Oyster Sauce

Oyster sauce is commonly used in stir-fries like our Beef Stir-Fry with Bell Peppers and Black Pepper Sauce. It is also a key ingredient in Kung Pao Shrimp, Spicy Sichuan Noodles, and other Asian-style dishes. The bottled sauce, also known as oyster-flavored sauce, is made from a reduction of boiled oysters. Savory with a hint of sweetness, it is a rich, concentrated mixture of the oyster extractives, brine, and assorted seasonings. In our tasting, testers described the winner as slightly fishy with caramel undertones and good depth of flavor.

Shopping for Oyster Sauce

Be careful not to confuse oyster-flavored sauce with cooked oyster sauce, as the latter includes oyster-flavored sauce combined with ingredients like chicken broth, soy sauce, sake, and sugar. Look for a brand that contains only oyster extractives and seasoning like our favorite, Lee Kum Kee’s Premium Oyster Flavored Sauce.

Hoisin Sauce

Made from soybeans, sugar, vinegar, garlic, and chiles, hoisin sauce packs a punch and adds spicy, salty, and sweet elements to stir-fries and meat dishes, such as Mu Shu Pork. It can also be used as a dipping sauce. We’ve found that no two brands are alike, though, and our tasters deemed the perfect hoisin sauce to be one with balanced flavor and smooth rather than grainy consistency, like our winner, Kikkoman Hoisin Sauce.

From Marinade to Sauce

Used marinade is not safe to eat since it’s contaminated with raw meat juice. If you want a sauce to serve with cooked meat, make a little extra marinade and set it aside before adding the rest to the raw meat.

Fish Sauce

Pungent, glutamate-rich fish sauce, which is made from fermented anchovies, can be used as both a condiment and an ingredient. As the latter, we often find it in Vietnamese and Thai dishes, such as Thai Pork Lettuce Wraps. In the test kitchen, we also use it in small amounts to add rich, savory flavor to sauces and marinades for meat such as our Chile-Lime Burger Sauce and Southeast Asian Marinade for Steaks. In our tasting, we found that testers preferred Red Boat 40° N Fish Sauce, which is made with only anchovies and sea salt and contains more protein than the four other brands we tested.

Vegan "Fish Sauce"

In need of a vegan alternative to fish sauce? You can make your own using dried shiitake mushrooms. Combine ¼ ounce mushrooms with 3 cups of water, 3 tablespoons salt, and 2 tablespoons soy sauce. Simmer over medium heat until reduced by half. Strain, cool, and refrigerate the sauce for up to 3 weeks.

Do you have a favorite dish that uses one of these sauces? Is there another ingredient you'd like to know more about? Let us know on Twitter @testkitchen and #CooksIllustrated.

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