Feeling Saucy


I currently have three — three! — kinds of soy sauce in my refrigerator.  So why is it that I can’t make a decent stir-fry?

I really do find it astounding that I’m the proud(?) owner of three varieties of the stuff that they give you for free at Chinese takeout restaurants.  But the saltwater that they put in those plastic packages is absolutely vile, so buying myself a bottle of Pearl River Bridge soy sauce was a no-brainer.  If you can get your hands on that brand, I really recommend it!  I’m sure I needed a bottle of dark soy sauce for a teriyaki recipe or something, so I grabbed a bottle of that at some point, too.

But when I pulled a recipe out of my Thai cookbook this weekend, I was required to add to my collection by purchasing sweet soy sauce, also known as kecap manis, which I didn’t even know existed until just now.  I’d go to the trouble of describing for you what sweet soy sauce tastes like, but if you just add some molasses to your regular soy sauce, it’s pretty much just that.

The dish, a Thai take on beef with broccoli in a nam pla/sweet soy sauce, was a bit overly-sweet and generally flat.  Which means it’s exactly like every other stir-fry sauce I seem to try.  I’ve varied all elements…soy, mirin, garlic, sherry, ginger, oyster sauce, sesame oil…you name it.  But I just can’t seem to get a brown sauce that ever measures up to decent take out.

So I’m begging you, dear readers:  Does anyone have a foolproof recipe or set of ingredient ratios that can help me out?  I’m perfectly happy to keep ordering out — I can’t get my scallion pancake as good as they do at China King — but I’d like to be able to whip up a good weeknight chicken and string beans every now and then!

(Photo: FotoosVanRobin)

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  • Coop May 28, 2010  

    I’m in the same boat, except I never make stir-fry because I always burn it or somehow get otherwise flustered. For one, I should probably get a wok.

    For you, I’d recommend the stir-fry doctor in the form of http://recipesbymissy.wordpress.com/ She makes stir-fry nearly every Sunday and is damn good at it. Just search “Sunday Stir-Fry” and you’ll have a wealth of options.

  • Unfortunately, I can’t help you much. I love soy sauce, but sodium is my enemy. 🙁 I recommend using apricot fruit spread or preserves in whatever you make, though. It works so well in Asian stir fries.


  • Adrienne H May 29, 2010  

    The only soy sauce you’ll ever need is Aloha Shoyu!

  • caper berry June 2, 2010  

    the missing ingredient might be MSG which is commonly used in chinese and thai restaurants.
    but since MSG might cause accelerated heart beats and dry mouth it is not a suggested ingredient to achieve that “missing flavor”.

    for chinese i add a pinch of sugar and a dash of chinese cooking rice wine (xiaoxing wine or shaio hsin rice wine (http://tinyurl.com/3a8nvcy)) during cooking to add depth in flavor and a drizzle of sesame oil to right before serving.
    for thai, use lots lots of sugar and replace most of the salt with fish sauce and finish it off with a squeeze of lime juice.

    here a recipe for teriyaki sauce (http://caperberry.blogspot.com/2010/05/teriyaki-chicken.html)
    here’s another great chicken recipe (http://caperberry.blogspot.com/2010/05/pari-pari-style-chicken.html)
    and another recipe for chinese vegetable stir fry (http://caperberry.blogspot.com/2010/05/wood-ear-feast.html)

    when cooking, make sure the pan is sizzling hot and work fast. ENJOY!

  • gansie June 4, 2010  

    no comment. just a question: you keep soy in the fridge?

  • tvff June 4, 2010  

    I do, but I will admit that I have no idea whether it says that I should on the bottle.

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