Asian Sauces

February 27, 2010 17 Comments

Asian Sauces

All About Asian Sauces

Asian cuisine is extremely multifaceted.  Indeed, Asia is the world’s largest continent and home to more countries than any other land mass.  To make things exponentially more diverse, most countries have manifold cuisines, each emanating from varying geographic locations.  China, Thailand and India are just a few examples of nations with heterogeneous culinary profiles.

One of the things that I love about Asian cooking is the heavy reliance on flavoring agents such as spices, hot peppers, and particularly sauces.  Asian cooking embraces all kinds of sauces, many of them piquant, salty, and sharply flavored.  Experimenting with these sauces will absolutely broaden your culinary horizons.  With that goal in mind I present to you a list of well-known Asian sauces.  I didn’t include soy sauce, despite my deep passion for it.  Everyone is cognizant of soy sauce.  I wish to take you deeper into the delicious and zesty world of Asian sauces.  While all large American supermarkets carry most or all of these sauces, your best bet is an Asian market for the best brands and prices.

HOISIN SAUCE

Also known as Peking sauce or more colloquially Chinese barbeque sauce, Hoisin sauce, like traditional American barbeque sauce, is sweet and spicy.  As with all of the sauces yet to be showcased, Hoisin can vary from chef to chef, region to region, and from one manufacturer to another.  Nevertheless, the most common ingredients include water, sugar, soybeans, vinegar, salt, flour, and of course, chile peppers.  It is employed as both a flavoring agent and as a table condiment in all kinds of meat, poultry and fish dishes.  It is used to make Chinese barbequed pork, the well known American-Chinese restaurant spare ribs, and many Vietnamese dishes as well.  Hoisin sauce is the condiment of choice for the classic Peking duck.  Strips of the roasted duck meat are placed in a “pancake,” (basically a thin tortilla), with Hoisin, green onion, and cucumber.  It is then rolled and eaten like a soft taco.

DUCK SAUCE

Duck sauce, a.k.a. plum sauce, is actually an American invention and found in literally every American-Chinese restaurant.  Interestingly, its aquatic-fowl title came from American-Chinese restaurants who served it with Peking duck, as opposed to the traditional Hoisin sauce.  It is a thick, sweet and sour sauce made from plums, apricots or peaches, vinegar, ginger and chiles, although it packs no discernable punch.  American origins or not, duck sauce is an omnipresent dipping sauce for ribs, egg rolls, spring rolls, shrimp toast, General Tso’s chicken, and other fried yum-yums.

OYSTER SAUCE

OK, now we get back to our Asian roots.  Oyster sauce is a thick, dark brown sauce beloved in Chinese and Thai cuisine.  As its name implies it is made from oysters, as well as brine and soy sauce.  When purchasing oyster sauce make sure to read the ingredient list on the label.  As with all products, the ingredients are listed in descending order by weight.  Cheap oyster sauces are comprised mostly of water while quality brands are primarily oysters.  Naturally I advise that you to part with an extra George Washington or two and procure the good stuff.  Oyster sauce imparts a rich and savory dimension to food.  While it can serve as a condiment, it is more likely utilized as a flavoring component of stir fries, noodle dishes and marinades.

FISH SAUCE

As gross as it may sound, fish sauce is made from the liquid of salted fermented fish, usually anchovies.  It is renowned throughout Southeast Asia.  Depending on the admixture, chiles, sugar, salt and a variety of other spices are added.  It is both a condiment and a flavor-enhancing building block of multifarious dishes and other sauces.  It is very intensely flavored and thus a little goes a long way.  Straight fish sauce may taste a little funky to some people but when blended with other ingredients a whole new dimension of flavor is created.  For dumplings, egg rolls, and other dip-friendly victuals try a combination of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, hot chile oil, and a few squirts of fish sauce.  The primordial fish sauce was garum, a likewise fish-fermented concoction invented by the Romans.

