It has been years since I’ve shared my post on “Essential Thai Sauces” to fill your pantry, and thanks to the suggestion from numerous readers, I’ve put together the “Essential Chinese Sauces” used in Chinese cooking.
When it comes to the art of making Chinese cuisine, the balance of sweet, sour, savory and spicy flavors is important if you want your food to taste authentic. Having the right seasoning will make your dishes shine.
Incidentally, all the sauces featured in this guide can also be found at any FairPrice Finest outlet near you.
Below are some essential sauces you should keep in your pantry if you are into Chinese cooking. Let me know if you have your favorite go-to brands too!
Now, when most recipes call for soy sauce, the default choice is usually light soy sauce (unless otherwise stated). Soy sauce is a salty brown sauce made with fermented soy beans and roasted wheat. It is commonly used as a seasoning or condiment to enhance and harmonize the flavors of various foods. This is definitely one of the top staple Chinese sauce to keep in your cabinet.
Light soy sauce is perfect as a marinade, in stir-fry and as a dipping sauce.
Flavor profile: Salty, sweet, slightly bitter
Recommended Brand: Nanyang Sauce Premium Brew Light Soy Sauce Handmade
Dark soy sauce (or black soy sauce) is very thick in texture and contains molasses as a main ingredient. It is commonly used to impart a dark, rich color for dishes with longer cooking times, such as stews, red-braised and cooked meat dishes. In Singapore, it is often used in Char Kway Teow, Fried Carrot Cake and as a dip for our beloved chicken rice.
Flavor profile: Mildly sweet, less salty
Brand: Feng He Garden Dark Soy Sauce
Made from oyster extract, oyster sauce doesn’t actually taste like oysters. However, they are full of umami flavor and very popular in Cantonese cuisine. I like to use it in stir-frying vegetables, as a marinade and in my braising sauce. Just like soy sauce, oyster sauce is another staple sauce to have.
Flavor profile: Sweet, salty
Brand: Lee Kum Kee Premium Brand Oyster Sauce
CHINESE RICE WINE
Commonly known Shaoxing Hua Tiao wine (紹興花雕酒), this translucent amber color liquid made from brown glutinous rice has approximately 15% alcohol content. Ask any Chinese cooks or chefs and they’ll probably tell you this is another essential seasoning in Chinese cuisine. Chinese rice wine adds an aromatic fragrance to stir-fry dishes, braised dishes and also to remove any odor from meat or fish.
Flavor profile: Sweet, bitter
Brand: Pagoda Shao Tsing Hua Tiao Chiew, Plum Blossom Hua Tiao Chiew
CHINESE FISH SAUCE
In East and Southeast Asia, almost every country has their own version of fish sauce and most of the fish sauce is often made from anchovies, salt and water. In China, fish sauce is called yúlù (鱼露) which mean “fish dew”. The umami flavor in fish sauce is due to its glutamate content. The Teochew diaspora in Southeast Asia use fish sauce in their cooking. Fish sauce is not only added to dishes as a seasoning, but also used as a base in dipping sauces. I like to add it in fish soup or seafood to impart sweetness to the broth.
Flavor profile: Salty, briny, sweet
Brand: Chao Shan Fish Sauce
CHINESE RICE VINEGAR
Chinese rice vinegar (米醋) is made from fermented rice. There is a wide variety of vinegars produced from different regions in China. In terms of color, they range from clear, light yellow, reddish, brown to black. I mainly find myself using white and black vinegar. White rice vinegar is more acidic than other Chinese vinegar. It works well as a pickling liquid, for salads, sweet and sour sauce, etc.
Flavor profile: Sour, mildly sweet
Brand: Narcissus White Rice Vinegar, Sin Guo Rice Vinegar
Black vinegar is very popular in Southern China. Chinkiang vinegar (镇江香醋, Zhènjiāng xiāngcù) is considered one of the best black vinegars. It takes its name from Zhenjiang in Jiangsu province. Ideal for marinating meat dishes and duck, as well as for seasoning dark sauces or for dried vegetables, as well as dip. Recently, I’ve also discovered another brand – Nanyang Sauce Premium Black Vinegar. Nanyang Sauce is an artisanal sauce maker in Singapore since 1959. This artisanal vinegar is brewed with herbs.
Flavor profile: Sweet, sour, salty
Brand: Nanyang Sauce Premium Black Vinegar Handmade
Above is a handy beginner’s guide to sauces for Chinese cooking, the list does not end here. You could also explore other seasoning staples like sesame oil, hoisin sauce, chilli bean paste to enhance your different Chinese recipes.
Oyster Sauce https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oyster_sauce