The Two Most Important Ingredients, According To Chef Martin Yan - Exclusive

It seems every chef has certain ingredients or favorite kitchen staples that they like to keep handy when they are cooking. Whether it's a certain seasoning, fresh aromatics, or a kitchen tool that's their secret weapon to creating the perfect dish, there are plenty of items chefs have in their arsenal that they don't want to give up. As Chef Martin Yan told Mashed in an exclusive interview, "To me, the most important thing is not just one ingredient. It's two ingredients," he said — the first one being ginger.

When it comes to ginger, Chef Yan actually turns to quite a few versions of the spice for different dishes and purposes. "In Asia [it's] not only used as a spice, as a seasoning, but ginger is also a medicine — because when you have a cold, when you have a sore throat, all over Asia (from Indonesia, China, Taiwan, and including Japan and Vietnam), they use ginger," Chef Yan said. "They boil it, put [in some kind of] wild honey, and then they drink it. It's therapeutic, [so] I always, always carry ginger," he added. 

Beyond medicinal uses, Chef Yan loves cooking with ginger, too. "I have ginger powder when I make cakes or New Year cakes. I always have ginger candy when I make desserts, and I always have fresh ginger," he explained. "Sometimes, I even add young ginger. I pickle them, just like sushi restaurants. Ginger is definitely the most prized, precious ingredient in my kitchen."

Soy sauce is a close second must-have ingredient for Chef Yan

While ginger is a much-loved ingredient for Chef Yan, it isn't the only staple he can't live without. "If you ask any Asian chef, besides ginger, soy sauce is a must," Chef Yan said in a recent Mashed interview. For the veteran cook, soy sauce has far more depth than what people might expect from it, too. "It's basically a fermented product, a final product from fermented soybeans, a kind of flour. ... And a lot of people [might not] realize that soy sauce has over 100 flavor components because it breaks down all the protein into amino acid. When you mix it with a tiny bit of salt, it creates a multitude of flavors. It goes well with any dish, any cuisine," Yan said of the remarkable ingredient.

And Chef Yan knows he is far from alone in his admiration for it. "You go to any household nowadays, I guarantee in an American household, or you go to any restaurant ... [there] must be ... several bottles of different quantities of soy sauce in their pantry, guaranteed. In any restaurant kitchen, hotel kitchen, you see soy sauce," Chef Yan said, also noting there are gluten-free soy sauces in the market for those with intolerances or allergies.

As he concludes, "I would definitely say, with these two ingredients, you can create hundreds and hundreds of dishes with multiple flavor profiles."

Both ingredients would be great with Chef Yan's new M.Y. Asia collaboration. His General Tso's Chicken is now available at select Costco stores.