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Improve my Stir Fry sauce! Looking for a secret ingredient...

I disagree with simple is the best and I just love a complicated recipe where people have trouble placing what ingredients are in it.

I would love some more ingredients to add to my favorite stir fry sauce.

The ingredients at the moment are

Chicken stock
soy sauce
teriyaki sauce
Worcestershire sauce
brown sugar
lime juice
sweet chili sauce
garlic paste
ground ginger
onion powder
tiny bit of bbq sauce (to add a smoky taste)
sesame oil

I considered curry powder (but I hate cumin), I also considered Chinese 5 spice powder but I dislike anise.

I can't use oyster sauce or fish sauce because I cook for people with shell fish allergies. (I know fish sauce is usually not shell fish but I can't find any that are guaranteed not from the same facility i.e. as shell fish are processed)

I would love if someone had some more ingredients that may be surprisingly tasty in a stir fry sauce?? Asian or not!

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  1. I would get rid of the teriyaki sauce, the Worcestershire sauce, the garlic paste, the ground ginger, the BBQ sauce, and the onion powder. I would add red pepper flakes, fresh ginger, and fresh garlic, and also change the vinegar to rice vinegar. Some fresh green onion tops might be nice, too.

    EDIT: Ooops, just reread your post. My suggestions probably aren't what you are looking for - sorry!

    4 Replies
    1. re: sandylc

      Don't worry about it, I do love the idea of using a different vinegar and fresh ginger though. Never really thought of that...

      1. re: MeganJF

        In the interest of tartness, I would say add lime or lemon juice instead of vinegar. Or even some citric acid. I find the vinegar taste in a lot of dishes to be jarring. Your mileage may vary. Enjoy!

        1. re: MeganJF

          Fresh ginger will make a HUGE improvement, use less of it since its more potent at first and taste

      2. Shaoxing wine, perhaps. There are certain flavor components that are not soluble in oil or water, but ARE in alcohol. That is the rational for using vodka or wine in Italian tomato sauces.

        3 Replies
        1. re: greygarious

          Forgive me if this seems like a stupid question but I'm not familiar with cooking with alcohol at all. What flavor would a general shaoxing wine add/bring out? savory, sweet, tang or something that's just hard to explain?

          1. re: MeganJF

            Megan, greygarious will explain better undoubtedly, but depending on the variety you get, it will be like a dry, slightly salty sherry. I use it a little more liberally in dishes where I might have have a fatty meat in the stir fry.

            1. re: MeganJF

              For stirfry, the alcohol should be added right at the end of cooking & poured at the side of the pan, so that the alcohol evaporates, and leaves the flavour of the rice wine in the food. the wine makes the dish more aromatic adds an extra flavor, (not salty, very very slightly sweet), Xaio xing wine is not a strong flavouring wine compared to MeiGwaLou which is also often used, but in much smaller dashes.. XAIO XING wine is also called Jia Fan Chiew, and tastes very similar to the sweet Sherry and Japanese Mirin.

          2. other than just adding "more" to an already very busy sauce, what is your goal here? what else do you put in the stir-fry?

            11 Replies
            1. re: hotoynoodle

              Well the sauce is very tasty but seems to need more depth (savory aspect maybe?) but I'm fighting with trying not to make it to sour, sweet, or spicy. As for the actual stir fry I use chicken, green beans, broccoli, peas, peppers, and green onion. Though I'm happy with that combination.

              1. re: MeganJF

                am sorry, but am with the others who are suggesting an edit. the chicken and veg are pretty basic stir-fry but you have the equivalent of a gang-fight in the sauce.

                lots of salty, plenty of sweet, but not a fresh ingredient in the bunch.

                you can play around with different types of soy, various vinegars and different types of oils. use fresh ginger and scallions. fresh chilis, like bird peppers. mirin wine, sherry or
                the shaoxing.

                would you be able to use anchovies for umami? if not, what
                if you take out the chili sauce and bbq sauce, and fry a bit of tomato paste in there for depth?

                1. re: hotoynoodle

                  True the sauce contains no fresh ingredients. I use fresh scallion in the main stir fry ingredients. Ginger Is never used in my household hence the use of ground, Though I could get some. Sorry but the ginger, Worcestershire, and chili sauce is enough bite for my taste, so no chilis or peppers.

                  But I love The idea of sherry of shaoxing (everyone keeps suggesting it)

                  Also The Worcestershire contains anchovies but I do have whole jarred ones. How would I go about incorporating them?? I also love the idea of adding tomato paste and omitting the bbq sauce and chilli sauce.

