Oyster sauce, a staple in Chinese cuisine, is a thick, syrupy condiment made from oyster extract. It offers an earthy, slightly sweet, and salty flavor.
This dark brown to almost black sauce is used in both meat and vegetable dishes and is gaining popularity in modern Chinese cooking. And I frequently use it in my recipes.
You might have heard about it and thought, “How should I use it in my kitchen?” And if you’ve ever wondered how to pick the best oyster sauce. How do you use it effectively?
In this post, I’ll take a detailed approach to break it down for you.
🍯 The Fascinating Backstory
The founder of Lee Kum Kee, Lee Kum Sheung, stumbled upon the creation of oyster sauce by accident.
He lived on an island in southern China and made a living by selling cooked oysters. One day, he left a pot of oysters boiling for too long while he went out. When he returned, he found that the oysters had turned into a dark brown liquid that tasted surprisingly delicious.
This unexpected discovery led to the birth of oyster sauce. Inspired by this happy accident, Lee Kum Sheung established the Lee Kum Kee company, which has been known for making high-quality oyster sauce ever since.
📝 What is Oyster Sauce made of
In the past, oyster sauce was made using a traditional method involving simmering oysters in water until the liquid thickened. However, this approach was not only time-consuming but also quite expensive, with a short shelf life.
Nowadays, you can find manufactured versions. These versions typically contain oyster extract, sugar, salt, cornstarch thickeners, and occasionally MSG (though MSG-free options are available).
This modern method makes it possible to produce oyster sauce on a large scale, significantly extending its shelf life, and making it more affordable.
💰 How to Choose the Highest-Quality One
Usually, you don’t need a substantial amount of oyster sauce for the dish, and one or two teaspoons are typically enough. It serves as an enhancing sauce.
So investing in the highest quality you can find is a wise choice. In my experience, I use it regularly, and a single bottle lasts me for over a year.
One of the most revealing indicators of oyster sauce quality is the percentage of oyster extract listed in the ingredients. This percentage can range from less than 2% to 40% or even higher, and prices are typically adjusted accordingly.
Another telling sign of quality is its thickness. High-quality oyster sauce should leave a thick residue on the bottle’s surface rather than flowing like water. This indicates a richer and more concentrated sauce.
When it comes to oyster sauce, you get what you pay for.
🍳What is Oyster Sauce used for
Oyster sauce is like your kitchen’s handy helper. Its rich umami flavor works wonders in a wide range of dishes and cooking techniques.
- Marinades: It is a fantastic choice for marinating meats. Simply mix it with your preferred seasonings.
- Stir-Fries: A small amount adds a burst of flavor to your everyday ingredients.
- Leafy Greens: Take your leafy greens, such as Chinese broccoli or bok choy, to the next level by sautéing them with oyster sauce.
🧂How to Store It
After opening, it’s important to keep it in the fridge. It can stay good for over a year, but always trust your senses—give it a look and a sniff to make sure it’s still good.