A few people have asked me whether cooking Asian food requires investing in lots of new ingredients and equipment. To a certain extent… yes, but you can work with a minimum.
I’ve been thinking about what my ‘minimum’ would look like:
A heavy wok – My wok is about 20 years old… cast iron, bought in Wanchai market in Hong Kong for about £2.00! Through years of use, it has become well seasoned and barely needs more than a rinse and a wipe clean as nothing tends to stick. Woks are very versatile and I use it for stir fries or deep frying, cooking dry curries and steaming fish (under a domed lid).
A saucepan with a tight fitting lid – essential for steaming rice.
Sharp knives and a microplane grater – i use mine to grate ginger, garlic, turmeric, cinnamon sticks, nutmeg (and of course parmesan!)
Pestle & Mortar – again, mine is an old stone one bought in Hong Kong. Heavy, utilitarian and ideal for grinding spices, smashing garlic and even onions.
Dry spices – The basics are whole and ground coriander and cumin, dried chilli (large – not those tiny ones), turmeric, chilli powder, cloves, cinnamon, garam masala. You can use these to supplement a good curry powder too. Most of these spices are used for lebanese/morrocan/turkish cuisine too so they won’t go to waste.
Liquids – Light Soy, sesame oil, rice wine (or dry sherry), vegetable oil, fish sauce.
And the essential Asian holy trinity of fresh garlic, ginger and onions!
I don’t have time to do an Asian shop on a weekly basis and am loath to pay Waitrose prices for 3 chilli or a tiny piece of ginger! So I periodically shop and stockpile either from Kingston Market or Asian/Middle Eastern supermarkets. I keep my ginger frozen and grate directly from the freezer – hence the microplane grater, and I also have a bag of red and green chilli, and lemon grass which can be sliced from frozen and added as needed.
I also use these Asian supermarkets to stock up on frozen parathas (so much better than supermarket naan breads), Pataks lime pickle, chiu chow chilli oil, sriracha, chilli bean sauce and Thai sweet chilli sauce, all of which would make anything taste good!