                  Thanks for the suggestion, seriously :)

                  1. re: MeganJF

                    To store fresh ginger:

                    Peel it and slice it 1/8-inch thick. Place in a glass jar and cover completely in dry sherry. Cover and refrigerate pretty much forever. Be sure to use a clean utensil each time when scooping some out to use. Add more ginger as needed.

                      1. re: sandylc

                        After failing to use enough fresh ginger, and having it languish in the freezer, I have taken to buying pickled ginger instead. I get a small container in the refrigerator case at a local Asian market. This is what comes as a sushi condiment, thin-sliced in a thin syrup of sweetened vinegar.
                        Easy to mince however much I need, and also keeps indefinitely in the fridge. My uses for ginger involve both sweet and sour so the pickling makes no difference to me.

                          1. re: greygarious

                            I would be tempted to eat the stuff straight!

                            1. re: sandylc

                              Storing ginger in plain water in the fridge works too - just change the water every few days.

                            2. re: MeganJF

                              just add the anchovies to the oil with the other stuff. as they fry, they will dissolve and nobody will see them, but they will incorporate flavor. could also try a bit of smoked eel if you have asian markets nearby.

                              fresh ginger stays in my crisper drawer for several weeks before becoming shriveled. i then keep those bits in the freezer, in a bag, for soup, so no waste. if you want to use dry ginger, fry it in the oil before adding other liquids or ingredients.

                              traditionally, worcestershire consists of anchovies layered in brine, tamarinds in molasses, garlic in vinegar, chilies, cloves, shallots, and sugar. instead of pre-made sauce, try using those ingredients on their own, in varying proportions.

                              the secret to building a successful sauce where everybody says, "ooh, what is in there?" is a balance of flavors where everything plays in harmony -- not a cacophony of similar notes.

                              have fun!

                      2. Honey ~ Orange juice....not to add to your recipe...rather just something to think about sometime.

                        Have Fun!

                        1. Megan, as the other posters suggested, try a minimalist sauce for a change: fresh garlic, fresh ginger, a red chili ( only part of one, seeds removed if you don't care for heat) a pinch of salt, Shaoxing wine (or a dry white wine), a little peanut oil and if you like, a dash of sesame oil. Then, depending on the dish and what you wish to serve the sauce with (I wouldn't use the same sauce for shrimp that I would for beef), you could add or tweak ingredients. Just a thought!

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: pinehurst

                            Maybe I'm just allergic to simple recipes. Over the last few days I've tried basic stir fry sauces... chicken stock, soy sauce, garlic, sesame. Another with hoisin and ginger. But they all seem so strong in one flavor aspect and bland everywhere else. Yours sounds good but I'm still weary...
                            btw. thanks for explaining the shaoxing wine :)

                            1. re: MeganJF

                              Maybe you should add MSG for a flavor boost. You have duplication in your current list. Teriyaki sauce already contains soy sauce. BBQ sauce contains some of your other ingredients.

                              You might be able to find garam masala that does not contain cumin. I don't like cumin either, but in a complex mixture like curry paste/powder, I don't mind it.

                          2. Have you actually tried Chinese 5-spice powder. i dislike anise but LOVE 5-spice; the combo is spectacularly good and a very small amount (1/8 tsp.) adds a big flavor boost for a pan of stir fry.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: MidwesternerTT

                              I haven't actually tried it though now that you've vouched for it I think I'll go pick up a container :)

                            2. Welcome to CH.

                              There is no secret ingredient.

                              Simplicity is best - there is no need for sensory overload. Each dish you make should have a different taste. (Avoid the opposite, as expressed in the Chinese sentence that describes a poor restaurant "100 dishes, all with the same taste").

                              Ditch the garlic paste, ground ginger powder and onion powder in lieu of fresh garlic, fresh ginger and fresh onions. Think about fresh herbs, cookbooks by Fuchsia Dunlop (and more) or the various Coobook of the Month threads on CH.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: scoopG

                                I was thinking about herbs... But the only fresh ones I have in my garden are rosemary, pineapple sage (does not taste like pineapple), and lemon verbena... would any of that work?? anyone?

                              2. Well, Teriyaki sauce and Worcestershire sauce, by themselves are already complex. I won't say simple is the best, but neither is complex.

                                Anyway, the first thing popped into my mind is the Chinese Szechuan peppercorns. Very Chinese, very unique and very bold.


                                Another very popular Chinese ingredient which I didn't see is the white peppercorn:


                                Finally, try smoked cured ham


                                I actually think your list is too long and worry that some ingredients start to overwhelming the others.

                                1 Reply
                                1. I think the reason your sauce is lacking depth is because you have a lot of strong flavors competing against each other. They're basically washing each other out.

