Can we chat about staples for a minute? Staples are the go-to items you keep in your pantry, the supporting cast to the star ingredients of every dish or meal. My shelves are ALWAYS stocked with herbs, spices, olive oil, grains, pasta, chicken stock, vinegars and my favorite canned foods – diced tomatoes and beans. With these items on hand I can pull a meal together quickly with little fuss. My baking basket, literally a basket I keep in my pantry that holds my baking ingredients, is always loaded with flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, extracts and chocolate chips.
The more time you spend in the kitchen experimenting with new ingredients and recipes, the larger your supply of staples will grow. Which brings us to my gorgeous Shrimp Fried Rice up there. When I get a hankering for this beauty or any of my other Asian favorites, it helps to have a few key Asian ingredients on hand to give these dishes their better-than-take-out flavor. Here are five to get you started.
Stock Your Asian Pantry Ingredients
Soy Sauce does double duty as both an ingredient in many Asian dishes and as a condiment. It’s made by fermenting cooked soy beans with wheat and salt, so much salt that you typically don’t need to season to taste as you cook.
Sesame Oil is used to add a rich, nutty flavor to Asian dishes. Its dark brown color and distinctive flavor (a little goes a long way) come from the toasted sesame seeds used to make it. Be sure not to confuse it with the lighter-colored sesame oil that’s made with untoasted sesame seeds. Sesame Oil has a big flavor and low smoke point so you’ll only want to use it as a finishing oil, near the end of your cooking process so the heat doesn’t distort its flavor.
Fish Sauce, also known as nuoc man or nam pla, is made by fermenting salted anchovy-like fish. It adds a wonderful richness to food despite it’s horrific (yes, horrific) aroma. Seriously, this will elevate your Asian dishes from good to great but I beg of you with all my heart do NOT sniff the fish sauce!
For reals, I could eat Thai Sweet Chili Sauce straight out of the bottle. It’s a little sweet, a little spicy, a lotta yum. Made from pickled red chilies, vinegar, garlic and salt you can use it as a dipping sauce on its own or mix it with other flavors to make sauces for dipping, stir fries or other dishes. (One day, if you’re nice, I’ll share my best ever dipping sauce for spring rolls, egg rolls, all the rolls and anything else you want to taste amazing. It starts with Thai Sweet Chili Sauce.)
Rice Vinegar is brewed from rice wine. It comes in two varieties — seasoned and unseasoned. Seasoned rice vinegar has added sugar or salt to give it more flavor. Unseasoned, my personal favorite, has no additives, just a light, almost clear color and a nice, clean flavor. It also lets me control the sugars, salts or whatever else is added to it.
So, take a stroll through the international aisle at your supermarket, grab these five to stock your Asian pantry and give your favorite Asian foods a try. Start with this Shrimp Fried Rice! This right here, is a gem of a recipe. Quick to cook and tasty to boot. You’ll have a hard time ordering it from your takeout menu after you’ve had this. It’s that simple and that good.
Besides the fact that it tastes amazing, what I love about this recipe is the shortcuts. Start with cooked rice. It can be leftover from last night’s dinner or last night’s takeout. In a pinch I’ll whip up a little quick-cooking rice and I’m ready to go in 5 minutes. I keep a bag or two of frozen mixed veggies in the freezer specifically for this recipe. It has all the familiar favorites you’re used to in your shrimp fried rice and it only needs a quick rinse in hot water to thaw it enough to use here. Yes, you read that right! You don’t even have to thaw the veggies completely before adding them to the pan! Rinse them just to the point where they’re not frozen together in clumps and they’re ready for the wok (or sauté pan). A quick stir-fry with the rice and other ingredients will cook them through.
Now get out your chopsticks and let’s get your stir-fry on!
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
- 3 cups frozen veggies, rinsed in warm water and drained
- 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 4 cups cooked white rice
- 1/2 cup sliced green onions (about 5 or 6)
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a wok or large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add eggs, stirring until scrambled. Remove scrambled eggs from pan and set aside.
- Return wok or pan to medium high heat and add garlic and ginger. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 30-45 seconds. Season shrimp lightly with salt and pepper and add to pan. Toss until evenly coated in the garlic and ginger. Cook shrimp until it just begins to turn pink, about a minute, then stir in vegetables. Continue cooking until vegetables are fork tender but still crisp and shrimp are cooked through, 5-6 minutes.
- Stir in rice, green onions, soy sauce and sesame oil, stirring until rice is heated through and evenly coated, 2-4 minutes.