Savory, rich and slightly sweet, this umami packed brown sauce should be quite a familiar flavour to anyone who is a fan of chinese (especially american-chinese) cuisine, particularly cantonese where it makes an appearance in a great number of dishes. Chow mein, Lo mein, fried rice, and almost everything labeled “brown sauce” in chinese-american dishes typically have oyster sauce as a significant ingredient and the flavour is vastly important (in our minds) to the flavours of these dishes. You can find both traditional oyster sauce (made from oysters of course) and vegetarian oyster sauce (usually made from soy and mushrooms) in many places, and the variety of them found in most asian markets can be staggering and a bit overwhelming, especially the vegetarian version, which can be labelled mushroom sauce, vegetarian stir-fry sauce, vegetarian sauce, vegetarian oyster sauce….Some brands are definitely superior to others (we’ve personally tried at least a dozen) ranging from incredibly salty to super sweet, thin and watery to thick and jelly-ish. There are a good number of them that are quite tasty, but it’s simple to make it at home and you know it’s good AND (in my opinion) this is a far superior sauce to those found on the shelves, it has a far more complex flavour with some oceanic/briny notes and an umami quality far more intense than any we’ve found pre-made. Also, it has a rather thin body, and isn’t overly sweet or salty, allowing it to be used in a wider range of dishes and giving you the option to adjust those qualities as you see fit. Also, i’ve supplied you with recommendations for substitutions for some of the ingredients, including how to make this SOY FREE (yup, crazy right?!) and gluten free. What a nice wizard i am.
15g | ½ oz (about ½ cup tightly packed) dried sliced shiitake mushrooms
50g | 2 medium shallots, rough chopped with skins on
15g | about a 3”x4” piece of kombu, broken or cut into smallish pieces
.4g | 5 “petals” of star anise
1.5g | ½ tsp black peppercorns
25g | 1 Tbsp aka (red) miso
1.5g | ½ tsp (packed) onion powder
75g | ¼ cup + 1 Tbsp shaoxing rice cooking wine
250g/240ml | 1 cup chinese light soy sauce
75g/60ml | ¼ cup chinese dark soy sauce
710g/ml | 3 cups water
2.5g/ml | ½ tsp toasted sesame oil
30g | 2 Tbsp light brown sugar
15g | 2 Tbsp mushroom granules/seasoning or mushroom bouillon
2.5g | ½ tsp (lightly heaped) MSG crystals (optional)
3.5g | 1 tsp (firmly packed) tapioca starch (dissolved in 2 Tbsp water to make mixing easier)
Instant pot/electric pressure cooker directions:
Place mushrooms in a glass pint canning jar and add up to ½ the water only to the first ring (the one that is under where the band lid stops)
Place shallots, kombu, star anise, peppercorns, miso, and onion powder in a different glass pint canning jar and add water in the same way
Place canning lids on jars and screw bands on fingertip tight (don’t over tighten)
Place 2 cups of water into the pot and put in trivet or steamer basket, place jars on top, lock lid and set to 30 minutes at high pressure and allow to release naturally
Remove lid and allow the jars to cool until easily handled (this take a really long time and you can leave them overnight if you wish)
Place mushrooms and their liquid into a blender and process until smooth (you can add some of the liquid from the other jar if you need to)
Strain and press liquid from shallot jar and add along with mushroom liquid and remaining ingredients to a 2 qt sauce pan
Bring sauce to a hard simmer over medium heat while stirring, reduce heat a little to maintain a simmer and continue to cook, while stirring for 2-3 minutes until the mixture looks more translucent, shiny and slightly thickened
Remove from heat and allow to cool UNCOVERED until room temp
Pour into clean and sanitised jars or bottles It’s ready to use immediately, but better if allowed to rest in the fridge overnight
To store, simply keep in the fridge for up to 3 weeks, or freeze for up to a year
Bring water to a boil, add mushrooms and remove from heat, cover and allow to hydrate for at least 20 minutes
Remove the mushrooms and set aside, add shallots, kombu, star anise, peppercorns, miso, and onion powder and bring to a light boil over medium heat
Reduce heat to maintain a light simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes, then remove from heat and allow to steep further for another 20 minutes, then strain and discard solids
Place mushrooms in a blender and add enough of the simmering liquid to blend into a smooth pasty liquid
Place all ingredients into a 2 qt saucepan and bring to a hard simmer over medium heat while stirring, reduce heat a little to maintain a simmer and continue to cook, while stirring for 2-3 minutes until the mixture looks more translucent, shiny and slightly thickened
Remove from heat and allow to cool UNCOVERED until room temp
Pour into clean and sanitised jars or bottles It’s ready to use immediately, but better if allowed to rest in the fridge overnight To store, simply keep in the fridge for up to 3 weeks, or freeze for up to a year
Substitutions: you can sub other misos for the aka miso, the flavour will just be slightly different. Japanese dark soy (standard supermarket soy) or tamari can be subbed for the chinese light and dark soys, just use about 2 Tbsp less and add 2 Tbsp water. You can sub a dry sherry for the shaoxing rice wine. An equal amount of onion + a clove of garlic for the shallots. For gluten free: use gluten free tamari with the above suggestion for subbing For soy free: leave out both soy sauces and miso, replace with 1 ¼ cups coconut aminos, 2 Tbsp water, and 2 tsp nutritional yeast
The richness, depth, and complexity this sauce provides comes at a cost, it has quite a few ingredients to achieve that final flavour that becomes a delightful amalgam with its own unique qualities without any single element dominating. The flip side is that it is really easy to prepare, especially if you have an instant pot or electric pressure cooker, AND it keeps for a long time in the fridge and even longer in the freezer, so you can make a decent amount and have it on hand for a long time. So let’s talk about what all is going into this and why.
