try them and others,
one at a time of course, and not in the same dish each
time. Their thickening abilities and their flavors are all
Spices include whole or ground star anise, Sichuan
peppercorn, five-spice powder, cassia or cinnamon
bark, chili peppers and chili powders, curry powder,
orange and tangerine peel, nutmeg, mustard seed,
saffron, sesame seeds, turmeric, allspice, cumin,
fennel, cloves, and various spice blends. They can be
used for stewing, red-cooking, stir-frying, and with
other cooking techniques.
Herbs include fresh and dried ginger, garlic and
garlic chives, the latter some know as Chinese chives,
cilantro, onions, chives, and sweet basil. These are the
most common ones used for marinating, stir-frying,
and garnishing, and in dipping sauces.
Sauces includes soy sauce, oyster sauce, fermented
black bean sauce, chili bean sauce, yellow bean sauce,
sa cha sauce, sweet and sour sauces, wine sauces, and
Hunan sauce, Sichuan sauce, and other sauces.
Dried Items such as shrimp, scallops which
the Chinese call conpoy>/i>, fish, squid, many different
mushrooms, cabbage, cured meats, and more all need
soaking, squeezing excess water out, and reserving this
liquid for other uses. It can be set aside or used in total
in soups and sauces that are then stir-fried or steamed
in many different preparations. Regionally, northern
cuisine generally uses one or more bean sauces with or
without garlic, onions, leeks, and/or scallions. Eastern
cuisine uses red-cooked sauces marinated before or
after cooking alone or with cut meats, and in making
snacks and pastries. Cantonese cuisine uses many
seafood sauces in casseroles, stir-fried dishes, and snack
foods alone or mixed with other foods, or with oyster
sauce, black bean sauce, sa cha sauce and others.
All Chinese cooking uses seasonings before or during
the cooking of a dish. They rarely use them after their
foods are cooked. Meats are often marinated before
cooking to tenderize them and/or increase their taste.
When dishes have light tastes, they can add soy sauce
or sesame oil, a teaspoon of sugar and/or a little
chicken broth to increase their taste. Half teaspoon of
black bean sauce with or without sesame oil is another
possibility, as is some five-spice powder.
3 to 5 whole star anise
1 Tablespoon fennel seeds
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
2 three-inch pieces of cassia or cinnamon
½ teaspoon coriander seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
1. This can include small amounts of: ground licorice
root, dried ginger, whole white peppercorns, dried
thyme, seeded dried chili pepper or cayenne powder,
coriander seeds, a bay leaf or two, salt, black onion
seeds, and/or brown sugar.
2. Grind selected items and store in a glass jar.
3. Shake the mixture before using it. It can keep for two
to four months.
½ pound minced of finely chopped lamb
2 medium potatoes, boiled and mashed
5 water chestnuts, smashed well
4 Tablespoons cornstarch
3 scallions, slivered
salt and pepper, to taste
1 Tablespoon black bean sauce
1 Tablespoon thin soy sauce
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1. Mix lamb, mashed potatoes, smashed water chestnuts,
egg, cornstarch, slivered scallions, and salt and pepper,
to taste, then shape into five meat patties.
2. Mix black bean sauce and the soy sauce and brush a
little on each side of each patty.
3. Heat wok or fry pan, add the oil, put the patties in the
oil and fry until golden on each side.
½ cup vegetable oil
2 large leeks, each cut in half, then into five-inch lengths, and finally in very thin strips
1 teaspoon five-spice powder
dash of coarse salt
1. Heat a wok or fry pan, add the oil, and fry the
matchsticks of leek until golden brown. Next remove to
2. Sprinkle on five-spice powder and serve.
|Eggs and Loquat Conpoy|
3 conpoy, soaked for two hours, steamed with one tablespoon rice wine and one slice fresh ginger slivered for one hour, cooled and torn in thin shreds
2 Tablespoons water chestnut flour
1/4 pound crab meat
1 scallion, slivered
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
6 eggs, beaten well
1. Steam and prepare the conpoy; and when dry, shred it.
2. Mix water chestnut flour with crab meat, shredded
conpoy, and the slivered scallions.
3. Grease two or three ceramic soup spoons with oil and
then add beaten eggs to the conpoy mixture. Steam it
in these spoons over boiling water for six minutes, cool
slightly, then remove these spoon-shaped items.
4. Heat a wok or fry pan, add the remaining oil, and panfry
these pieces on each side until lightly colored, then se
as is or in other dishes.
½ cup smooth peanut butter or sesame paste
3 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
3 Tablespoons minced fresh ginger
2 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 Tablespoon Chinese black vinegar
2 Tablespoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon honey
3 Tablespoons lotus flour
½ teaspoon chili pepper flakes
½ pound thin wheat or rice noodles, cooked and drained
3 scallions, slivered
1 red pepper. Seeded and slivered
3 Tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
1. Put peanut butter or sesame paste, thin soy sauce, fresh
ginger, garlic cloves, black vinegar, sesame oil, honey,
lotus flour, and chili pepper flakes into a blender and
blend until smooth, then transfer to a glass bowl or jar.
2. Mix drained noodles and rinse quickly under cool
water, then mix with the scallions, red pepper slivers,
and the toasted sesame seeds.
3. Put some blended sauce on some noodles and toss
them, then serve to each person.
|Chinese Spice Rub|
1 star anise, broken in pieces
1 Tablespoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
1 Tablespoon ground smoked paprika
½ teaspoon cayenne powder
½ teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
1. Put all ingredients into a dry clean spice grinder. Turn
it on an off until no large pieces are visible, but do not
grind it too finely.
2. Then store it in small glass jars in a cool dark location,
and use when and as needed. We use several small jars
so it is not exposed to too much air by their frequently