There are so many Asian sauces used in Asian cooking and recipes. From basic everyday soy sauce to roasted sesame paste, there are tons out there, each with specific flavours and uses.
Today, I am providing a list of essential sauces that you need in your kitchen to make some amazing Asian recipes at home. And of course, with Lunar New Year coming up, I thought this post was timely! I am including a variety of Asian sauces in this post, including traditional sauces, vinegars, and oils. I always have these on hand to re-create traditional Asian recipes, and you should too!
Read on down below to see the full list!
Soy sauce is probably the most widely recognized Asian sauce in the world. Its salty umami flavour makes it an extremely versatile sauce. Soy sauce can be used in a variety of Asian dishes, from basic Asian stir fries to a fabulous Soy Sauce Chicken.
Soy sauce is typically made with four main ingredients: soybeans, wheat, water and yeast. However, there are many types of soy sauce that exist due to additional ingredients that are added, how long the sauce has been fermented, and where it is made.
Chinese soy sauces are classified as either light or dark soy sauce but both have a salty rich umami flavour. Light soy sauce is a thin sauce that fermented for a few weeks, whereas dark soy sauce is thicker as it is fermented for a longer period of time. Dark soy sauce also has colour and sweeteners like molasses added to it at the end, making it less salty than light soy sauce.
Japanese soy sauce is typically made with the same ingredients, however, it is fermented for months rather than weeks. These soy sauces are less salty than their Chinese counterparts, and rarely contain any colours or sweeteners. Additionally, Japanese soy sauces often contain bacterial cultures (koji) that are added during the fermentation process.
Soy sauce is the star ingredient in my Soy Sauce Chicken! It used both regular and dark soy sauce as well!
Sesame oil is another essential Asian ingredient used in a variety of dishes. It has a rich, nutty sesame flavour and is best added into a recipe at the end of the cooking process to maintain it’s flavour. Be sure to use a little bit of sesame oil though as the flavour is strong and can easily overpower a dish. Just a teaspoon is plenty for most dishes!
Seasme oil makes the top of this Homemade Congee glisten!
Chili oil is made from vegetable oil, chili flakes, and lots of aromatic spices like Sichuan peppercorns and star anise. Fresh ginger or garlic can be added to the oils as well for extra flavour.
The cooking process is really interesting, but is easy enough that you can make your own chili oil at home. Oil is heated on the stove and the aromatic spices are added to fry in the oil. Then the entire pot of oil is poured over a big bowl of red chili flakes. The oil instantly cooks the chili flakes and takes on a vibrant red colour!
Chili oil is used in many Chinese dishes, often to add a finishing touch of spice and oil. While this adds great flavour to a recipe, I love using chili oil on top of soups, noodles, and as a dipping sauce for dumplings!
You can buy chili oil in Asian grocery stores and even sometimes directly from Chinese restaurants. You can also make it at home! I don’t have a recipe yet, but I’m trying out a few…so stay tuned!
Chili oil is optional for these Spot Prawn Dumplings…but highly recommended!
Shaoxing wine is a great ingredient to really take your Asian recipes to the next level. This is a type of cooking wine that has an incredible briny salty wine flavour and is much more complex than regular rice cooking wine. Although my description of “briny salty wine flavour” may sound off putting, Shaoxing wine adds an incredible depth to dishes– and there is no real substitute out there! You just have to try it to know what I mean!
Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry is an easy recipe and has lots of great flavour thanks to Shaoxing Wine!
Oyster sauce is another essential Asian sauce that I have on had all the time. It is made from cooked oysters, soy sauce and a bit of sugar. It may sound a bit gross, but trust me, this sauce adds a lot of depth and umami flavour to recipes along with a bit of a salty bite. I also like to use oyster sauce as a side dipping sauce with steamed vegetables like broccoli, gai lan or choi sum. That is super authentic and healthy as well!
For vegetarians and vegans out there, you can also find mushroom-based “oyster” sauce. It is typically made with shiitake mushrooms and has a similar flavour, minus the oysters.
My recipe for Vegetable Lo Mein uses a dash of oyster sauce to add lots of umami flavour!
There are many bean-based Asian sauces out there, but the one that I use the most is Doubanjiang. Doubanjiang is a fermented bean sauce that has TONS of chili added to it to make it spicy. This is great in so many recipes, but I use it mostly when I make Mapo Tofu or in Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup.
I find that many brands of Doubanjiang are relatively salty, so use only a little bit of the sauce, or cut back on the amount of salt/soy sauce that you add to the recipe.
I don’t have any recipes that use Doubanjiang yet, but stay tuned!
If you are a fan of hotpot, you will likely already know about sesame paste. This toasted sesame paste is really similar to tahini as it is made of ground sesame seeds. However, this version has a delicious toasted nutty flavour and is much stronger than Middle-Eastern versions of tahini.
Sesame paste is typically used when eating hotpot, where you mix up your own dipping sauce with sesame paste. It is also used in warm or cold noodle dishes to add a creamy nutty flavour and texture.
I don’t have any recipes that use sesame paste…yet! Stay tuned for next week to see a new recipe using this ingredient!
If you love eating traditional Chinese dumplings, you probably have black vinegar already stocked in your pantry. This fermented vinegar has a malty flavour and adds lots of vinegary tang to recipes. I use black vinegar mostly as a dip for dumplings and in certain noodle dishes.
It has a relatively strong flavour on it’s own, so if you are not used to it, combine it with soy sauce to mellow it out a bit.
My Pork and Cabbage Dumplings are even better when dipped in black vinegar!
I hope that this post was informative and can help you stock up your pantry with the Asian sauces. Let me know if you would like more posts like this in the comments below!