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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.

                  3. What is the most usual sauce to use with pork?
                    I know they use alot of fivespice with pork, so what do they do?

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Ramius

                      CHINESE PORK STEW
                      1 Tbsp. peanut oil
                      1 lb. pork, preferably Boston butt shoulder, fat trimmed, cut into 3/4” cubes
                      2 cups fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken broth
                      2 Tbsp. firmly-packed dark brown sugar
                      3 Tbsp. sherry
                      2 Tbsp. reduced-sodium soy sauce
                      1 cup chopped scallions, green and white parts
                      2 (1/2-inch) slices fresh ginger
                      2 tsp. whole black peppercorns
                      2 whole star anise OR five spice powder
                      1 (3-inch) piece cinnamon stick
                      1 medium Korean or daikon radish
                      2 cups freshly-cooked rice

                      Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a deep skillet with tight-fitting cover. Add the meat in one layer and cook until browned on all sides, turning often. If necessary, do this in two batches to avoid crowding and evenly brown. Transfer the meat to a bowl and set aside. Pour all fat from the pan and return it to the heat.
                      Pour in the broth and scrape up all the browned bits clinging to the pan. Add the sugar and cook until dissolved, 1 minute. Add the sherry, soy sauce, scallions, ginger, peppercorns, star anise and cinnamon stick. Return the meat to the pan, reduce the heat, cover and simmer gently 15 minutes. Using tongs, turn the meat. Add the radish after 30 minutes. Cook the meat about 45 to 60 minutes, turning it every 15 minutes, until it shreds when pulled apart with a fork. If needed, add water, 1/4 cup at a time, to keep the liquid half-way up the side of the meat.
                      Transfer the meat mixture to an oven-proof dish. Remove the cinnamon stick. Pour the cooking liquid through a sieve placed over the stew. Cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 days. To serve, skim off any fat on top and bake in a 350 degree oven until heated through. Serve over the hot rice. Makes 4 servings.

                      1. re: Joebob

                        Im definitly gonna try this one. Do you have a picture of it as well?
                        I wonder what you mean by chunks, as this is not traditionally chinese way to cut meat.

                    2. Classic chinese brown sauce
                      1/2 C lo sodium chkn broth
                      2T lo sodium soy sauce
                      1 T oyster sauce
                      1 T Chinese cooking wine or dry sherry
                      2 t sugar
                      1 t ketchup
                      1 scallion , white & tender green parts, minced
                      1 t cornstarch, dissolved in 1 T water

                      In a sucepan, combine all ingr & bring to a boil. reduce heat to medium & simmer 'til thickened & glossy, about 2 min.

                      1. Hello Ramius,
                        There are no real patent Chinese sauces. They are like curry, every one is made to suit individual tastes. My fave is roughly:

                        1 tbsp sesame oil,
                        2 tbsp oyster sauce,
                        4 tbsp tamari or light soy sauce
                        1 star anise, or 1/4 tsp five spice powder
                        1 tsp of sugar
                        2 tbsp dry sherry or sake

                        Mix that up and let it marry for about an hour while you prepare your stir fry. Also mix 1-2 tbsp of cornstarch or other thickener with 1/4 cup of very cold water. Set aside for the Grande Finale.

                        Add finely grated fresh garlic and/or ginger as per your taste, directly into the wok with the vegys. Do not add with the onions at the beginning. They will burn and taste bitter.
                        When ready, toss the sauce into the pan and let it come to a boil while stirring constantly. As soon as it boils, add the well stirred cornstarch mixture. Continue to stir and serve as soon as it thickens.

                        This is my personal favourite and may be modified in any way that suits your taste.

                        By the way, fish sauce can be substituted for soy or tamari. All are salt substitutes and all contribute to Umami. Fish sauce, like all ingredients has varying grades. The lighter the colour, the more refined it is. I just buy the best price and enjoy it every bit as much.
                        Hope this contributes to your next stir-fry.

                        Let me know! cobatoma@telus.net

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: steelchef

                          When you say tamari, do you mean the paste of Tamarind fruit?

                          1. re: Ramius

                            tamari is one type of soy sauce.

                        2. I usually eye ball my sauces so I don't have a specific recipe. But I do LOVE adding Chinese Satay sauce. (Not peanut based). I usually mix Satay sauce, sesame paste, soy, chili paste, rice vinegar and sesame oil to make a cold noodle dressing.