We’ll start with the solid ingredients: dried shiitake mushrooms make up the bulk of the sauce, they provide meatiness and are blended into the sauce to add body in place of using starch as a thickener. Kombu brings umami and a mild oceanic quality to the dish, helping to add depth and round out some of the flavours. Aka miso provides (of course, umami) a little sweetness, some tang, and helps contribute some to the body. Shallots and onion powder add sweetness and help to bring in some bright notes and when paired with the star anise, create sulphur compounds that contribute to an enhanced “meaty” flavour (this is a truly magical reaction) now, the star anise will seem a little overpowering when you first finish cooking, it just needs time for the compounds to react and some of those top notes to evaporate off, that’s why we cool this uncovered. Your finished sauce will NOT have a strong star anise flavour, i promise. Finally we have a little black pepper to help enhance the other flavours and bring in some woody notes, a little brown sugar to add sweetness and a touch of molasses richness, mushroom granules/seasoning to boost things up a notch, and optionally some MSG for further flavour depth and tapioca starch for just a little more thickening.
For the liquids we have chinese light soy sauce, providing salt, umami and colour, chinese dark soy to bring in some much needed rich toasty notes and further amp up the colour. Shaoxing rice wine to bring in some nutty notes which really help meld things together, and just a touch of toasted sesame oil to further enhance the nutty and toasty characters so important (and often missing from commercial products) to a good oyster sauce.
I’ve recently discovered the magic of extracting flavours with an electric pressure cooker (as i used with the worcestershire sauce recipe), i really can’t recommend this method enough, it cuts down on work and active time, while producing stronger, richer flavours….it is really just amazing and has changed how i handle some of my sauces. Of course you can totally make this without using one, it’s how i did it for over two decades, and i will provide instructions for the stovetop as well, don’t worry. You want to extract the flavours from your mushrooms and other solid ingredients separately, why? because you’re going to be blending the mushrooms into the sauce after the initial cooking to provide the bulk of the body to the sauce. The only liquid you’ll be using for extraction is water, leave everything else to add later, you’ll get better flavours this way and won’t have to worry about any scorching, you also won’t be adding you sugar, mushroom granules/seasoning, msg, or tapioca starch until near the end, for the same reasons.
So, you’re going to place your dried mushrooms in one pint jar, and your miso, shallots, star anise, pepper, and kombu in a second one. Screw the canning lids on fingertip tight (no strongman shenanigans here) and process them at high pressure for 30 minutes, let it depressurize naturally, remove the lid and let the jars cool until you can handle them. Once they’re cool, you simply puree the mushrooms with their liquid until smooth, strain the shallot mixture into the mushroom mixture (you can do this during the blending to make it easier if you need to) then combine it with everything else in a pan.
When you blend up the mushrooms you may be worried by the light, opaque colour of the sauce, but don’t worry, once you add in your remaining stuff and simmer, it will darken up and become less opaque. Now, this isn’t the translucent stuff you’ll find on a shelf, if that is important to you, then you can forego blending the mushrooms and use some extra starch (or not) to thicken. That will provide you with a clearer sauce that will look more like what you’d find at the store, but, i assure you, when used in dishes you won’t be able to tell the difference in the end. After everything is combined, simply bring to a simmer over medium heat while stirring, allow it to cook for just a few minutes and remove it from the heat to cool UNCOVERED. Once it is thoroughly cooled, place it into clean, sterile jars or bottles and it will keep in the fridge for several weeks (maybe longer) and in the freezer for at least a year.
This sauce is used in countless southeast asian dishes and can be used in any recipe calling for oyster sauce without any change in amounts. It is also crazy delicious on it’s own, making a super quick seasoning for lo mein, fried rice, or vegetables, even as the sole sauce for stir-fries. We LOVE it on roasted baby bok choy, broccoli, and green beans….it’s just so perfect for these vegges and so very easy to do (just toss the vegges in the sauce and roast or stir fry) and makes for a quick side dish. You might find yourself making double batches very soon.
This sauce is also used to make another southeast asian classic staple in our arsenal, (vegan) fish sauce, which can be made in the pot at the same time as the oyster sauce, crazy right? Look at me trying to make things easier for you! I highly recommend doing them at the same time, that way you’re covered on both of these fantastic delights and ready to amaze and wow your palate (as well as your loved ones, or your enemies, i’m not picky.) [share. sharing is good. you like sharing. sharing=happy. happy is good.]