Sugar’s significance in savory dishes is sometimes overlooked, yet it’s every bit as crucial as in desserts. Many of the recipes on our blog, from braised meats to stir fries, call for sugar. To be specific, rock sugar and brown rock sugar are frequently utilized in Chinese cuisine.
This essay will focus on two varieties of Chinese rock sugar and their respective applications.
WHAT IS ROCK SUGAR?
During the Tang Dynasty of China, about the seventh century A.D., the method of producing rock sugar was likely developed.
In Sichuan Province, a monk found that boiling sugarcane juice produced a thick liquid that could be poured via a bamboo pipe into a saucepan. After a few days, the liquid would freeze into transparent cubes resembling ice.
Until the Ming Dynasty, when granulated sugar became more widely used, it was commonly referred to as “sugar frost” or “sugar ice.”
These days, rock sugar can be found in both lumpy and smoother, more uniform chunks, and its hue can range from a light golden to a pure white.
It has any discernible flavor beyond sweetness and is typically just slightly sweeter than regular white granulated sugar.
It adds a beautiful shine to sauces and braises as well.
When compared to white sugar, brown rock sugar, or bīng piàntáng, it has a few subtle distinctions. They’re wafer-like cubes that recall skinny caramel ice cream sandwiches.
Like regular sugar, it is produced by boiling down sugarcane, but unlike refined sugar, it retains the molasses that is typically discarded.
From light to deep brown, brown sugar goes by several other names, including slab sugar and brown sugar candy.
In the kitchen, this rock sugar is a staple ingredient. It’s sugary, yet the flavor is more akin to caramel.
ROCK SUGAR: HOW TO USE IT
Sugar is utilized to counteract the salty and sour qualities in various kinds of savory dishes. A few lumps of rice are added to our Hainanese chicken rice to counteract the saltiness of the black soy sauce.
It may also lend an appealing sheen to braised meals, in addition to balancing flavors in savory recipes. To cite just a few examples, we offer Chinese braised oxtails, roasted braised duck, and Shanghai-style braised pork belly. Feeling hungry now, just thinking about it!
There are many delicious ways to use this item. Try some Snow Fungus Soup with Pears if you’re feeling daring.
In addition, we utilize it to prepare the sweet red bean paste that goes into our delicious Su-style mooncakes.
Additionally, it sweetens our Sour Plum Tea, a fruity drink that is usually surprisingly cool on a hot summer day.
Using either form of rock sugar in a recipe requires the use of exact weights. (That’s why it’s so important for us to always include weight measurements in our recipes.)
Regular rock sugar typically comes in many different-sized lumps, so it’s important to experiment to determine which size is best for your recipe. Slabs of brown rock sugar can be broken or hacked to the desired size.
We adore the caramel-like flavor that brown rock sugar adds to Nian Gao, the sweet rice cakes served around Chinese New Year, and also gives Shanghai Smoked Fish a wonderful glazed appearance and a hint of sweetness.
PURCHASE AND STORAGE
Rock sugar is available for purchase in Asian grocery stores and markets. It could also be available at stores that sell spices and teas. Labels could refer to it as “rock candy,” “sugar crystal,” or “lump sugar,” among other names.
The sugar rock is sold in packages of tiny pieces. The tiny rectangular “bricks” of brown rock sugar that we mentioned earlier are sold by the pound.
You can find it at yamibuy.com, justasianfood.com, and mimodian.com, among other online Asian grocery stores, if you can’t find it in your area.
Keep in an airtight container and keep out of direct sunlight. It can be stored indefinitely, just like regular granulated sugar. You should consume it within two years of opening.
If you can’t find powdered sugar, you can substitute granulated white or brown sugar.
White sugar, when heated until it caramelizes somewhat, may be made to taste quite similar to Chinese brown sugar.