Chinese stir fry sauce

Chinese cuisine has so many sauces, it’s almost impossible to go through all of them.  They have their basic sauces: XO, hoisin, plum, fermented bean, orange, sweet and sour, and so on.  Normally these sauces are base sauces, or foundation sauces, for their ‘small’ sauces. ‘Mix 1 cup hoisin, 1 cup plum, 2 cups chicken stock, rice vinegar, smashed lemon grass, reduce’, and come up with something more unique and flavorful.  Of course that’s an example illustrating my point, but the concept is accurate.  And they give them all kinds of creative names.  Majestic dragon sauce, or sea empress sauce, or temple of the sun sauce, or some other name that will make you think it’s real deal Chinese.  I guess it’s part of the game.  But, in reality, these sauces, no matter what they’re called, are important.  No one just pours hoisin sauce over their meat.  You need a well balanced sauce, made with purpose, to make your Chinese dish great.

I think it’s tricky and somewhat intimidating to make good sauces, especially Chinese.  How do you do it?  What do you add?  Maybe just a couple dashes of soy sauce to my stir fry to finish?  Maybe some brown sugar, soy sauce, orange juice and a corn starch slurry?  That’s starting to sound complicated…  and yes to both, but I want to give you a great all-round stir fry sauce.   A sauce that works with noodles, vegetables, meats, fishes and any wok recipe you might want to try.  It’s relatively healthy, deriving its flavor from more natural reductions than anything else.  And it’s easy.

You will notice this sauce has a few Japanese ingredients, such as sake and miso.  There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s a means to an end, and the final product will be quite authentic.  Remember, it’s a balance of sweet, salt, spice with an underlying flavor profile.  Everything altogether will leave you nothing short of a wonderful low sodium, flavor-rich stir fry sauce.

Stir Fry Sauce

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Yield:  about 1 cook, or enough for 3 portions


2 cups chicken stock (rich, homemade and slightly reduced is preferrable)
1 tbsp red miso paste
1 stalk lemon grass, cut into 1 inch pieces and smashed
1/2 cup shrimp shells
1/2 cup sake
2 tbsp light brown sugar
1 tbsp rice vinegar
3 tbsp light soy sauce
2 scallions


In a small sauce pot, reduce the sake by half.  Add the chicken stock, shrimp shells, miso, lemon grass, sugar, vinegar and scallions.  Reduce by half again and add the soy sauce.  Slightly reduce and strain.  The sauce should be slightly thick, but not thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.  This is perfect and now it’s ready.

When using this sauce in your stir fry, you will be adding it to a hot pan and cooking (reducing) it again.  Leaving it intentionally thin allows you ‘finish’ it in the pan, giving it the final reduction it needs.

Again, use this sauce with any Chinese style stir fry or wok recipe.  Glass or lo mein noodles work exceptionally well, with ingredients like shrimp, bok choy, snap peas, mushrooms, nappa cabbage and peppers.


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