I was obsessed with helping my mum cook growing up (hard to believe, I’m sure). Though she would dabble in making Italian food, and try out popular boxed ingredients of the time, most nights featured what she knew best — giant pots of Thai comfort food and jasmine rice. My childhood of unofficial cooking lessons taught me two things: Jasmine rice goes with everything, and anything can taste good with the help of these five bottled Asian sauces.
Asian sauces you need at home
This sauce gives you the most flavour bang for your buck. The thin, reddish-brown liquid is made by fermenting small fish, like anchovies, with salt for up to two years. The juice extracted from the mixture is a pungent sauce that brings a blast of umami to any and everything it touches. Add a few drops to fill out the flavour profile of your stir fry, or use it as a major ingredient, like in Thai som tum salad. For fish sauce newbies, just add a few drops to a hearty dish with many components.
You’ll notice a difference in flavour, but you won’t be overwhelmed by fishy flavour. I don’t consider myself much of a fish-head, and this sauce really does taste like fermented fish, but somehow it just works. You can use fish sauce during cooking or as a finishing sauce while eating. I like to add a few dashes to hamburger meat, or make a nam jim with chilli peppers and sliced garlic to drizzle it over eggs and rice; and Claire likes to use it to funk up butter, tuna, and chilli.
- Whichever fish sauce you find will be the best one, but if you have a choice, I like: Squid Brand Fish Sauce
The name might include another sea-faring friend, but oyster sauce is entirely different from fish sauce. There are a few sauces that might be described as “oyster sauce,” but in this case I’m talking about a dark brown sauce that’s so thick it’s almost gelatinous. Oyster sauce is often made with oyster extracts, soy sauce, and thickeners, and is both sweet and salty. Add a tablespoon of oyster sauce to deepen the flavours of a dish, or use a few tablespoons as the primary ingredient of a sweet and savoury sauce. I add oyster sauce to beef stews in the winter, and use it to build the quintessential sticky glaze for chicken pad see ew.
- My favourite oyster sauce: Mae Krua Oyster Sauce
Mushroom soy sauce
It might be easy to box-in soy sauce as a mere salty condiment, but this liquid gold is as nuanced as wine. I usually keep at least three different types of soy sauce on hand, because they all provide something different. And I need them. All of them. Mushroom soy sauce can range from thin and medium-brown in colour, to slightly viscous and nearly black. Mushroom soy sauce is made using dried black mushrooms and a light soy sauce, and though it doesn’t taste exactly like the fungi, it does taste notably earthier than standard soy sauce. I use light brown mushroom soy sauce rather liberally in dishes, or as a replacement for “regular” soy sauce. If I’m looking for a salty, earthy flavour, I’ll splash this into a bowl of turkey chilli to add some depth to the tomato base.
- My fridge houses: Dek Som Boon, also called Healthy Boy Brand Mushroom Soy Sauce
Black mushroom soy sauce
Sometimes, if you’re adding fish sauce and regular soy sauce to a dish already, you don’t necessarily need another salty component. A teaspoon of black mushroom soy sauce, however, gives an entire stir fry a beautiful dark brown colour with a touch of sweet, earthy umami, and much less salt. This type of soy sauce still uses dried black mushrooms for added flavour, but the mushroom extracts are added to dark soy sauce, instead of a light one. Dark soy sauce is usually aged longer than the light variety, and some bottles might even include molasses. I like Pearl River Bridge superior black mushroom soy sauce for its dark colour and sweet flavour. I like to splash it into my fried rice, along with regular soy sauce and Golden Mountain Sauce.
- My go-to: Pearl River Bridge mushroom flavored superior black soy sauce
Golden Mountain Sauce
The four products I’ve mentioned so far are types of sauces, and you could explore different brands to find your favourite, but Golden Mountain Sauce is a brand of very special seasoning sauce. The ingredient list consists of “soybean sauce,” made from soybeans, corn, water, sugar, and salt. The flavour is salty, malty, savoury, and ever-so-slightly sweet. It’s incredibly flavorful, and it’s my favourite all-purpose sauce by a long shot. I’ve splashed it on leftover rice and called that a snack. (A little dose will do it, but when I was a kid I had to make sure every grain of rice had a pool of this sauce around it.)
Golden Mountain Sauce is great in stir fries, as a dipping sauce for dumplings, and is an exceptional partner for eggs, but you can sprinkle it over anything to improve the flavour. If you can’t find Golden Mountain Sauce, you can try the very similar Maggi Seasoning, but the hunt is worth the reward.
- Or you could order it, of course: Golden Mountain Sauce
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