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Sep 26, 2010 11:16 AM

Need good sauce recipes for chinese stir frying (wok dishes)

Hi I´m new here, and from Norway.
I make alot of chinese food these days, but one thing thats hard to pull off, is a good sauce.
Mainly I do noodle dishes with Udo Noodles from Japan, so I ask you not to post recipes with cornstarch in them.

I struggle with getting the sauces tastefull enough. in China they made so AMAZING noodles with spicy and thick sauces, either red, dark brown or black. So does anyone know good recipes I could try?

I have all the basic ingredients usually found in chinese kitchens. Like black and light soy sauce, sweet, normal and spicy(chili) bean paste, oyster sauce, sesame oil, five spice powder, schezuan pepper corns, sesame paste, hoisin sauce and rice and chenkong vinegard.

I usually mix two tablespoons of chili bean paste, with one tablespoon of dark soy sauce, one of light, and one of chenkong vinegard. But it just don´t have strong enough flavour!

I have made ONE good sauce I´m proud of, so I will luckily share this with you homewokers, if you share some with me:
-1 tbs of sesame paste, dissolved in two tbs of boiling water, with one teaspoon of schezuan pepper corns
-2 tbs of hoisin sauce
-1 ts of dark soy sauce

Mix all this together and put in the wok-dish at the right time.

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  1. I don't know how Chinese this is, but one sauce I love to put on stir-fries is peanut sauce. I've made many variations, some far more complex than this, but my basic recipe is about 2 tablespoons natural peanut butter, a heavy dash of soy sauce (or nam pla, which is definitely not Chinese), a minced clove of garlic or two, 1-2 teaspoons minced ginger, and hot water to thin to your preferred consistency. Optional add-ins include chili-garlic paste or minced chilis, the vinegar of your choice, or minced scallions/shallot, but it's pretty flexible, and you can take it in the direction you choose.

    1. I'm not sure this will be any help because we don't keep or use recipes for sauces, we just make our sauces from scratch using basic ingredients, most of which you've already listed. I did notice that you are missing molasses and lemon juice from your list of basics.

      We also use lots of freshly grated or shredded garlic and ginger (both are juicier when shredded than when chopped, diced or minced), lots of fresh chives, bunching onions (which look like a cross between chives and spring onions), and spring onions. You can buy seeds for bunching onions and just grow them your self. Our chives come back every year and I just keep them out of reach from the dogs.

      Like the other poster, I don't think peanut sauce is Chinese but we do save our peanut oil that rises in the jar of peanut butter. We also save almond oil in the same way because they are tasty additions to sauces when you don't want to use regular olive, veggie or corn oils.

      I like the idea of using bean paste! I've always meant to pick some up but never get around to it!!

      We keep a chili paste on hand that is kind of like Chinese chili oil but it is made fresh by a local H'mong family and is more chili than oil; they sell it at the farmers market and we go through it like it was honey!

      1. Hej Ramis!
        Writing as a non-oriental amateur, the easiest way to add more flavor is to add more sauce; 2T instead of 1T. Marinating the meat in the sauce for a while also helps. In a Cantonese sauce like for asparagus, scallops, and (macadamia) nuts, I add dry sherry and/or vermouth, nothing dark and strong. Nam pla (fish sauce), as mentioned above, is useful for adding umami and a lot of salt. Often a little sugar will enhance other flavors too. Hope this helps.

        9 Replies
        1. re: Joebob

          I have heard of this fish sauce. It´s a thai ingredient right?
          Is it made of fish?
          BTW it seems that what chinese people cook at home, is a bit more easy and less exciting than what you get in the restaurants. If you go to Lee Kum Kees website, they provide recipes. But all are boring. So´m looking for recipes to reproduce the great dishes many chinese restaurants make.

          I´fe found that in wokking, adding another tablespoon doesn´t do anything else than make the dish more saucy. And if there is too much sauce, it just falls down in the bottom. The key is to have just enough sauce to coat the ingredients evenly, and nothing more.

          1. re: Ramius

            Fish sauce is most definately made from fish. A bit like anchovies- you may not like it on it's own (the smell alone gags me) but the flavour it adds is irreplacable.

            1. re: beggsy

              I don´t eat seafood though. So I kinda doubt I will like it. Although the chance is high that I have eaten it without knowing.

              1. re: Ramius

                You probably have had fish sauce, but it isn't limited as a seasoning for seafood dishes. A couple drops of fish sauce is all that's added to a dish to as the above poster said for "unami".

                Oyster sauce is another "unami".
                If you aren't using it try and find "Premium" oyster sauce which is made from oysters. Good chance the stuff you're using is "oyster flavored" sauce. There is a big differnce in the flavor it will add. A Chinese cook told me to put it in everything.

                As the above poster mentioned sugar will surprisingly enhance the flavor, but a little is all that's necessary. I had this chow mein at my favorite old school Cantonese restaurant one day and asked the owner to taste it and he said they forgot the sugar. The only seasonings were soy sauce and sugar.

                Another tip to make great sauces is to avoid "convenient" sauces like black bean and garlic that companies like Lee Kum makes. They're alright, but the flavor is far from what you can get from making it from fresh garlic and fermented black beans.

                Unfortunately restaurants rely on MSG, I would never use it. Many restaurants I observe chefs stir frying in the kitchen and they're always scooping that white crystal stuff and it isn't salt, it's got to be MSG. I watch when deliveries are made and huge sacks of MSG are being delivered or I see them stored with their dry goods.

