From My Wok to Yours - Taking the Mystery Out of Everyday Dining and Meals!!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Slap Me Around and Call Me.... SAUCEY!!!!

After having to sit through a meal that I cooked (the variation of Salmon Feta that I told you about yesterday), and did not really enjoy, I realized that I had forgotten a key element to the meal: a savory sauce to go over the top of the fish.  I had seasoned it well, the feta stuffing was good, but yet, it tasted empty.  Perhaps a white sauce, or a buttery sauce, or a lemon, mustard and mayonnaise sauce with plenty of dill (otherwise known as a variation on Hollandaise...)  would have really jazzed up the dish.  Strangely, the kids loved it in its unadulterated form, so the flavor profile enhancement will have to come with a more refined audience.

One of the reasons I find Martin Yan's cooking and flavor profiles so compelling is because he consistently comes up with a very tasty sauce to complement EVERY meal.  One of those meals that I have GOT to try to make is his Steamed Crabs with Shaoxing Wine Sauce.  It is a simple, yet refined taste.

A key element to every Chinese food dish is the sauce.  The sauce profiles range from mild, to spicy, with influences from the West (we Americans) as well as from the East (Spicy Szechuan styles.)  The easiest way to incorporate a true Asian flavor is to come up with the  basic sauces that already exist.  Some better known sauce profiles include Teriyaki, Kung Pao, Szechuan, Curry, or Dragon Sauce.  Nearly every version of these sauces incorporate the same basic ingredient: Soy Sauce.

A staple of EVERY Asian inspired sauce is Soy Sauce.  Soy Sauce is produced by fermenting soybeans with the molds Aspergillus oryzae and Aspergillus soyae along with roasted grain, water, and salt. Soy sauce was invented in China, where it has been used as in cooking for over to 2,000 years. In its various forms, it is widely used in East and Southeast Asian cuisines and increasingly appears in Western cuisine and prepared foods.  The many different types of Soy Sauce include a Mushroom Soy, Honey Soy, Dark Soy, low sodium Soy and MANY others. 
The mission? To pick and create a failsafe Brown Sauce, and a savory White Sauce.  If you have eaten a Chinese food meal lately at some of the finer establishments, you will have undoubtedly experienced the difference in the two.  Chicken and Broccoli?  That was a brown sauce.  Shrimp and vegetables? That was a white sauce.

There are a million different recipes for "brown sauce."  The novice's way to create such a sauce is to stir-fry the dish with the predetermined seasonings as usual and then add a little flour or corn starch to thicken the sauce that was already in the pan.  At issue with that style of cooking, while successful that one time, is the inability to guarantee consistency in production, the inability to reproduce what could be a wonderful flavor, which is a key factor in successful cooking.

If you want a real recipe, brown sauce is generally a combination of oyster sauce, soy sauce, sugar, corn starch, water, and the juices of whatever it is you’re cooking. Oyster sauce and sugar will give you a bit of the sweetness you probably taste, soy gives it the salt, and corn starch and water give it that thick consistency. My recipe combines a wide variety of all of the elements mentioned, while allowing for individual tastes.


■1 cup regular soy.  (Kikkoman is my brand of choice, but whatever flavor suits your taste will work.)
■2 ounces Dark mushroom Soy

■2 ounces Thick Soy (basically regular soy sauce blended with molasses)
■2 ounces Water

■1 tablespoon cornstarch slurry as described in earlier postings.


White sauce is another popular type of sauce in Chinese cuisine. The primary difference is the subtitution of soy and oyster sauce, which give the brown sauce its brown color, with white wine. Another big difference is that a lot of other spices have to be added as well, such as salt, ginger, garlic powder and onion powder, since the sauce in its base form lacks flavor.

My best recipe...

■½ cup onions, finely chopped

■½ cup green onions, chopped

■2 teaspoons ginger, chopped

■2 teaspoons garlic, chopped

■½ cup white wine

■1 cup clear vegetable stock (or if you are feeling  brave, use a clarified fish stock, but ONLY if you know none of your diners suffer from seafood allergies.)
■a pinch sugar

■1 tablespoon oil

■salt to taste

You can generally replace the chopped ingredients with powder, though you’ll want to add extra since dry ingredients are less potent than fresh. This is generally a popular sauce for lighter flavored main ingredients, like fish or vegetables. Whereas meat has a heavy flavor to it and can handle a dark sauce, it’s a good change of pace to use white sauce with more delicate foods like seafood.
Adjusting the sauces to taste, after numerous trials will create a failsafe recipe for you.  Best practice? Make the sauce in bulk if you know you are going to be having Chinese food often over the course of a month or so, and store it in the refrigerator.  This will ensure that each time a meal is made, it will generally taste the same.

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