BLACK BEAN SAUCE

More of a paste than a sauce, black bean sauce, also called douchi, is not made from the black beans familiar to Latin Cuisine. Rather, it is fabricated from fermented soy beans.  The resulting product looks similar to Latin black beans.  Black bean sauce is salty and very pungent.  Like fish sauce, it should also be applied in moderation.  It is also incorporated into all sorts of concoctions: stir fries, vegetable, meat, poultry and fish recipes.   Clams in black bean sauce make for a very tasty combination.  Two variants, black bean and garlic sauce and hot black bean sauce, (with chile peppers of course), are particularly delicious.

SRIRACHA & SAMBAL

Sriracha and Sambal are both hot and very spicy chile based sauces widely popular throughout Southeast Asia. Sriracha is also known as “rooster sauce” from the iconic rooster found on the bottle.  Once again, exact recipes fluctuate widely.  Even the chiles that form the base of these sauces run the gamut and include Thai chiles, cayenne, jalapenos, habaneros and countless other varieties.  Then, vinegar, garlic, salt, sugar, citrus juices, you name it, are included.  Sriracha and Sambal function as both an ingredient and a condiment.  But beware; these bad boys are not for the faint of heart.  They pack a serious punch of heat.  While the sky is the limit in terms of uses, I am especially fond of these sauces slathered on duck, ribs or fried chicken wings.

Chef Mark R. Vogel

Last modified on Thu 31 July 2014 10:30 am

Filed in: Sauces Explained

Comments (17)

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  1. Drew says:

    Fish sauce — also sometimes called “nam pla”, if labeled for the immigrant market — is also great for making Caesar salad, if you don’t have any anchovies. Just a little be added to the dressing and you’re good.

  2. scott says:

    Hey, I just happen to have acquired that little shaker of Japanese chili powder you have in the picture. Got any great recipes or ideas on what to do with hit?

    Hey Scott, just think about all the great dishes you could bring to life with your Japanese chili powder? It really depends on what style of cooking you like but I’m sure you can bring heat to just about anything you cook with it.

  3. Marcee/Chicago says:

    Hi Mark ~
    Any simple ideas how to prepare authentic Asian garlic noodles? Can any pasta be used? Long noodles seem to be more fun. Drooling at the thought! Thanks for helping.

  4. Chef Mark says:

    Marcee:

    I don’t have a prepared recipe for that specific dish but I can tell you how I would generally approach it. I would start by stir-frying a generous amount of garlic in vegetable or light sesame oil. Be careful not to burn the garlic. Then I would go one of two ways. You could add black bean sauce and then cooked asian egg noodles, (I prefer the egg), or instead of the black bean sauce add soy sauce and sambal to the garlic, and then add the cooked noodles. A squirt or two of rice vinegar wouldn’t hurt either.

  5. Chef Mark says:

    Scott:

    The sky is truly the limit for your chile powder. I have a number of chile powders in my pantry at any point in time. I always have a store-bought cayenne powder, but I also make my own from other types of hot peppers, especially habanero. The possibilities are endless: meat, sauces, marinades, soups, salsas, deviled eggs, tortilla dough, taco meat, quesadillas, chile oil, fried chicken wings, etc. etc. etc.

  6. Rob says:

    Chef Mark:

    What is the difference between “Rice Vinegar” and “Rice Wine Vinegar” ? I find Rice Vinegar at my local Asian market, but cannot find the Rice Wine Vinegar. Thanks in advance for your answer – I appreciate it!

  7. Chef Mark says:

    Rob:

    Thank you for your query. Rice vinegar is made from fermented rice. Rice wine vinegar from wine made from the rice. Both have many different recipes and styles. I have never used rice vinegar. I always use rice wine vinegar. Rice wine vinegar is usually seasoned, and a little sugar added. It’s tasty and I love it in dressings, especially any kind of Asian salad or dressing. It’s also used to season sushi rice.

