In French cuisine there is bouquet garni, a bundle of dried herbs and spices to flavour stocks and broths. Today I’ll show you its Chinese counterpart, a complex potpourri which is the backbone of soy sauce marinade 鹵水. Calling it a marinade is a bit misleading. It is closer in spirit to an extremely flavourful poaching liquid. In Chinese restaurants, you often find cold appetizer assortment of various protein cooked and marinated in this broth. It is said that the broth gets better with age since the essence of everything you previously made is released into the liquid. It is not unheard of that restaurants build its name on an heirloom broth dating back decades.
Lunar New Year is soon upon us and I set out to start my own heirloom before the year wraps up. Under the guidance of famed Taiwan cookbook authors 程安琪 (Angela Cheng) and 林慧懿 (Theresa Lin), I assembled my bouquet garni. My Western cooking background means even though I am fluent in Chinese, much of the Chinese ingredients read like foreign language to me. A few days of sleuthing and a visit to traditional herbs & dried goods store later, I think I have the mystery figured out. Here is a pictorial to save you some legwork.