The best soy sauce, sesame oil and more.
I love to cook Asian food, and getting authentic Asian flavors is very important. If you miss, it ruins the dish. I have never dared to substitute one ingredient for another, so I like to be sure I have all the correct and best ingredients on hand.
Here are what I have on hand for a basic Asian pantry:
Soy Sauce and/or Tamari – These are used in place of salt in Asian sauces, soups, fried rice, and sauces. For gluten-free eaters, there is gluten-free soy sauce available, and Tamari is gluten-free. Soy sauce is one of the oldest condiments in the world. I prefer a dark soy sauce, and that is what is called for in most recipes. A good one is Lee Kum Kee Premium Dark Soy Sauce. A 17 oz. bottle is $13.75.
Sesame Oil and Toasted Sesame Oil are among my favorite Asian sauces and marinades. They round out the flavors and add depth. They have a rich nutty flavor and a little goes a long way. Kadoya Sesame Oil is popular, $11.25 for 11 oz.
Try La Tourangelle Toasted Sesame Oil. A 16.9 oz. can is $11.00. pix
Rice Vinegar is mild vinegar and used in most vinaigrettes, dipping sauces and marinades. It is less acidic than most other vinegars. I don’t buy the seasoned versions. Marukan Unseasoned Rice Vinegar is a good brand. 24 oz. is $20.00.
Fish Sauce is often found in Thai and Vietnamese dishes. It is fermented anchovies and has a rich and salty flavor. A little goes a long way. I use it in stir-fry, and dipping sauces. Ignore the smell – it tastes wonderful! It is a umami (flavor booster) for many chefs (see ASE article on Umami). Red Boat and Megachef make delicious fish sauces. Red Boat is $12.50 for 17 oz.
Mirin is a sweet fermented rice wine that is a basic Japanese ingredient. It adds sweetness and acidiy to sauces and glazes. Kikkoman Aji Mirin is a good brand. $8.00 for 17 oz. pix
Noodles – you are going to have to experiment with all the varieties to see what you like best. Most are gluten-free. My favorite Japanese noodle is Soba (made with buckwheat flour) Soba and Udon noodles are great for soups. I love rice noodles which are used in many Asian cultures. Hakubaku Organic Soba noodles are $21.00 for an eight pack of 9.5 oz. noodle packs.
Hakubaku Organic Udon Wheat Noodles are $15.00 for an eight pack of 9.5 oz. packs.
Royal Elephant Rice Stick noodles are $7.50 for 16 oz.
Peanuts are a great addition to many Asian dishes. They are easy to find and they store well. Roasted peanuts are my favorite type because they are very crunchy and full of flavor.
Sriracha Sauce is a Thai hot sauce named for a town on the gulf of Thailand. It is made from sun-ripened chilies and is as popular in Asian cooking as Ketchup is in the U.S. Huy Fong is a good brand. A 17 oz. bottle is $7.00.
Hoisin Sauce is often referred to as Chinese barbecue sauce. It is a thick reddish brown mixture of sugar, vinegar, soy, garlic and chilies. Kikkoman makes a very good Hoisin sauce that is both sweet and salty and has a lot of flavor as does Koon Chun. A 15 oz. jar is $10.00.
Rice is a staple. Having a rice cooker is handy but not necessary. Jasmine rice is my favorite. It has delicate floral scent, even though it’s not a byproduct of the Jasmine plant. Both jasmine and basmati rice have high levels of a rice flavor compound. A popular brand is Dynasty Jasmine Rice. $9.00 for 2 lbs.
Coconut Milk is a sweet, rich liquid that has been strained from shredded raw coconut meat that has been steeped in either warm milk or water. It is used most in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. Look for coconut milk brands that have 1 gram or less of sugar because that allows the coconut flavor to be more prominent. Chaokoh Pure Coconut Milk is the brand recommended by Cooks Illustrated, 33.8 oz., pack of 6 is $36.50.
Miso paste – white, yellow and red – Miso is a traditional Japanese seasoning that adds a rich and earthy flavor. It is made by fermenting soybeans with salt, the special koji fermentation culture and different grains. White miso is known as the sweet miso because it has been fermented for the shortest amount of time and is lowest in salt. It has a milder, more delicate flavor. It is used most in the lighter sauces and warm weather soups. Yellow miso is also mild but has been fermented longer than white miso. It can be used in almost any soup, glaze or sauce. Red miso is a longer fermented miso and is saltier and more pungent as a result. It is used for heartier dishes, braises and marinades. It is quite strong so is used sparingly. Miso can be stored in the fridge for up to 9-12 months.
Hikari Organic White Miso – 1 tub 17.6 oz. $10.56.
Hikari Organic Red Miso – 1 tub 17.6 oz. $10.37
Shiro Yellow Miso 1 lb. $8.99.
Fresh ingredients to have on hand:
Fresh Ginger is used often in marinades, soups and sauces. You will grate it, mince it and slice it all after peeling it, which is a tiresome chore, but it’s so delicious it’s worth it. It keeps in the fridge a long time. It is available in every supermarket fresh veggie section.
Garlic, cilantro and limes. All keep well for a while in the fridge.