Beef shank cuts
Beef shank cuts

Beef shank hasn’t traditionally been a popular cut in western cookery and one still only infrequently sees it in supermarkets. The cut, sometimes called the ‘shin’ when taken from the front leg, is quite sinewy and shot through with tendons so it commonly ends up getting ground up for burger meat. This is a little unfortunate, really, as the meat can be very flavorful. If you get an opportunity to try it in Chinese restaurants, you will see why many Asians prize the meat for its collagen rich texture.

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Thai-Style Pickled Mustard
Thai-Style Pickled Mustard

Pickled Mustard is available in different styles all across East Asia and is especially popular in Chinese cuisine, where it may be identified simply as ‘Suān Cài’ (酸菜), which simply means ‘Sour Vegetable’, or more specifically as Suān Jiècài (酸芥菜), meaning ‘Sour Leaf Mustard’. Home-made versions are often pickled in brine only, and thus tend to be very sour from the lactic acid alone (as well as very salty), but commercial varieties often include vinegar and sugar and can thus be quite sweet. Many, although not all, of the Thai-Style Pickled Mustard products available are very much of the sweet-sour type. They are almost ubiquitous in Asian grocery stores and seem largely to have been packaged with the Chinese market in mind. They keep well, and their versatility makes it well worth having a package or two on hand.

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Dried Abalone in a Dish
Dried Abalone in a Dish

Dried Abalone is one of the more expensive ingredients used in Chinese cookery. Like Dried Shark’s Fin, or the famous ‘Bird’s Nest’, much of its cachet is less about the taste than it is the fact that, being so expensive, it is very much limited to, and associated with special occasions. It takes a lot of time to prepare Dried Abalone for use in the kitchen, and, ultimately, some people feel that the taste experience really isn’t worth the time or expense. Still, that being said, it remains as one of those things that ought to be tried at least once.


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An American Alligator and its Meat
An American Alligator and its Meat

Alligator Meat may a bit of a daunting culinary prospect for many people, given the alien and prehistoric appearance of these fearsome beasts. However, although they don’t actually taste like chicken, as often claimed for reptiles and other ‘exotics’, the taste and texture is familiar enough that those who like chicken, will usually like Alligator Meat as well.


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Zha Cai - Sichuan Preserved Vegetable
Zha Cai – Sichuan Preserved Vegetable

Zha Cai, or Sichuan Preserved Vegetable, is a spicy Sichuanese specialty featuring a type of mustard stem pickled by packing it with salt, garlic and chili.  It is a very versatile pantry ingredient that packs a powerful flavor punch and can be added to soups and stews, as well as steamed or stir-fried dishes.


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Whole Dried Squid
Whole Dried Squid

Dried Squid and Octopus are common cookery ingredients in China and all across Asia. The flavor of both of these sea-creatures, as with many other food products, becomes concentrated and intensified by the drying process, and this allows them to act as flavor enhancers in all sorts of dishes.

If you are unfamiliar with these particular foodstuffs, the prospect of even purchasing them can be daunting, but if you would like to take advantage of the umami-boost they can give to your recipes, read on and learn how to prepare and use them in your own kitchen…


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Broccolini
Broccolini

Broccolini may very well look like some sort of ‘Baby Broccoli’, or perhaps regular Broccoli that shot up a little too quickly before the ‘flower’ top grew, but it is neither of these. There is a relationship, though, and the two vegetables are similar, but broccolini tends to be a bit more delicate in texture and flavor. Accordingly, it is even enjoyed by those who don’t much care for its better-known cousin…


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King Oyster Mushrooms
King Oyster Mushrooms

King Oyster Mushrooms (officially named Pleurotus eryngii) go by quite a lot of different names. You may well encounter them as ‘King Trumpets’, ‘Trumpet Royales’, or even ‘French Horn Mushrooms’, depending on where you live.

The flavor of this variety is not especially remarkable in that they have roughly the same fungi-umami taste you would get from, say, Portobello’s, fresh Shiitake, or even just the plain white Button variety. What is special about them is the texture, which is very meaty and chewy, much like the similar ‘Oyster Mushrooms’ (which are similar, but just haven’t been elevated to ‘royal’ status). They can be lovely in stews or braised dishes, but are also terrific when grilled or pan-fried by themselves with just a little seasoning…

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A Horseradish Root
A Horseradish Root

This rather gnarly looking object is not a withered old tree branch, but is actually a Horseradish Root, the source of that sharp, pungent white condiment usually only encountered in jars purchased at the supermarket. The purchased varieties are fine to use, as long as you don’t let them age too long, but there are some benefits to using the fresh article that are also worth investigating…

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A selection of dried shrimp
A selection of dried shrimp

Do you use dried shrimp in your own kitchen? If not, then you really should think about adding this very versatile foodstuff to your pantry. Like mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, or Conpoy, the drying process highly concentrates the flavors of shrimp and produces a tremendous umami-punch that makes them very useful indeed. If you would like to learn how to prepare and use dried shrimp in recipes, along with tips for buying and storing them, then read on…

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