Kathy Maister's Start Cooking

Stir-fry Seasonings

posted in Spices and Seasonings by Kathy Maister

There are certain food combinations that always work together: salt and pepper, peanut butter & jelly, hot dogs & baked beans, fish & chips, gin & tonic just to name a few. Spices and seasonings work that way too. Nothing goes better with apple pie than cinnamon and nutmeg.

Stir fry recipes have their own unique set of seasoning ingredients.

Some may be more familiar to you than others. In my Chicken & Broccoli stir fry video, I used soy sauce, oyster sauce, chili paste and sesame oil as the four basic ingredients. Here is a very brief introduction to these ingredients.

Soy Sauce

Soy sauce is a dark, intensely flavored, salty sauce used for flavoring a lot of different foods. Soup, sauces, meat, fish, chicken, vegetables, you name it, and soy sauce works with them all. Different brands may be saltier than others. You often see it as a table condiment at Asian restaurants.

Oyster Sauce

Guess what it’s made from? You’re right! Oysters! Plus a lot of other ingredients (like soy sauce, salt, water, possibly MSG and cornstarch) depending on the brand you buy. It’s dark brown in color and very thick. It will not pour out of the jar – you need a spoon to scoop it out. It has a wonderful rich flavor that is not at all fishy. Oyster sauce helps to thicken the sauce in Stir Fries.

Chili Paste

Chili paste (not to be confused with chili oil, chili powder, or chili sauce), is made with red chilies, fava beans, flour, and (sometimes) garlic. Different brands have different levels of “heat”, so be careful! If you like foods to be hot and spicy, this is the ingredient for you. Add a small amount at a time until you figure out what you like.

Sesame Oil

Sesame oil has a very strong flavor and fragrance. It is often used as a flavor enhancer rather than for frying. You can buy a light colored sesame oil that has a less intense flavor than the dark sesame oil.

Lydia from the Perfect Pantry refers to soy sauce, oyster sauce and sesame oil as the “Cantonese 3-2-1 Trinity, as her basic stir-fry sauce”.

Buying the “Trinity”, at a minimum, is a wise choice if you plan on doing stir fry.

Cheers!

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8 Comments

Shaula Evans said:

You know, I’ve never cooked with Oyster Sauce, although I’m sure I’ve eaten it without knowing in restaurants. I don’t fare very well with shellfish, so I’ve mostly steered clear of Oyster Sauce for that reason.

Sesame Oil, on the other hand, is in my books one of the best kept secrets of the East Asian cooking repertoire. I love how much flavour it can add to a dish, and the taste of sesame oil is one of the things I really like about a lot of Korean dishes.

Kathy Maister said:

Shaula, do you add the Sesame Oil as a seasoning or do you fry with it? It has a fairly high smoke point, but I usually just use it as flavoring.

Jon said:

My experience, for what it’s worth’ is that sesame oil is better used a flavouring. I think that the taste can be destroyed if it is used as a basis for frying – though I stand to be corrected.

Shaula, I don’t know if you have come across it, but certainly here in the UK, it is possible to get a vegetarian ‘oyster’ sauce made I think (from memory) from oyster mushrooms. Worth looking out for.

Shaula Evans said:

Kathy, I almost never fry anything! So I mostly add sesame oil into dressings and sauces for flavour.

Jon, I don’t think I’ve come across vegetarian ‘oyster’ sauce before, but I’ll keep an eye out for it!

Kathy Maister said:

Shaula, I just googled *Vegeterian Oyster Sauce* and a ton of sites came up. You can either buy it from a Asian grocery store or make it yourself! Thanks Jon for the tip!

I can’t vouche for this source but here is one recipe option:

1 hugli mushroom stock cubes

1/2 cup boiling water

2 tablespoons chinese brown bean sauce or dark soy sauce or chickpea miso

1 tablespoon sucanat or brown sugar

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon cold water

  1. Dissolve the cornstarch in the cold water.
  2. Dissolve the broth cube in the boiling water.
  3. Mix with the sauce and the sugar in small saucepan and heat to boiling.
  4. Add the dissolved corn starch and stir until it thickens.
  5. Cool and store in covered jar.

mickey said:

hello, this show is just fabulous.

Kathy Maister said:

Thanks Mickey! In addition to the recipes and videos listed above, I now have a How to Make Fried Rice video you might be interested in! Cheers!

kitchen tables said:

I like the seasonings that you featured here! I almost use them a lot in my dishes.