This Oyster Sauce Will Make Any Stir-Fry Instantly Delicious
I thought my friend and F&W colleague Melanie Hansche was crazy for ordering oyster sauce by the case. I’d only ever used a drizzle in certain recipes, like to add a finishing gloss of umami goodness to stir-fries. But when I popped the cap off the tall, gold-labeled bottle of Mega Chef Oyster Sauce and begun to cook with it, I began to understand.
Whether or not you’ve cooked with it, you’ve probably had oyster sauce. It’s a key ingredient in Cantonese food, used for velveting proteins and vegetables. Most oyster sauce I’d encountered before was pretty basic—think that savory, satisfying brown sauce in Chinese take-out. But Mega Chef had that salty, satisfying flavor, but was unexpectedly vivid and clean-tasting. It was dark and syrupy, with an intensely umami, sweet and not-too-salty triple whammy of flavor. I started by using it to finish simple stir-fries (my favorite means of using up spring veggies), tossing it with wok-seared snow peas, baby bok choy, or asparagus just before serving.
Oyster sauce is, as the name suggests, made of oysters, which are cooked in water for 30 minutes to make a sort of oyster broth, which is strained, then cooked down and seasoned with salt and sugar until the oyster juices caramelize, reducing to a thick syrup. Chinese culinary expert Grace Young, another Mega Chef fan, associates the rich, satisfying flavor of oyster sauce with her favorite Cantonese foods from her childhood.
“My parents used to blanch Chinese broccoli, and pour oyster sauce over it; or they would combine oyster sauce with pinch of sugar, soy sauce, and sesame sauce oil, bring to a boil and drizzle over the vegetables; When I was a child, we’d just scramble some eggs, and serve with a little oyster sauce on the side.”
Young had for years stopped cooking some of her favorite foods, like lo mein, that used oyster sauce because the widely available versions, like Lee Kum Kee, didn’t match her memories of the dish. Over the years, the company added MSG and artificial color to their formula, muddying the taste, she says. But Mega Chef, which she recently discovered, was a purer touchpoint.
Though it’s regarded as the best oyster sauce on the market by experts including chefs David Thompson and Andy Ricker, who sources it for his restaurants in the states, it’s still hard to find even at Asian grocery stores—difficult enough that you might be tempted to order it, wholesale, from the supplier. But online retailer The Mala Market, which specializes in best-quality ingredients from Sichuan, now carries it, so you can start with just a bottle, if you like.
How to Use Oyster Sauce
Dip: Stir together oyster sauce, a pinch of sugar, a splash of soy sauce, and a splash of sesame oil; dunk raw vegetables or Vietnamese rice paper rolls.
Drizzle: Top 1 pound steamed broccoli with 2 tablespoons oyster sauce.
Deglaze: Sauté 1 pound green beans or asparagus and 2 sliced garlic cloves in 2 tablespoons vegetable oil until crisp-tender; deglaze pan with a mixture of ½ cup chicken stock, ¼ cup oyster sauce, 2 tablespoons fish sauce, and a pinch of crushed red pepper. Simmer until glossy; serve hot.