                          It looks like this and you can usually find it by the sesame oil.

                          1. To be honest, the kind of sauces you will see in Chinese stir-fries will differ by regional cooking. Cornstarch is actually pretty important as a thickener and to keep meat moist, but you could probably get similar flavors without it and try a different thickener.

                            I think Kian at Red Cook does a pretty good job of breaking down the art of stir-fries and offers some sauces as part of his stir-fry recipes. He also has a useful post for some of the most common ingredients in a Chinese kitchen. Here is his guide to "wet" stir-fries which may be helpful: http://www.redcook.net/2008/03/17/sti...

                              1. I would check out Fuchsia Dunlop's cookbooks and / or recipes. While they're specific to the regions she's written about, there are basic sauces / methods that you could apply to different dishes (like the base for hong shao pork; she does it by caramelizing sugar in the pan, rather than taking the shortcuts that most people use these days). She also has some basic master stock recipes that you could use instead of prepared stock / bouillion / MSG / whatever.

                                I like her sauce for gongbao ji ding. The basic sauce method / marinade could be modified slightly and would probably work with a variety of recipes, and it's balanced (a little sweet, a little salty, a little sour, none overpowering)
                                That one is up online:

                                I think balance is the thing that I struggle with most with Chinese sauces. While I think most Chinese cooks go by feel, I try to make a recipe "by the book". Then start to practice doing it by feel.

                                If you're thickening your sauces, I have had better luck with potato starch (potato flour) than with cornstarch, though you use half as much.

                                1. I just want to revive my old thread here with a thrilling conclusion.

                                  I found out how to make ALL my sauces taste absolutely delicious, with even the simplest ingredients.

                                  The answer is of course: Monosodium Glutamate. (MSG) Which I tried for the first time just now. Never having been completely happy with my chinese dishes for four years!!!

                                  The classic secret chinese ingredient that makes all their food so good you just cant get enough. I made a simple sauce with light soy, dark soy and oyster sauce, then added half a teaspoon of MSG. And this otherwise boring sauce became absolutely delicious. I was amazed that this was something I had made myself.

                                  The quest for the chinese greatness is complete. So fuck all that bad stuff about MSG. That is how you pull it off. I encourage everybody to try it.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: steelchef

                                    I´ve done research on this. And the newest science has disproved all past fears against MSG. It is not dangerous.

                                    Look at that website you´re linking to. Looks like it was made in 1995. And if you read, its based on ONE article from NOHA News, which uses research that is now more than 12 years old. In other words; Outdated.

                                    MSG has been consumed for over 100 years now. Thats alot. And if it was that dangerous, we certainly would have known for sure about now.

                                    But when using ingredientses like this, the key is always use as little as possible. Or it might overshadow the other wonderfull ingredients you have in your food.

                                  2. Does anyone know how to make red colored noodle sauce? No matter what I do, it always seem to turn brown or black. But I remember in Beijing I got some noodles with red sauce. So they can´t possibly have any soy sauce or dark soy in them.

                                    1. You might be interested in the article from the NYTimes about Barbara Tropp's "orange goop." I've made it and added it to stir fries, noodles and fried rice. It's wonderful. Barbara Tropp did an amazing job of teaching western cooks to get great Chinese flavors. http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.co...
                                      You should also visit SheSimmers.com for her special stir fry sauce, which she calls "Bruno." You'll find it in the entry about Thai soy sauces. Scroll down towards the end of that page. You can make a batch of Bruno and keep it in a jar, using it whenever you like. There are lots of other useful sauces on She Simmers. I don't make Thai food but have learned so much from the site that I'm now able to incorporate some of the flavors into my own style of cooking.

                                      13 Replies
                                      1. re: NYdiva

                                        Hey diva,
                                        Do you by chance have the Tropp Goop recipe? I would like to try it but not enough to buy the cookbook. :)

                                        1. re: steelchef

                                          You can see it in Amazon's "search inside this book" of "China Moon" if you search for "chili-orange"

                                          1. re: will47

                                            Thanks will,
                                            I found it in an old post on this site, looks interesting.

                                          2. re: steelchef

                                            Here's an old article about Barbara Tropp from SFGate.com. It has several of her recipes at the end, including roasted sichuan salt & pepper and her citrus oil. I love what she says about making chicken soup. She uses the chinese ingredients like ginger & scallions, but she couldn't bear abandoning her jewish roots, so she uses those ingredients too, making a super rich, flavorful stock.
                                            I made the citrus oil with orange because it sounded so good in that piece in the NYTimes. I used organic peanut oil which added a wonderful flavor.

