The Differences Between Asian Sauces
There are so many Asian sauces in the grocery stores these days, it can be overwhelming to know which one to buy. And each sauce has its own purpose for making that authentic flavourful dish.
To grow up in a Chinese household, stir fry dishes are a part of normal dinner rotations. Because it is so often made, it is second nature for Asians to throw together slices of meat or tofu, sliced veggies and seasoning to make a luscious topping over rice. Everyone and every family has their own unique way of making these dishes.
There are so many Asian sauces in the grocery stores these days, it can be overwhelming and each sauce has its own purpose. Here is a quick run-down for you to try:
Oyster Sauce. I use Lee Kum Kee's Premium Oyster Sauce. It is a very strong oyster flavour so add 1 Tbsp at a time, up to 2 Tbsp max. (a vegetarian version called Stir-fry is also available). Oyster Sauce is the all-around seasoning for Asian Cooking.
Regular or Light soy sauce. Light does not mean 'reduced sodium' or 'reduced calorie' – it actually refers to its lighter colour. It is also saltier than dark soy sauce (see below) and when recipes call for soy, this is the sauce to use.
Dark Soy Sauce. It is darker in colour, not as salty, thicker and it is aged longer. I use dark soy sauce to make sauces look dark brown. I have also used dark soy sauce to enhance / darken the colour of beef or turkey gravy. Dark Soy Sauce is merely an esthetic agent for darkening Stir-fries and Chow Mein.
Black Bean and Garlic Sauce. A pungent blend of fermented, salted, black beans and pureed garlic. I add about 1-2 heaping tablespoons to my stir-fries to get a Garlic and Black Bean Chicken Stir-fry. It is strong, so add to taste. Black Bean and Garlic Sauce are commonly found in 'Chicken / Beef and Vegetables in Black Bean and Garlic Sauce' and 'Clams in Black Bean and Garlic Sauce'.
Teriyaki Sauce. You can buy it bottled or make your own. Traditional teriyaki sauce is a combination of soy sauce, mirin (sweetened rice wine) and sake. Mirin is hard to come by in my little town, so I improvise with dry white wine and extra sugar. This sauce can be found in Teriyaki Salmon, Teriyaki Beef, etc.
TERIYAKI CHICKEN RICE BOWLS AND THE BASIC ASIAN STIR-FRY
- 1-2 cloves garlic, smashed or minced
- 1-2 slices ginger
- 2 Tbsp vegetable oil, canola oil or extra virgin olive oil
- 1 lb thinly sliced meat (chicken, beef, pork), tofu, prawns, scallops
- 3/4 cup chicken broth, water or vegetable broth, plus up to 1/2 cup more if more sauce is desired
Optional meat marinade: Add a pinch of salt, pepper, a drizzle of soy sauce and approx. 1/2 tsp cornstarch to the meat. Mix well and then drizzle 1/2-1 tsp oil to seal the marinade
- 1 cup sliced carrots
- 1 cup sliced celery
- 2-4 cups broccoli, cut in bite sized pieces (1-2 heads of broccoli)
- 1 red pepper, sliced
- 1/2 cup sugar snap or snow peas
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt, add more in 1/4 tsp increments
- 2-4 Tbsp teriyaki sauce
- 1-2 Tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup cold water; mix well, no lumps
1 tsp light soy sauce;
1 tsp dark soy sauce if darker brown sauce is desired; or
chilli sauce to taste
- Sauce Variations:
Basic Chinese-style: 1-2 Tbsp Oyster sauce
Black Bean & Garlic: 1-2 Tbsp Black Bean & Garlic Sauce
Heat approximately 1 Tbsp oil in a large pot or wok to medium-high. Do not let pan overheat. Add 1-2 cloves crushed/minced garlic and 1-2 slices ginger.
Add sliced chicken and cook for 3-4 minutes on high heat, covered. Uncover and flip the meat over and cook for another 2-3 minutes. The chicken will release from the pan if it is cooked. Transfer to a clean bowl.
Heat another 1 Tbsp oil, and add garlic and ginger (from the meat). Add sliced carrots and cook for 2 minutes, stirring often. Add sliced celery and cook for 2 minutes, covered. Add broccoli, pour broth over the vegetables, and mix lightly. Cover and simmer for 7-8 minutes for tender crisp vegetables. Add remaining vegetables and cook another 2 minutes.
Return the cooked chicken back to the cooked vegetables and bring the liquid to boil. Thicken the sauce with cornstarch slurry and mix well to ensure the sauce thickens nicely. If the sauce is too thick, add up to 1/2 cup broth.
Season with salt, pepper, teriyaki sauce and a sauce variation listed above . Serve over rice or noodles. •
Michelle Mah is a Chinese-Canadian mother born in Vancouver, Canada. Once a System Analyst for a radiology software firm in Richmond, BC, she married a family physician. Together they raise their family in rural 100 Mile House, BC.
Now a busy stay-at-home mom, Michelle's three active children are the inspiration for documenting recipes that have been passed down by her Alzheimers-stricken father in the last 15yrs. She is thankful that she can share the family's heritage through food. Michelle is determined to chronicle not only her father's chow mein recipe and fried rice recipe, but also as many family favourites and regular dishes as she can. Each post on her In Michelle's Kitchen is a diary entry for her children to discover later in life, to learn more about their Chinese heritage, and to remember family life through the eyes of their mother.
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