Asian Basics for a New Cuisine

Sunset, May 1998 | Go to article overview

Asian Basics for a New Cuisine


International sections of mainstream urban supermarkets should have most of these items. For more brand choices, shop in Asian groceries.

ASIAN (TOASTED) SESAME OIL: Dark oil extracted from toasted sesame seed. For maximum flavor, get a brand that is 100 percent sesame oil; cheaper blends are less intense.

Use for its rich, nutty, and toasted fragrance. Add at the end of cooking, as heat dissipates flavor and aroma. Add to salad dressings, marinades, and soups, and use to season vegetables or noodles.

Quick toasted sesame sauce. In a blender, smoothly puree equal parts toasted sesame seed and Asian (toasted) sesame oil. Brush the sauce on pan-browned fish or use to dress baby salad greens.

- James McDonald,

Pacific'o Restaurant, Lahaina, Hawaii Per tablespoon: 103 cal., 96% (99 cal.) from fat; 1 g protein; 11 g fat (1.5 g sat.); 1.3 g carbo (0.6 g fiber); 0.6 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

ASIAN FISH SAUCE: Thin, salty, amber-colored sauce made from fermented fish and salt. Look for nuoc mam or nam pla on label.

Use instead of salt or as a light-colored alternative to soy sauce, especially in curries, sauces, dipping sauces, salad dressings, and soups.

Use the sauce instead of anchovies in dressing for Caesar salad.

- David Soohoo, Neptune, Sacramento

ASIAN RED CHILI PASTE: A blend of fresh or dried hot red chilies and vinegar. The paste sometimes includes oil, garlic, and other seasonings. Heat level varies with brand and country of origin.

For pungent heat, add to salad dressings, stir-frys, marinades, and soups. Add to dipping sauce for spring rolls.

- Wolfgang Puck

COCONUT MILK: Made from water pressed through shredded fresh coconut. Thick cream floats to top.

Use to deglaze pans in which meat, poultry, or fish has been browned in butter or a mild-flavor oil; reduce slightly to make a velvety coconut sauce. - Tim Hartog, 301 Folsom, San Francisco

Use instead of cream in soups and sauces. - Roy Yamaguchi

FRESH GINGER: Long-lasting rhizome with pungent and refreshing bite. Use in savory and sweet dishessauces, dipping sauces, stir-frys, salad dressings, marinades, cakes, cookies, and breads. Especially good with fish.

Cut in fine slivers and fry crisp. Use to garnish entrees, soups, and salads. To crush whole ginger, put in a heavy plastic food bag and smash with a frying pan. - James McDonald

HOISIN SAUCE: Thick, sweet, redbrown sauce made from soybeans, vinegar, sugar, garlic, and bold spices.

Use in stir-frys, marinades, and barbecue sauces; brush sauce on near the end of cooking as the sugar makes it brown fast. Especially good with poultry and lamb.

Sear rack of lamb. Brush with hoisin sauce, press sesame seed onto lamb, and roast. - James McDonald Mix with garlic, ginger, guava pur6e, and sambal (Indonesian chili paste) for a sweet-hot, pungent marinade.

- Mako Segawa-Gonzales, Maui Beach Cafe, Los Angeles

LEMON GRASS: Pale green, woody grass stalks with distinctive lemon aroma. Remove fibrous outer layers and coarse leafy tops, and trim root. Use tender inner stalk. Adds fragrance and flavor but is not acidic.

Mince for stir-frys and curries.

To release the maximum amount of flavor, use a hammer or the blunt edge of a cleaver to crush stalk, then toast with ground turmeric, minced fresh ginger, and crushed garlic to make a seasoning base for sauces and marinades. …

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