When you landed on this page, I guess you already know Chinese cooking involves all kinds of spices and sauces that can make your food unique. But do you know how to use Chinese spices to magnify their magic effects? If you are not so sure, please continue.
Spices play a very important role in Chinese cooking. Many people know about Chinese-Five-Spice which normally combines 5 or more different spices powder. Now we also have spice powder combined 13 different spices which is mainly used for meat stew or cooking vegetables, an added flavor to the marinade, or for filling mixture. The basic ingredients of the Chinese-Five-Spice powder are ground peppercorn, cinnamon cassia, star anise, clove, and fennel seed. Some formulation includes dried ginger, amomum kravanh, licorice root, black pepper, dried tangerine peel (chenpi), and so on.
Here are 4 different formulas for Chinese-Five-Spice:
- 60g fructus amomi(sha ren, or cardamom seed), 12g clove, 7g amomum kravanh, 7g cinnamon cassia, 12g sand ginger (sha jiang)
- 20g star anise, 5g dried ginger, 8g fennel seed, 18g peppercorn, 6g dried tangerine peel (chenpi)
- 52g star anise, 7g cinnamon cassia, 10g sand ginger (sha jiang), 3g white pepper, 4g fructus amomi(sha ren, or cardamom seed), 17g dried ginger, 7g licorice root
- 20g peppercorn, 20g star anise, 10g fennel seed, 10g cinnamon cassia, 8g cloves
How to Use Chinese Spices?
Star Anise is mainly for meat boiling, braise, flavor potting, red cooking, etc. You can use it to get rid of the odor of a variety of meat and add an aromatic flavor to your dish. When you make red cooking pork, braised chicken, stewed pork chops, you can add some star anise to adjust the taste and increase appetite.
The four main effects of the black cardamom are boosting fragrance of the food, help with digestion, resolving dampness, and treating alcohol toxicity. With a special strong spicy flavor, black cardamom could increase your appetite, but the spicy level is much lower than Chinese pepper. It is a must-have for the base sauce of hot pot and spicy fragrant pot. You can use black cardamom for getting rid of the meat odor, as well as increase the fragrance of meat, especially for beef and mutton.
Cinnamon Cassia is the dried laurel tree bark which is used for getting rid of meat odor. It’s best for stew all kinds of meat; it’s different with cinnamon stick or powder which is widely used in cake and coffee. Cinnamon cassia contains volatile oil and it’s fragrant which takes away the greasy and fatty taste in the meat to increase the appetite. But it’s better not to use too much in the dish, as it could be too heavy to affect the original taste of the dishes.
Clove is made of dried lilac buds; it has a strong aroma. Braising the clove and meat together could remove the meat odor and add fruity flavor to the dish. But the amount of the usage should not be too much, or else the fragrance of clove could destroy the overall balance of the flavor of the dish. It’s mainly used for the spice to make meat, pastry, pickled products, roasted seeds and nuts, etc.
Bay Leaf is the dried laurel tree leaf. It’s used for remove the meat odor and increase the fragrance when you braise the meat soup. Bay leaf has strong taste, so you only need to add 1 or 2 pieces when you are cooking, otherwise, it will cover the original flavor of the food.
Finally here comes my most favorite spice. I’m a big fan of Szechuan cuisine; I think that is why I love Szechuan Peppercorn. The stereotype thought about Szechuan cuisine is SPICY, however, it delivers a more numb taste than spicy. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, peppercorn could warm the body’s Yang Qi (energy) and stave off the chill from the body. When you fry the peppercorn, the oil temperature should not be too high. Put some peppercorn, vegetable oil and soy sauce in a pan over medium heat, pour it on Chinese salad after the oil is hot and peppercorn color changed, you can already smell the fragrance. It is also an excellent spice for making pickled radish or carrot.
Fennel seed is a common Chinese spice which is essential for cooking fish and stewing meat. Like other spices, it can also remove the fishy-like smell or odor of the meat. The stem and leaf of the fennel are the seasoning spices too; they are full of fragrance and often used for fillings of stuffed buns and dumplings.
Most of the Chinese-Five-Spice doesn’t include cumin powder. Cumin Seed looks very like the fennel seed, but they are completely different things and flavors. Cumin becomes one of my favorite spices due to its special fragrance; it definitely could boost a unique flavor of your dish. It’s basically used for flash fry or grill; especially delivers a great taste for lamb.
Where to Buy Chinese Spices?
I’d say you can get most of the Chinese spices at your local Asian or Chinese grocery store or supermarket. If you live in the area where is not so convenient to get them, Amazon is also a good choice. Here are some spices I use and I got most of them from the local store.