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Leek flower sauce is a Chinese condiment made from the Chinese leek flower, a vegetable in the onion family. Leek flower sauce has a distinct garlicky flavor with a hint of chive and sometimes an oaky, vinegar like taste, depending on the ingredients used. It can be served with a wide assortment of foods or added to dishes like stir fries while they cook, although leek flower sauce does not always play nicely with other flavors, so it should be added to dishes with caution.
The Chinese leek flower produces a distinctive long stalk tipped with a bulb-like flower. In Chinese cooking, the stalk and the bulb are both used. Chinese leek flowers grow well in containers and small spaces, and they can also be used as borders for vegetable beds. Seeds and starters can sometimes be found at garden suppliers, or through import companies which specialize in Asian vegetables.
These plants do best in temperate zones, and they should be regularly trimmed to remove the stalks and bulbs before the plant bolts to seed. In regions where Chinese leek flowers cannot grow, Asian markets sometimes stock the plant in pre-cut bundles. There are a variety of uses for the Chinese leek flower, which imparts a strong flavor to the foods it is used in; leek flower sauce is one such example. Ideally, stalks and bulbs are used in leek flower sauce.
To make Chinese leek flower sauce, cooks finely chop or grind leek flowers to release their chive-like flavor. The sauce is often served as a condiment on the side, and it may be accompanied by an assortment of other sauces which diners can pick and choose from. Leek flower sauce is a popular accompaniment to hot pot, and many hot pot restaurants bring out a small dish of this green, zesty sauce. It can also be spooned over fresh plain rice.
Fresh leek flower sauce has a clean, clear flavor, and it is preferable when it can be obtained. Some Chinese markets may also carry preserved leek flower sauce in jars or bottles. The preserved sauce can get more acidic and acrid, and you may need to experiment with several styles before finding one you like. Because leek flower sauce has such a strong flavor, people should be careful about pairing it with other sauces and condiments. Chili oil and leek flower sauce, for example, go reasonably well together, while a blend with hoisin sauce might not be very pleasant.
I once spent half a day looking for this sauce. My friend was making a Chinese steamboat meal for us and asked me to get some ingredients for her. The oriental foods store I was at was out of this sauce so I asked my friend if we could skip it.
She told me that we cannot have our meal without leek flower sauce since it is what makes this meal so good. So I had to go to two more Asian groceries until I found it. My friend combined this sauce with bean curd and sesame seed paste.
The sauce really was very good. It had a very dense flavor and made everything else taste better- the rice, the tofu and the meat. It was hard work finding it, but I'm glad I did because it was definitely worth it.
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