  8. Rob says:

    Chef Mark: About a month ago I wrote you asking about the difference between Rice Vinegar and Rice Wine Vinegar. You said there was a difference and that you used Rice Wine Vinegar. I cannot find Rice Wine Vinegar…only Rice Vinegar, even in my local Asian markets –and– they tell me they are one and the same. Even a lot of Internet articles say they are the same. However, I’m inclined to believe they are not, as your told me. I was even told by one market to “mix” Rice Vinegar and Rice Cooking Wine (not Sake). Can you point me in the right direction and tell me how I might obtain Rice Wine Vinegar without buying it over the Internet? Also, is there anything you can tell me about Mirin? Thanks!

  9. Chef Mark says:

    Rob:

    I was wrong! I have come across published sources and even other culinary people who espoused what I originally said: That there was a difference between rice vinegar and rice wine vinegar. But in response to your query I called Marukan Vinegar Inc. one of the foremost authorities on rice vinegar. Their website is http://www.marukan-usa.com/ and their phone # is 562-630-6060. I spoke to John, (ext. 125), one of their representatives who was quite informed on this issue and addresses it regularly.

    He said that rice vinegar and rice wine vinegar are one in the same. They are trying to get away from the term “rice wine” and just use “rice” vinegar. The deal is, that rice is fermented into an alcoholic beverage, (which technically is NOT wine. He said it would be better classified as a whiskey since rice is a grain). This resulting alcoholic beverage is then made into vinegar.

    Mirin is Japanese rice vinegar which is usually sweeter than typical rice vinegar and also has some residual alcohol left in it.

    I am sorry about my earlier misinformation and I am indeed indebted to you for being persistent and following up. Otherwise I would have remained wallowing in my misnomers. Thank you very much.
    Chef Mark

    Thanks Mark for doing the research and helping us understand more about this subject. – RG

  10. Rob says:

    Chef Mark and RG . . . Thank you so much for all the hard work/research regarding my questions. I really appreciate both of you.

  11. Michael says:

    I thought General’s Tso’s chicken was made with Hunan sauce? Is Hunan sauce a variation of duck sauce?

    Not sure Michael so I’ll ask Chef Vogel to respond. – RG

  12. Chef Mark says:

    My understanding is that “hunan sauce” is a generic term as opposed to a specific recipe. I googled hunan sauce and came across a number of different recipes. Hunan sauce however, is not duck sauce, which is a plum sauce. But since the term “hunan sauce” is used rather liberally, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are duck sauces, or duck-type sauces out there that have been referred to as hunan sauce.

  13. Michael says:

    Thank’s for clearing that up. Can you tell me what sauce is used for Mandarin Chicken and also Sesame Chicken? Or can provide recipes?

    Hi Michael, I’m not sure but will do some research and see if I can come up with some recipes. Right now I have a whole bunch of requests I’m working on as well as my own stuff but I too would like to know how to make a great sesame chicken. – RG

  14. Chef Mark says:

    I have never specifically made “hunan” chicken or sesame chicken. I suspect the “hunan” chicken is again, a general term and I’m sure recipes vary from restaurant to restaurant and from chef to chef. In fact I googled it and could not find any two alike.

    Even dishes that have a somewhat more clearly defined recipe can vary from chef to chef. For example, I love beef chow mein but every place I have it has a slightly different spin.

  15. Lesha Kucinskas says:

    I am actually glad to read this web site posts which includes tons of helpful information, thanks for providing such data.

  16. Margo Daugherty says:

    My question is, is it possible to dehydrate all these sauces?
    I know you can dehydrae sriacha. Thanx

    Hi Margo, I really don’t know but it makes sense to me that just about anything can be dehydrated with the right equipment. Hopefully someone with more experience in this area will respond.

  17. Chris says:

    I’ve got to do a dinner for 75 to 100 people for a church group. We have some frozen Swai or Basa fish and I was thinking of baking the fish with some commercial “Asian Spice” sprinkled over the fish before baking. Can you recommend a good simple sauce or reduction that would give the fish a deeper flavor profile?

    Thanks,

    Chris

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