                                  Stir-fries tends to be simple. I cook a lot of Asian food, and only use 4-5 ingredients to season my stir-fries, if that. You can have a secret ingredient with overdoing it! Plus they make vegetarian oyster sauce for people who don't/can't eat oysters. You can find it at most Asian markets.

                                  Some of my typical seasonings for a veggie/meat or veggie only stir-fry (all my stir-fries include fresh ginger):
                                  Light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, chicken broth and corn starch (to thicken)
                                  Lots of chopped garlic, oyster sauce and white pepper
                                  Garlic, sambal oelek, light soy sauce, chicken broth, corn starch
                                  Garlic, light soy sauce, oyster sauce
                                  Light soy sauce, red chilli flakes, sesame oil (sometimes add chicken broth)

                                  1. Definitely switch out the powdered ginger for fresh. It's pretty cheap and you can buy just a tiny bit. Or you could use the refrigerated version that comes in a tube. I find it to be a perfectly good substitute in a cooked dish.

                                    1. I find that if you mix too many things together, you get a taste that isn't dominated by one ingredient, but also ends up tasting muddy and unforgettable.

                                      Generating a many item sauce that tastes distinctive and balanced is certainly possible - but it tends to come about due to centuries of culinary tradition, rather than individual experimentation (I'm thinking Thai and Indian curries, here).

                                      I second (third) the idea of seriously stripping down your ingredient list, and then working on the *balance* of those ingredients. If one ingredient dominates unpleasantly, then change the balance between the ingredients rather than adding extra ingredients.

                                      One classic combination is - soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, fresh ginger (and maybe some rice wine). This works very well as a marinade as well.

                                      I find that a tiny bit of Worcestershire sauce or anchovy paste make good 'secret ingredients' to a simple sauce. You want just enough that you can't really taste it, but it brings out the flavour of the other ingredients.

                                      As an aside - in Chinese stir fries, the sauces tend to be pretty simple, and matched to the ingredients being cooked. I've had delicious stir fried dishes stir fried with nothing more that vinegar and garlic. I made stir fried chaoyte squash leaves last night seasoned with sliced garlic and a bit of salt, and it was delicious.

                                      1. On looking at your list, I share the view of those who feel that fresh ginger and onions would dramatically improve over their dried versions, and also I agree that using items like teriyaki sauce, worcestershire, and bbq sauce is getting too far ahead of the process, as they are already complex concoctions. But adding this degree of freshness and volatile flavor compounds is not going to move things in the "depth" direction that you announce as your concern.

                                        Use anchovies if fish sauce is not safe enough for you.

                                        You can add ingredients like star anise, cinnamon stick, nutmeg, allspice, and cardamon pods to ramp up the flavor profile in the "complex" direction. Chinese 5-spice powder, too, as has been mentioned here.

                                        Depending on your proteins, you might do well to think of brining and/or marinating beforehand.

                                        Best wishes!

                                          1. I like complicated recipes too but your sauce seems to have everything but the kitchen sink on it.

                                            I'd strongly suggest that you edit it, cutting out the teriyaki, Worcestershire and BBQ sauce entirely.

                                            I totally concur on the need for fresh garlic and ginger.

                                            I'd add some fish sauce if the dietary restrictions allow it, or a pinch of Goya Sazon which is basically seasoned MSG.

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: C. Hamster

                                              <cutting out the teriyaki, Worcestershire and BBQ sauce entirely.>

                                              Hey, I felt exactly the same way.

                                              1. re: C. Hamster

                                                Goya Sazon -----

                                                ewwww... MSG... nothing ever needs MSG...

                                                1. re: girloftheworld

                                                  There's nothing wrong with MSG and it can give it that certain something aka umami. I have a bag of it.

                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                    I remember when health food stores used to carry it.

                                                    I do wonder frequently if MSG is good or bad for health. People feel very strongly about it in both directions. I do know that it makes me thirsty, which isn't a terrible thing. I know that at my mother's senior complex it is in the soups, and those folks all pronounce these soups "delicious"!

                                              2. I haven't read to the bottom of this thread, nor do I know what's in hoisin sauce, but if it's not on your verboten list, I would add that and get rid of the teriyaki sauce and Worcestershire sauce.
                                                Also, instead of onion powder, try chopping an onion and a couple of crushed garlic cloves into the pan first and sauteeing them in a little oil slowly, don't want to brown it. Then start ading the others.

                                                  1. re: Wilks

                                                    Ha ha ha (assuming that I got your joke)

                                                  2. If you want something else to throw into the party, then miso.

                                                    If you really want to make it better, than I would add a bit of heat for balance. You have a bunch of sweet and salty, with a bit of acid, but not much balance. Think thai foods with their amazing balance of salt sweet heat sour so nothing overwhelms you, yet everything is there.

