Top 10 spices n’ sauces for most of my daily cooking
Welcome to my second blog post! For people who know me closely, my favourite thing to do is cooking. As a matter of fact, I love it so much that I’d whether cook than eat (of course doing both would be ideal so I don’t starve to death). Many of my dishes are Chinese, Western and South East Asian influenced. Now whether my cooking is outstanding or not is a debate for another day, there are principles that I follow regularly and one of them is to always have spices and sauces ready for most dishes I make. I will touch on other cooking principles in my future blog release but I feel that spices and sauces are key items to have in handy because:
- When you can’t think of a recipe, just throw some of it in.
- You don’t have to be very precise and most of the time the result is decent.
- If you follow a recipe and you don’t have a few ingredients (ie. herbs), you can always add spice to give a kick to it.
Without further adieu, here are the top 10 spices/sauces in my pantry.
Soy Sauce (Light & Dark) 老抽 & 生抽
You should always stock two kinds of Soy Sauce. The dark soy is earthy (which adds depth) and adds colour to your dish.
Black Peppercorns (With Pepper Mill for grinding) 胡椒子
In my experience, you should never buy already-grind peppercorns because it oxidizes easily and lose most of its flavour (only left with a peppery taste) before you get to use it in your dishes.
Fish Sauce 魚露
Used in most South East Asian cuisine dishes, fish sauce can be combined with spices and sometimes even soy sauce for cooking and dipping sauce. However there is only one fish sauce brand I trust – Viet Huong (3 Crabs). It doesn’t have that overly fishy smell. Important thing to remember when using fish sauce is that you should always dilute it with 3 parts water minimum or otherwise it overpowers all other ingredients in your dish. Please note that I am not affiliated with this fish sauce company and only learnt the different brands by experiences.
When used sparingly, cinnamon brings out the sweetness in meat dishes. I wasn’t convinced for many years until I started using it for braised beef, pork ribs and curry-like dishes. Just be careful when using it because little goes a long way! I also stock cinnamon powder but use it for dry rubs only.
Bay Leaves (whole & dried) 月桂葉
When I cook pasta for baby/toddler, bay leaf is a key ingredient for adding flavour without adding more salt and oil. While it can go into the “dry herb” section of the pantry, I use this as frequently as my other spices which is why I think it belongs to this blog post. Bay leaves give your sauce or stew an earthy and slight herb taste. I always have trouble explaining the importance of this ingredient but after doing many “with vs without” experiments, I concluded that this is absolutely needed especially for tomato and soy sauce based dishes. Use sparingly (at most 1 leaf per 2 servings) because it makes the dish slightly bitter if you add too much.
Smoke Paprika 熏制辣椒粉
I fell in love with this spice since my trip to southern Spain. The regular paprika tastes fine too but when you are making marinate or dry rub, the smoke paprika adds that smokey element to your dish that is difficult to achieve unless you use a smoker. For Chinese-speaking readers, don’t be fooled by the Chinese translated name, paprika is NOT “hot” or spicy and gives off a sweet taste instead.
Rice Wine 米酒
This instantly adds depth to all your dishes. Please note that the timing of adding the wine is important for stir fried dishes – you always want to add it near the end and with the heat on high to evaporate the remaining alcohol. Timing is less important if you are making a stew or braised meat dish. Get the clear coloured Chinese rice wine as it is the most versatile. Avoid using Japanese Sake because I believe it is not strong enough for most Asian dishes and you are better off drinking it instead of wasting it in your dish.
Star Anise 八角
Similar to cinnamon in terms of usage, you only need very little and it creates magical transformation to your dish. This spice perfumes your sauces especially when cooked with onion and garlic. It is also a “must-have” spice for Asian-style braised meat recipes.
This is one of the key ingredients in making curry. You may ask, why not use curry powder instead? Because cumin can be used for even non-curry dishes which in my opinion makes it more versatile. Unless you are a big curry-lover, you probably don’t want every dish to taste like curry right? Cumin can be used in large quantity in dry rub and very small quantities in regular sauces to enhance flavour.
ShaCha Sauce 沙茶
This is my personal flavourite because it is like combining fish sauce, shrimp paste and satay (kinda like curry with lots of peanut butter) together. When I’m out of time but still want to cook at home, I just add a few spoonful to my stir fried or rice noodles (ie. Udon) and it tastes great instantly. For family with little time but don’t want to add soy sauce on everything, ShaCha is an excellent option that I highly recommend. Do note that people with nut allergies should not eat this because it contains peanuts.
Below is the top 10 list with suggested brands for adding to your grocery shopping list
- Soy Sauce (Light & Dark) 頭老抽 & 頭生抽 / Lee Kam Kee
- Black Peppercorns (With Pepper Mill for grinding) 胡椒子 / No Name
- Fish Sauce 魚露 / Viet Huong Brand
- Cinnamon 肉桂 / No Name
- Bay Leaves (whole & dried) 月桂葉 / No Name
- Smoke Paprika 熏制辣椒粉 / Get something made in Spain
- Rice Wine 米酒 19.5% Alcohol / Taiwanese Brands preferred
- Star Anise 八角 / No Name
- Cumin 孜然 / No Name
- ShaCha Sauce 沙茶 / Lee Kam Kee