We are a nation of Chinese food lovers. Ever since the cuisine became popular within the UK in the 1950s, we’ve gone from not only regularly ordering Chinese as a takeaway favourite, but cooking regional Chinese food within our own homes too.
Given the unique flavour and texture combinations Chinese cuisine offers, we want to celebrate Chinese New Year but giving you some top tips on finding the right ingredients to create authentic Chinese dishes that you and your entire family can enjoy. Here’s what to look for:
Authentic Chinese mushrooms can transform a stir fry or soup, and make a wonderful change from your regular button mushroom. You might need to look a little harder to find some of these, but Asian stores, world food aisles or even online speciality stores are a good place to start.
Here’s some of our favourites:
- Shiitake: Usually purchased in a dried state, this potent and characterful mushroom has 4 to 10 times the flavour of a common white mushroom. They also have a meaty texture that give your meal an additional dimension. Go careful though, you won’t need to use too many of these little beauties.
- Shimeji: Unique thanks to their elongated shape, the Shiemji mushroom has a nutty aroma and satisfying crunch. You can add it to soups, stews or stir fries, or you can slow roast them with a little bit of low fat butter.
- Oyster: What we love about oyster mushrooms is that they’re beautifully thin and delicate, making them easier to evenly cook than many of the meatier mushrooms out there. Fry them lightly and scatter into any stir fry or Chinese curry.
If your kale’s gone stale, it might be time to spruce up your next meal with a variety of Chinese greens. Chinese greens add crunch, flavour and essential nutrients to a meal. Have them as a side dish or main event – you’ll love them either way! Here’s some of our favourites:
- Napa Cabbage: A well known green available in most major supermarkets, this authentic Asian cabbage has a mild taste and soft texture. This means it’s versatile and suited to most tastes. You can add it to soups and stir fries, or even eat it raw if you’d like a quick snack!
- Pok Choy: This leafy green is overflowing with vitamins (including A, B and K) and 100g only contains around 13 calories! Much like Napa Cabbage, it’s incredibly versatile and features in a number of Hairy Bikers Diet Club recipes.
- Spinach: Technically, the Chinese variety of spinach to look for is ‘water spinach’, but given that the two are very similar, you might want to opt for the most common variety. Wilt spinach in a stir fry or soup for an added bit of nutrition and feel fuller for longer as a result. This works particularly well with fish dishes.
Tofu was invented in Northern China in 164BC – so it’s been around a good long while! Its popularity has certainly surged in the last decade with growing numbers of people using it as a meat substitute in Asian cooking and beyond. The problem is, tofu can be a tad bland unless you cook it just right. Here’s our top tips:
- Properly drain the tofu before use. Do this using paper towels to ensure as much moisture as possible is removed. This will help you to avoid creating that ‘squashy’ texture some tofu can have.
- Avoid allowing too much oil to come into contact with the tofu. As tofu contains a lot of water, it can create an unwanted texture when combined with a lot of oil.
- If you’re marinating tofu, do this overnight in the fridge for the best results.
For a delicious and unique tofu recipe, see our sweet soy barbecue tofu skewers!
Sauces and Marinades
One of the most beautiful elements of Chinese cooking is those subtle background flavours created by a combination of sauces, wines and marinades. You won’t find an authentic Chinese recipe without one of theses ingredients, so we recommend you stock up on the following:
- Reduced salt soy sauce: This is a staple Chinese cuisine ingredient. Use within your cooking, or add at the end to flavour rice. You can choose light or dark depending on your preference.
- Fish sauce: This is a bit of a stinky ingredient, especially when it spills inside your fridge, but when added in the correct quantities to stir fries, fish curries and Chinese soups, it creates the most beautiful base flavour. Just make sure you keep the lid on tight when not in use!
- Oyster sauce: Similar to fish sauce, oyster sauce works as an acidic base ingredient for many stir fries. Once you’ve tried it, you won’t be able to imagine a stir fry without it!
- Sake: Also a drink within Chinese cuisine, sake gives your cooking a real boost! Feel free to warm up a cheeky glass and enjoy while you’re frying. Go careful though, it’s quite strong!
If you’d like to learn more about Chinese cooking the right way, you can join The Hairy Bikers Diet Club. Every recipe in our recipe index is bursting with flavour, and none of it tastes like diet food. Remember, there are no calories in flavour, and we can show you how to best use your staple ingredients to create authentic, delicious meals for the entire family.