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Chinese sauces

2013-10-18 18:19:21|Food

Everyone has a few things in their pantry they just couldn’t live without – you know, those favourite ingredients that mysteriously get used up and need replacing much quicker than everything else?! For me these are my sauces. Sauce is incredibly important in Asian cooking: in particular there are a handful of key sauces that every Chinese chef relies on to bring out those distinctive eastern flavours. Soy sauce I think everyone will recognise this store cupboard stalwart – from simple mid-week stir-fries to the most complex and experimental cookery, it is the must-have sauce for Chinese cuisine. It’s also incredibly flexible: you can use it to complement recipes from all over the globe. I think this universal appeal is down to soy’s rich, umami flavour, which adds a savoury depth to any dish. Chinese soy sauces fall into two main groups: dark and light. I use dark soy during the cooking process; I love how its mild and slightly sweet flavour develops as it’s heated. Then light soy is best for adding after cooking as a seasoning – its powerful salty kick is the perfect finishing touch!   Oyster sauce This sauce is a bit less famous in western households than soy, but it is an absolute staple of Chinese home cooking. It’s much thicker than soy sauce, and its sweet and savoury notes, while similar to soy, are much stronger. It also has an intense smoky flavour, which works to enhance meat and vegetable dishes alike. Beef, broccoli and oyster sauce is a classic ingredient combination. If you're vegetarian it is also possible to buy oyster-less oyster sauce, made with mushrooms instead!   Hoi sin sauce Sticky, sweet and spicy, this dipping sauce is a guaranteed winner. It is most characteristic of northern Chinese cuisine, and goes beautifully with countless classic delicacies: spring rolls, mu shu pork, crispy guotie dumplings... Hoi sin is also the perfect partner to a glossy-skinned and roasted Peking duck, one of my favourite foods and a dish that requires a lot of finger-licking. You have been warned!   Chilli bean sauce If hoi sin is typically northern, chilli bean is a staple of Sichuan cooking. There is massive variety between different versions – the aging process alone varies from 2 to 10 years! To find your perfect chilli bean sauce you’ll probably need to make a trip to the local Chinese supermarket. This paste has quite a kick, so experiment with how much spice you can handle and adjust recipes accordingly. And when shopping around for your favourite brand, always check the ingredients list to make sure it doesn’t contain MSG. If you’ve never cooked with chilli bean sauce before, why not have a go with my Quick Braised Pork Belly recipe?   There are so many more great Chinese sauces and condiments – black bean sauce, sesame paste, rice vinegar, chilli oil – without which I couldn’t make half the delicious dishes I love. Ralph Waldo Emerson said “All life is an experiment”. I couldn’t agree more – so if you’re a soy sauce devotee, get out of your comfort zone and start experimenting with all the wonderfully different and aromatic sauces out there! x


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