Oyster Sauce or otherwise known as Hao Yiu (蠔油) in Chinese, is a sauce made from the extract of Oyster. The founder Lee Kum Sheng supposedly overcooked oyster on accident and the end result was the sauce. He sold it as a condiment and eventually started the famous company Lee Kum Kee.
What is Oyster Sauce
Although most western cook never heard of Oyster Sauce, it is actually one of the most important ingredient in Chinese cooking. Although it was once primarily used in the south of China by Cantonese cook, its use has spread throughout China.
Chinese chef always use oyster sauce as the base of their sauce. They typically combine it with a ShaoXing Wine and Soy Sauce. This combination adds a rich umami taste similar to anchovies. South East Asian also have a similar product called fish sauce. That too also adds glutamate to their dishes.
Chinese Chef also uses the sauce as a condiment which is drizzled on top of dishes. One of the most popular one is the Chinese Broccoli. You can often find this dish in Dim Sum Restaurant through North America.
There are many different version of this sauce. I personally recommend sticking with the original one made by Lee Kum Kee. The knock off version always tasted off to me. I would also avoid the vegan alternative if you truly one an authentic Chinese Dish.
Lee Kum Kee sells two different version of their oyster sauce. The basic version is designed more for cooking. It does not taste as rich as the premium version. I use the premium version only when it for a condiment. It has a really strong flavor, so its best to temper it when something sweet like Sesame Oil.
What does Oyster Sauce Taste Like
By itself, it taste like the dried squid that is popular in Asia. The flavor is very strong with a slight hint of sweetness to it. Most people do not eat it by itself but rather pair it bland food like rice or chicken. The smell is something else, very strong with a mixture of soy and oyster.
Substitute Oyster Sauce
You cannot really substitute it for something else. It has a really distinct taste with no equivalent. What you can replicate is the glutamateproperties that it has. Using Anchovies or Tomato Paste can give your dish a umami boost. Although most people are afraid of MSG(monosodium glutamate), it is a direct source of glutamate. Studies have found no ill effect of msg and all the fear of it was a result of propaganda. You can read more about the safety issue in regards to msg at Wikipedia.
Oyster Sauce vs Fish Sauce vs Hoisin Sauce
These sauces are all very different and they cannot be used interchangeably. Oyster Sauce is a very thick savory sauce with a unique taste. Fish Sauce is a salty and very thin in texture, it is used more in soups then anything else. Hoisin is a sweet bean paste that is used in dipping or as a fragrance enhancer. These sauces are very different and cannot really be used as a substitute.
How Long Does Oyster Sauce Last
Based on the bottle, it usually have a shelf life of 1-2 year. You need to refrigerate after opening. Because of the amount of salt in it, preservative was probably not necessary.
The premium version of this soy sauce have the following ingredients. Oyster Extractives, sugar, water, msg, salt, modified corn starch, wheat flour and Caramel Flavor.
This product is not vegan friendly, although there is a vegan version.
Oyster Sauce Nutrition
The Nutrition mostly consists of sodium. The value given is per 1 tbsp.
Total Carb: 5 g Sugar: 4 g
Where to Buy
You can find oyster sauce in almost any Chinese Supermarket. The premium 18 oz version typically go for around 4 dollars, 3 if you can find it on sale. If you do not have a Asian supermarket around you, you can purchase it at Amazon, although it will cost a couple of dollar more. If you plan on cooking with it, I recommend that you buy the Large Can Version. It is a lot more affordable and most Chinese restaurant use it.
As stated before, it is used as a base of any sauce. They reduce oyster sauce, shaoxing wine and soy sauce to a glaze and use it to coast dishes like Broccoli Beef. The recipe below is a little more simple and used more like a condiment.
Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce
Chinese Broccoli or Gai Lan (芥蘭) in Chinese, is one of the most popular vegetables among Chinese people. You can usually find it in dim sum carts that is pushed by the little auntie. To make this dish is very simple, all you need to do is steam it.
1/2 lb Chinese Broccoli
Oyster Sauce and Sesame Oil
1) Steam the Chinese Broccoli until its bright green. You can check the tenderness with a knife.
2) Pour the sesame oil over the broccoli and mix thoroughly.
3) Drizzle Oyster Sauce over the dish with thin streaks.
1) Cooking the vegetable until its bright green maintains its texture. Overcooking the broccoli will make it mushy.
2) Sesame oil will give it a sweet nutty flavor while at the same time give it a sheen.
3) The sauce will give the dish a nice contrast in flavor to the bland broccoli.
The steps for this is almost the same as the Chinese Broccoli. The only difference is that you are frying it.
1 lb tofu sliced into cubes
sesame and oyster sauce
1) Heat up a nonstick pan with oil then fry the tofu.
2) Coat the tofu with sesame oil then plate it.
3) Drizzle the sauce over the tofu.
This dish has a nice balance in flavor and contrast. The tofu will provide both a soft and crispy exterior. The bland tofu will balance out the assertive taste of the sauce and the sesame oil will give it sweet nuttiness.
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