Spice mixes are big business in China. The increasing pace of life and the rapidly expanding spending power of Chinese consumers renders spending a few hours in the kitchen per day to prepare the obligatory three hot family meals a day less and less attractive for Chinese.
However, these changes do not affect the Chinese demand for authentic flavours. Sure, an occasional Big Mac or a helping of Hot Wings from KFC is great, but in general food still has to look, feel, smell and taste as the real thing, regardless how fast it gets.
After my ‘What on earth is . . .’, I am therefore launching another series in this blog: Chinese flavours. I will introduce a number of generic classic Chinese flavours, and how they are implement in ready to eat, or ready to cook, products.
This kick off item introduces my own favourite: yuxiang (literally: ‘fish flavour’). There is actually no fish involved in this spice mix, but apparently it strikes the Chinese palate as fishy. It has reddish brown colour, combines al basic flavours: sweet, sour, salty and spicy and the three main pungent spices: ginger, onions, and garlic.
It can be combined with a number of macro-ingredients like pork, beef, fish and it can even be used to render foreign ingredients like potatoes Chinese.
The basic recipe
Here is a standard recipe for yuxiang sauce.
- Ingredients: seeped chili pepper or hot douban (see our item on douban sauce), salt, soy sauce, (rice) vinegar, sugar, MSG, ground ginger, ground rice, onions, stock, watered starch, cooking rice wine
- Preparation: mix all ingredients with some cooking oil and stir fry until fragrance and colour appear, then add the starch mixed with water. The yuxiang sauce if almost immediately ready.
- Attention: the taste and colour should not become caramel-like, so do not overcook.
- Application: yuxiang sauce can be combined with various meats and vegetables. First cook the fresh ingredients and add the sauce once they are done, to avoid overcooking the sauce.
Ready to use products
Now have a look at a few industrial foods using yuxiang sauce:
Guangzhi Food Yuxiang Eggplant Rice
The photo of the lid already shows what the product looks like inside: cooked rice and eggplants cooked with yuxiang sauce.
Amano Yuxiang Eggplant
This is yuxiang eggplant in what Chinese like to call a ‘soft can’, and aluminum foil pack, without rice.
Lee Kum Kee Yuxiang Sauce
Good old Lee Kum Kee would not want to lag behind and offers a ready to use yuxiang sauce in a pot.
Yuxiang for cats
Netease has started advertising for a yuxiang cat food under its own brand. I have not heard stories from Chinese cat owners.
Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975 and regularly travels to the remotest corners of that vast nation. He is a co-author of a major book introducing the cultural drivers behind China’s economic success.