                                            1. re: NYdiva

                                              Thanks a bunch for the link. My reputation as an Asian chef will no doubt be enhanced by this information.I've used Sichuan pepper for years in almost everything. It is toasted and ground as required rather than buying the supermarket offerings. Most of the infused oils are new ideas. I have made simple garlic and ginger infusions but generally add them as an agent for sauteeing, not as a flavour booster.
                                              This is all good and your time is appreciated.
                                              Notice how none contain MSG?

                                              1. re: Ikkeikea

                                                I have no intention of becoming well rounded. Instead I prefer to specialise in a small variety of dishes/cuisines. And do those the right way and well, instead of mixing them all together. That´s not fair or respectfull to their original culture, in my opinion.

                                                1. re: Ramius

                                                  Ok ,but I think an open mind is valuable even when specializing. I moved to Stavanger from the US and have had to take foreign advice and adjust outside of my comfort zone. My cooking is on another level because of it. Fish sauce is a perfect example.... one would really have to take a leap of faith to use something that smells like total ass into a dish to make something really special.

                                                  Oh, and I know you are eating healthy but those packets of spices that Dolly Dimples Pizza give out has MSG and spices mixed together. It is really good if you still find something missing. I always get extra.

                                                  1. re: Ikkeikea

                                                    Dolly Dimples is one of the worst problems with Pizza in Norway :P
                                                    I use MSG btw. But their whole philisophy with adding spice to the pizza AFTER it is done, is just plain wrong.

                                                    1. re: Ramius

                                                      Maybe but when I'm dragged there to eat I find the extra spice makes it better. here's a dumb question for you: Is MSG called MSG in Norway? Do you buy it at the ethnic food stores or can you get it at a regular grocery store? I'd like to use some tonight, if possible, and need to get to the store before they stop selling beer. You understand, I'm sure :-)

                                                      1. re: Ikkeikea

                                                        It´s kind of hard to get here. It´s not a part of our food culture at all, so you would have to go to an ethnic food store yes.

                                                        If you got a store selling asian food ingredients there, they will have it.

                                                2. re: Ramius

                                                  Wow. What an aggressive response. I first learned about Barbara Tropp from a Chinese chef & food writer who spent a few months in the US every year. I had the great privilege of attending a dinner party he hosted and it was some of the most delicious food I've ever eaten. There must have been a dozen dishes, yet I had never seen any of them in a Chinese restaurant. He clearly respected the traditions of his cuisine but he wasn't imprisoned by them. He said he adores Thai fish sauce. He also said he always has a litre of chicken stock on hand. He uses a recipe he "stole" from guess who? Barbara Tropp! Maybe he didn't know she was a Jew! And now I must go burn "Mastering the Art of French Cooking."

                                                  1. re: NYdiva

                                                    I kind of understand the sentiment, if not the exact way it was expressed.

                                                    However, I think there are definitely examples (whether or not Barbara Tropp is one) of folks who do a good job of explaining and documenting ethnic cuisines *because* they're foreign). Diana Kennedy is an obvious example for Mexican food.

                                                    With Chinese food, I really think that someone like Fuchsia Dunlop often manages to explain the concepts and methods behind the Chinese cuisines she's focused on precisely because she shares some background with many western readers. She's also focused on cuisines that were fairly underrepresented in the English language sphere. And, I think an outsider brings a certain questioning and critical eye (*why* do you do it this way) that someone who grew up in a particular culture might not.

                                                    So, while there's something to be said for learning from someone who grew up steeped in a particular culture or cuisines, I would advise against ruling out a cookbook author simply because of their ethnic background.

                                                  2. re: Ramius

                                                    Dried citrus peel (both tangerine / mandarin orange ("chen pi") and grapefruit) is used in Chinese cooking and in traditional Chinese medicine. I haven't personally seen chen pi used in an chili oil type condiment, but I wouldn't assume that it isn't ever done. I don't think fresh citrus peel is used often, but chen pi is definitely used in broths and "master sauces" for stewing / braising. Citrus is said to have likely originated in SE Asia, and I'm pretty sure that it does have a long history in Chinese cuisine.

                                                    My guess is that she used fresh orange instead simply because it's more commonly available.