                1. re: monku

                  Yeah I try to stay away from MSG.
                  But ain´t oystersauce made out of the mushroom called oyster? Atleast thats what I´m told.

                  I use a little sugar, but I try to be healthy these days and completely avoid sugar. But the problem is not to make the dish sweeter, it´s to make them more powerful. More spicy and roundflavoured.

                  The tastes in my dishes seem to be lacking the heavyness. The force. They have the salt, sweetness and kick. But they don´t have that heavy foundation in the background.

                  1. re: Ramius

                    Oyster sauce is made from oysters not mushrooms. Premium oyster sauce is made from oysters. The non-premium is made from oyster extracts.
                    There is a mushroom sauce, but I've never used it.

                    When you say "powerful" it may be the "unami" factor you're looking for.
                    The amount of sugar I'm talking about is maybe a teaspoon at most and from a health standpoint I don't see any danger and it isn't about making it "sweeter" but try a little sugar and your sauces may have a "brighter" taste to them.

                    1. re: monku

                      I´m heading down to the asian supermarket soon. Gonna ask them for fishsauce. Is there any other unamis?

                      1. re: Ramius

                        Don't forget the "premium" oyster sauce and maybe check out some of that mushroom sauce.

                        WARNING: That fish sauce is going to taste nasty if you try some out of the bottle, it literally only takes a drop or two.

                2. re: Ramius

                  I don't either. Not one bit of seafood. I guarantee if you avoid smelling it, you'll love it.

          2. My standard sauce for stir fried meat and vegetables is 2T oyster sauce, 2T dark soy, 1 tsp Shaoxing wine, 1 tsp sambal oelek and some white pepper and sesame oil. I thicken the sauce with a broth and cornstarch slurry which adds flavor as well as gives the sauce a nice gloss.

            If you want to use the doubanjiang, I would stir fry that in the oil before adding broth, sugar, soy sauce and black vinegar to taste to create an oily Szechuanese sauce.

            1. 3 tablespoons soy sauce
              2 tablespoons oyster sauce
              2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
              1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
              1/4 teaspoon five-spice powder
              1/2 cup chicken broth
              1 tsp cornstarch optional

              8 Replies
              1. re: Hank Hanover

                Thanks alot JungMann and Hank Hanover. Thats exactly the kind of replies I was hoping for.

                Hank, could you explain to me what the deal with _toasted_ sesame oil is?

                Keep them coming. I want unique sauce recipes too, with even stranger ingredients than the basics. I will go buy new stuff if you guys post great sauces recipes.

                JungMann, how different is it using Shaoxing from Sherry? Is it much better?

                1. re: Ramius

                  There are two kinds of sesame oil that are widely available, regular and toasted. The regular kind is an ordinary cooking oil, like peanut or canola; it's got a faint, faint sesame flavor. The toasted kind is a flavoring oil. It's a dark, amber color, and tastes and smells richly of sesame. It burns very easily, so you add it at the end of cooking, and don't use it to cook with. It's an awesome ingredient. My husband, who is, um, less bound by culinary tradition than I, puts it on everything, including pizza and Italian noodle dishes.

                  1. re: GilaB

                    Not only is it easy to burn, but supposedly it is mildly toxic when heated too much. Many people recommend using it only for finishing (after the heat is turned off).

                    That said, it certainly is sometimes in marinades / sauces designed to be heated; it's one of the 3 cups in san bei... ("3 cups (chicken|tofu|whatever)"). If it's not an essential ingredient, though, I usually add it after turning off the heat.

                  2. re: Ramius

                    As Gila says, toasted sesame oil is darker and it's taste is much more intense. Cook's Illustrated recommends it for stir fry over regular sesame oil and so do I. If you have any of the light stuff, do your own taste test. The difference is dramatic.

                    Like most highly flavored oils, it has a low smoke point and can go rancid quickly. Store it in the refrigerator.

                    1. re: Hank Hanover

                      Oh I always use the dark sesame oil you´re describing. But it says nothing of being toasted though.

                      I always called the light version "fake sesame oil", because it tastes nothing.

                    2. re: Ramius

                      A lot of people substitute sherry for shaoxing so you're not alone if you're making that switch. I don't have sherry on hand, so I can't compare and contrast.

                      If you think your stir fries lack complexity, there's a chance it's not the sauce but rather the lack of wok hei. You can't get a wok searing hot on a domestic stove, but you can somewhat recreate the flavor by sprinkling your ingredients with a little sugar and letting them caramelize and blacken a bit before stirring them out.

                      If you're looking for different recipes, try fish sauce, oyster sauce, soy sauce, chili garlic sauce, sugar, white pepper and finish with cilantro and basil.

                      1. re: JungMann

                        Hah, this is exciting.
                        Im afraid you´re gonna have to tell me more about "wok hei", what is this? Do you have a picture of it?

                        Of course we don´t get all the products here in Norway, but the big BIG international brands we do have, like Lee Kum Kee and some others.

                        In my 40 year old chinese cookbook, it tells you that a wok must be "burned in", which is what you remind me of when talking about searing woks. But this is for iron woks, which you burn in with cooking oil so they turn black. But my wok is of steel, and you can´t do that with steel because the fiber is tigher than iron is, so the oil coating will not stick.

                        1. re: Ramius

                          Wok hei isn't a "thing" you can see, it's an essential character that you capture when food is properly stir-fried in a hot wok. It's the savoriness and smokiness that gives proper stir fry its flavor.