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A guide to Asian sauces: what’s in them and how to use

A guide to Asian sauces: what’s in them and how to use

Asian sauces 101: what's in them, how to use, and how to store.

A guide to Asian sauces: what’s in them and how to use

For those less experienced in Asian cooking, the shelves of Asian supermarkets can be an exciting, yet unfamiliar place.

The array of Asian sauces offer beautiful and complex flavours that are sticky, sweet, tangy and umami.

If you haven’t ventured further than soy sauce, check out our guide and dive into the wonderful flavours of Asian sauces.


Oyster sauce

What is it: Made from oysters and soy sauce, oyster sauce is a popular ingredient in Asian cooking.

It offers a rich umami and sweet flavour, underpinned with a dark, caramelized taste from the oysters.

How to use: It’s perfect for stir-fries, marinades and dressing steamed vegetables. Try mix with a little chilli sauce and garlic to serve with roast pork.

Paired with Chinese rice wine and soy sauce, it makes a delicious marinade for meat and seafood.

How to store: Once opened, store oyster sauce in the fridge.


Fish sauce

What is it: Another staple in the Asian kitchen, fish sauce, like the name suggests, is made from anchovies. It’s a fermented sauce, made by salting anchovies and ageing for months.

The fermentation draws out the liquid to create a thin, pungent, fishy flavour.

How to use: The intense smell is the first thing that hits you with fish sauce. Rule of thumb: don’t use too much! Only a few drops or a teaspoon are needed in a typical dish.

It adds a rich, savoury flavour to curries, soups, stir-fries and marinades.

How to store: Fish sauce can typically be stored on the shelf, though if you don’t use it very often, you can pop it in the fridge.


Hoisin sauce

What is it:  Fragrant, rich and sweet, hoisin sauce is often used in marinade and stir-fries and is the key ingredient to Chinese barbecue pork and Peking duck.

It’s made from a mixture of fermented soybean paste, garlic, vinegar, sesame oil, chilli and sweetener.

How to use: Perfect as a marinade to make barbecue pork, adding flavour to stir-fries or used as a dipping sauce for spring rolls.

How to store: Like oyster sauce, it should be stored in the fridge once opened and can be kept up to a year, due to the high salt content.



Chinese rice wine

What is it: Also known as ‘shaoxing’, Chinese rice wine is a versatile ingredient in Asian cooking. With a sweet and acidic flavour profile, its made from fermenting rice or millet.

How to use: Like cooking wine and sherry, Chinese rice wine can be used in marinades, steamed dishes and stir-fries. Be careful with measurements as it has a powerful flavour.

How to store: Once opened, store it in a cool, dark place for a few months. If used rarely, you can keep it in the fridge.



What is it: A staple in Japanese cuisine, mirin is a key ingredient in teriyaki sauce. Similar to sake, but with a sweeter taste and lower alcohol content, it pairs great with soy sauce.

Like shaoxing rice wine, its made from a combination of fermented glutinous rice, cultured rice and distilled alcohol.

How to use: Use it to make teriyaki sauce or in dipping sauces, broths, glazes and marinades. Its can be used in shoyu ramen, udon stir-fry and tuna poke.

How to store: Mirin is best stored in a cool, dark place in the pantry. If stored in the fridge, the sugar may crystalize.


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