                                                    1. Simplify, simplify, simplify. You have too much going on. If this was a choir, you'd have about eight people each trying to sing lead. Cut it back to no more than half a dozen ingredients and tinker with them in different combinations until you find several you like. Pick a lead, then choose those that can harmonize.

                                                      1. I certainly love my 40 ingredient curries, but there's a point where "more," doesn't necessarily mean "more complex." Teriyaki is already a complex balance of soy sauce and sweetener and here you're adding more soy sauce and more sweeteners. I am echoing every body else's advice that you simplify.

                                                        If you already like the basic flavor profile you have but want it to have more depth, I would consider adding Aji no moto/MSG or switching your brand of soy sauce. I use Taiwanese soy sauce, but shoyu or tamari would have a deeper savory flavor. The smokey taste you're seeking should come from properly stir frying your ingredients in a super hot wok, but if your wok is not seasoned or your burners don't get hot enough, you can add a whisper of smoked paprika to suggest wok hei. It's not exact, but it's something I do at home.

                                                        1. How about some apricot preserves for a sweet & sour sauce? And/or perhaps some dried red chili's like you would find in a Kung Pao sauce? Some crushed pineapple might be nice too.

                                                          I would also tone down the ingredient list. For example, you have Teryaki sauce, but you also have all the ingredients in a Teryaki sauce (soy sauce, brown sugar, vinegar, etc...) it's kind of redundant.

                                                          1. Freshness is the key. I agree with others that you should edit and I will add that you should think about technique, ie velveting chicken(marinating it with a little cornstarch), stir frying quickly and at high heat. I also have always been told to cook hoisin, soy sauce, oyster sauce(they make a vegetarian version with mushrooms) with oil. IMO I also think that they all can benefit from some freshness at the end, cilantro, Thai basil, mint and/or green onions.

                                                            1. I'm definitely on the "simplify simplify simplify" side here, but if you want to keep it complex, I'd swap out the powdered ginger for fresh and add a bit of pineapple juice or pineapple puree. I'd lose the teriyaki sauce if adding pineapple.

                                                              1. Agree that you have way too many things going on for one sauce, but try fermented black bean paste (with or without garlic). Or try miso paste.

                                                                1. Hoisin sauce in place of soy, and teriyaki. Bean pastes like black bean/garlic, sweet ground bean sauce, and believe it or not a smidge of Major Grey Mango chutney lends a unique flavor. Also I mainly stir-fry with peanut oil.

                                                                  1. yes.. agree with everyone here is just too much.. sure your taste buds are tasting more complex stimulations, you are covering the flavor of the meat / vegies.. also, some of the sauce / spices in here would need to be added at different times.

                                                                    Many vegetables will not appealing to the eye and taste buds with some of the sauces.. i.e. some vegies dont work with Lime Juice, vinegar, worcester shire sauce.. etc..

                                                                    In Chinese restaurants, they would have basic raw spices /sauces.. Salt pepper, Soya sauce, Oyster sauce, garlic, Chicken stock, double stock sesame oil.. these combinations would be in 80% of the dishes... these would be added according to the dish that is being cooked..

                                                                    Then there are the premade special sauce mixtures for diff. food.. i.e Sweet Sour Sauce, Black Bean Sauce, Canton Sauce, etc.. etc..

                                                                    In Hong Kong, where we have the best Cantonese stir frys,
                                                                    For a Chicken / beef or seafood with cauliflower / bak choi, choi sum, i would just use, minced garlic, Shallots and Ginger, stock (already have salt and pepper), garlic and right at the end dash of xiao xing wine (or cream sherry) and sesame sauce. if i were to spice it up more, i'd add a chilli at the beginning.. even Oyster sauce would be an option.
                                                                    All this would give you plenty of flavours that boosts the dishes and complement each other rather than overshadowing the and keep the food eye appealing.
                                                                    but Good luck!
                                                                    and i bet the ingredients u have listed up there, would be good for a BBQ marinade or table sauce!

                                                                    1. So many ingredients...I agree with others suggestions of going with the fresh onions, garlic, ginger. A touch of dried chili's or siracha for the heat you're currently getting from the chili sauce. A light soy sauce and rice wine for a bit of sweetness. A few drops of sesame oil for smokiness.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: Hopefulone

                                                                        Hopefulone, the responders all seem to be on the same page here. Your instructions are well-put and on target, IMO.

                                                                      2. Dried lemongrass with a simple Asian sauce of tamari, garlic and ginger