Dried Sea Cucumber - 海参

Dried Sea Cucumber - 海参

Dried Sea Cucumber – 海参

You might be forgiven for mistaking the above two objects for fossilized dinosaur droppings but they are, in fact, a dried marine delicacy commonly called ‘Sea Cucumber’. These ‘cucumbers’, also known as ‘Beche-de-Mer’ or ‘Trepang’ are widely harvested and consumed but are especially popular in Chinese cookery where they are known as 海参 or ‘hǎishēn’, meaning ‘Sea Ginseng’.

Like tofu, these delicacies are prized more for their texture rather than their intrinsic flavor, which is practically non-existent and they are typically braised, or otherwise cooked with rich sauces and other ingredients from which they then take their flavor.

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Preserved Radish

Preserved Radish

Preserved Radish – An Introduction

The item pictured above may look rather alarmingly the ‘leftovers’ from an ancient Egyptian sex change operation, but it is, in fact, a type of very large Radish that has been preserved by salting. This type of Radish in question is most commonly known by its Japanese name ‘Daikon’ these days, but you can also find it in supermarkets as ‘Lo Bok’ (the Cantonese name), or ‘Mooli’.

Daikon is preserved by a variety of different techniques all across Asia, especially by lactic acid fermentation, but the most basic method is by salt curing the flesh to dehydrate it and prevent microbial spoilage. The result, using this particular technique, may not look all that appealing, but it is actually a versatile and tasty ingredient in all sorts of dishes.

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Dried Shrimp Paste a.k.a Belacan

Dried Shrimp Paste a.k.a Belacan

Dried Shrimp Paste a.k.a Belacan

Dried Shrimp Paste, known as Belacan in Malaysia, Terasi in Indonesia, and by a variety of other names elsewhere, is not widely used, or even known in the West. The ingredient can be very pungently aromatic when raw, and even actively unpleasant to some, but this ceases to be an issue once it is cooked, and the umami richness adds terrific depth to all sorts of dishes.

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A Package of Tindora aka the Ivy Gourd

Tindora – the Ivy Gourd

I have perused many Indian cookery books over the years, but I had never heard of Tindora until I came across it by chance in my local supermarket. I had to research it, of course, and discovered that the vegetable is quite widely used in the cuisines of Southern India. It is still not easy to come by in the West, even now, but it is well worth trying if you get the chance.

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Different forms of Fish Maw - 魚肚

Fish Maw or 魚肚 – An Introduction

The picture above shows what appear to be three very different things but, in fact, they are just different forms of a product used in Chinese and South-East Asian cookery, and commonly referred to as ‘Fish Maw’. It is an ingredient that is preserved by drying and is prized, particularly in Chinese cuisine for its texture rather than its taste. Being a dried ingredient, it requires soaking, and sometimes simmering before use, and you can read on to learn how to prepare and use this interesting foodstuff.

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Saijan aka Drumsticks

Saijan aka Drumsticks

Saijan aka Drumsticks

The curious looking vegetables you see above are, for fairly obvious reasons, popularly known, in English, as drumsticks. I have seen many, many recipes using these over the years, but it took many years for me to try it because they have not yet gained much of a foothold in North America. As yet. If you are able to source these locally, it is well worth trying out this interesting ingredient.

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A Piece of Guanciale

Guanciale – An Introduction

Most people have had, or even cooked, some sort of ‘Carbonara’ style pasta dish at one time or another (Spaghetti alla Carbonara, being especially favored), and generally, this will be made with the unsmoked Italian style bacon known as ‘Pancetta’, or, sometimes even, the regular, everyday smoked bacon commonly served with breakfast. The favoured traditional pork product, however… the ne plus ultra one might say, is the cut you see pictured above known as ‘Guanciale’…

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Forms of Katsuobushi

Katsuobushi – An Introduction

The curious brown item at the top of the above picture may resemble a chunk of aged wood, but it is actually Katsuobushi, a dried fish product essential to Japanese cuisine. This, together with the derived products ranged below it, represent one of the primary Umami-components in many, many Japanese dishes. Indeed, if you have ever eaten in a Japanese restaurant, it is highly likely that you have encountered Katsuobushi in one for or another. If you would like to learn more about this fascinating product and how it is used, read on…

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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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