A glossary of dry seasonings and ingredients.
Enlarge Image Credit: Todd Coleman1. and 2. Cornstarch and potato starch are used to thicken sauces and for dusting meat and fish before frying. They also help to seal in succulence in velveted preparations such as the stir-fried chicken with celery (see Stir-Fried Chicken with Celery.) Potato starch has a stronger thickening ability, so use about a third less of it than you would cornstarch.
3. Fresh ginger is one of the most basic flavor components in stir-frying and imparts an indispensable lemony zing.
4. Small dried red chiles, about an inch or two in length, are often cooked whole so they won't release too much of their heat. Look for supple, bright red ones, as they fade and lose potency with age.
5. White pepper, rather than black, is preferred in Chinese kitchens for its deep, musky flavor and the fact that it will not mar the appearance of the dish.
6. Dried mushrooms which are rehydrated before use, add texture and heft to stir-fries and enhance the flavor of sauces and other foods.
7. Fermented red tofu is fermented in brine with red rice, salt, and rice wine. It imparts a distinctive, pungent flavor to braised dishes.