White vinegar

How to Cook with Chinese Vinegar

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In Chinese cuisine, the role of vinegar is just as important as soy sauce.  A popular saying goes, “ Firewood, rice, oil, salt, soy sauce, vinegar and tea are the seven daily necessities.” (开门七件事,柴米油盐酱醋茶 kāimén qījiànshì, cháimǐyóuyánjiàngcùchá).

Chinese vinegar is mainly categorized into three types: white rice vinegar(白米醋  bái mǐcù), which has more of a  light yellow color, black rice vinegar (黑米醋 hēimǐcù) and red rice vinegar (红米醋 hóngmǐcù).

White vinegar has a mild flavor with less acidity, making it perfect for pickling and dressings. One simple and popular dressing, usually poured on thinly cut white radish, mixes white vinegar with light soy sauce, sesame oil, salt and sugar. Alternatively, for a  cucumber or cabbage salad dressing, mix the vinegar with light soy sauce, garlic, red pepper, salt, sugar and sesame oil. Many online Chinese recipes also recommend white vinegar for making Sichuan-style pickles.

Known also as “rosy rice vinegar,” red vinegar gets its fancy name from its transparent rosy color. It is usually blended with white vinegar and sugar to make pickles. Red vinegar and chili sauce make good companions for seasoning hot dishes like sour soup fish.

 Black vinegar has a much stronger fragrance and acidic flavor, and is best for dipping and cooking meat. No dumpling morsel should go without it! Mix it with soy sauce, sesame oil and chili oil for the ultimate plunge. Much like dark soy sauce, black vinegar is also used for meats and to add color to your dish. It is a must for sweet and sour fish or pork spareribs. Chinese nutritionists claim you should add black vinegar when you stir-fry potato slices, lotus roots or bean sprouts. This helps to preserve nutrients and adds a nice crispness. The most popular brand of black vinegar in China is Zhenjiang vinegar (镇江香醋 Zhènjiāng xiāngcù), which originates in the city of Zhenjiang.

Adding an ounce of black vinegar when you are stewing beef can soften the meat and make it taste better. Vinegar is also handy for reducing the strong odors (腥气 xīngqì) found in soy beans, eggs and fish. You can even try adding a few drops of vinegar when cooking seafood to get rid of a fishy smell!