When putting together a recipe, a substitute for the oyster sauce is sometimes needed to accommodate certain health restrictions. Have you ever looked into the ingredients of oyster sauce? Or have you ever made it yourself at home?
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It is made using the liquid extracted from canned oysters or the brine of its shells, and that is why it has a fishy taste. This flavor is essential for many recipes whether it be a stir fry, Chinese or Japanese soups, or different marinades. Unfortunately, it cannot be enjoyed by everyone because of its oyster-like taste, some of its nutrients, or simply because of personal allergies.
So, we need to find a substitute which can infuse a similar taste to the recipes and sometimes even the same consistency.
My first experience seeking an oyster sauce substitute came when I was preparing dinner for a bunch of my friends and one of them couldn’t have oyster sauce in any form possible. So, I had to think of any other way to cook the same menu for all while replacing the oyster sauce.
It is then that I found different suitable alternatives. All of them are super easy to make at home. All such substitutes are brought together in this article. However, before discussing these alternatives, it is important to know about the oyster sauce itself, the ingredients used in it and how they can be replaced to get a suitable alternative.
You can find some of the alternatives at the grocery store, but they can also be made easily at home, which is a much better choice if you want to avoid all the preservatives. And that is exactly what I want to do! I have homemade sauces in my refrigerator which can each be used as an oyster sauce replacement.
What is an Oyster Sauce?
Well, to be clear, oyster sauce is the essence of the oysters. It has a base which is mixed with the liquid obtained from oysters. This sauce is usually available in bottle-packed form in most stores, especially Asian specialty shops. From beef broccoli to fish marinades or soups and hundreds of other recipes, oyster sauce is added in a small amount.
Its fishy flavor is loved for its distinct feel and the aroma it adds to the meal. Here are all ingredients which are needed to make the basic oyster sauce.
- 8 ounces oysters, shucked with liquid
- 1 teaspoon salt
- soy sauce, tamari, as much needed
To make the sauce, start by draining the oysters to obtain their liquid and preserve this liquid in a container. Chop the oysters finely in a food processor, then transfer them to a saucepan. Boil the oysters in its own liquid, then let it cook for 12 minutes on a simmer after covering the lid.
Once the oysters are cooked, turn off the heat and stir salt into the oyster stock. Mix it well, then allow the mixture to cool down completely. Now strain the cooled mixture using a fine sieve and return the liquid to the saucepan. Discard all the solid particles from the sieve. Pour in 2 tablespoons of soy sauce per each half cup of the oyster liquid.
Again, cook this mixture first on a boil then reduce it to a simmer and cook it for 10 minutes. After cooling the sauce, pour it into a clean and a sterilized mason jar. Preserve the sauce in the refrigerator and use it within a month.
Culinary Uses of Oyster Sauce:
I have been frequently asked by many people about the need for oyster sauce. Prescribing a certain alternative does not mean that oyster sauce does not has a significance of its own. Many recipes are incomplete without the use of oyster sauce, so you cannot simply omit it. However, if there is no other choice but to avoid its use for any reason, then you can try substituting it. I normally do not recommend substitutes if there is not a genuine need.
Anyhow, let me share some of the ways in which oyster sauce is used in different cuisines. The use may vary; that is why you need to pick the substitute according to the type of the meal you are preparing. Sometimes it is okay to replace oyster sauce with fish sauce if you are making a stir fry; for salads, you can use soy sauce instead of oyster sauce.
Oyster sauce is used in several marinades, whether it is for beef steaks, chicken fillets, or seafood. With oyster sauce in the marinade, the meat gets a strong and distinct flavor. It also leaves a glaze over the meat when it is cooked with oyster sauce marinade.
The sticky texture of this sauce looks great over the grilled meat. I often try adding a few drops of oyster sauce to the BBQ seasonings. It can usually be paired with some basic spices like pepper, salt, lemon juice, garlic, and ginger powder to prepare a perfect and well-tasted marinade.
A drizzle of oyster sauce on a freshly-cooked meal sounds absolutely delightful. Oyster sauce makes a good topping for soups, fried fish fillets, steaks, and barbecues. Keep a bottle of oyster sauce on the table, especially when you are serving Chinese or Vietnamese food. I use the oyster sauce to top freshly-cooked butter lobsters, steamed crabs, broiled fish, and seared scallops.
All these dishes are lightly seasoned, so serving them with oyster sauce greatly highlights the unique taste. Next time you serve a delicious meal, don’t forget to drizzle some oyster sauce and see how the blend comes out.
To enjoy a new twist to every salad, oyster sauce is used in salad dressing. 1 teaspoon of oyster sauce to plain vinegar dressing gives a distinct taste to a salad. Fresh tuna salad or shrimp salad are two great dishes to use oyster sauce in. After preparing the salad, add a drizzle of sauce and toss it well. Avoid using soy sauce or other black sauces, as oyster sauce has such a strong flavor already.
Whether it’s vegetable stir fry, mushroom sautee, or a meat and vegetable medley, some amount of oyster sauce adds a great taste to all of them. From Cantonese to Shandong, Sichuanese, Zhejiang and Jiangsu cuisines, all of them make use of oyster sauce in most of the stir fry recipe. Beef broccoli is my favorite recipe to add oyster sauce to.
Oyster Sauce Alternatives
Oyster sauce, is an indispensable ingredient of Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and other Asian cuisines, cannot be entirely avoided if you’re allergic. What you can do to replace it with something else?
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Substitution for the oyster sauce is not difficult to find. I know there are not many sauces which can offer such a taste, but you can get a bit close to it by using the following substitutes. The best I’ve found so far is fish sauce, but it is not definitely for vegetarians, so there has to be some vegetarian substitute for oyster sauce too. This may call for soy sauce or other plant-based black sauces.
While we are at it, why don’t we discuss them in detail and find out how to make these alternatives right at home and preserve them for routine use? Remember the intensity of each of these sauces varies significantly, so I always prefer to use them as per your own taste preference. If you directly substitute the amount of oyster sauce in the recipe with exactly the equal amount of other sauces, this may terribly ruin the balance of flavors.
Soy Sauce as a Substitute
Soy sauce is usually the easiest option when you are out of oyster sauce or simply cannot use it. It can be found at any store, and you probably have it right in your refrigerator right now.
By mixing soy sauce with half a teaspoon of sugar and some drops of Worcestershire sauce, you can create your very own oyster sauce. If you are not comfortable using market-bought soy sauce, then here is one basic recipe which is commonly used to make the sauce at home. Beware: it takes several months! To make your own soy sauce, you will need the following ingredients:
- 16 ounces organic, high-quality soybeans
- 12 ounces all-purpose flour
- 16 tablespoons salt
- 1-gallon fresh water
With the stated amount of ingredients, you will have enough soy sauce to use for an entire month. Soak the soybeans in 3 cups of water in a pot and boil the beans. Then cook the beans on a simmer for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Once the beans are tender, remove their pods partially. You can also cook the beans in the pressure cooker for fast cooking.
Transfer the cooked soybeans to a food processor and blend it into a smooth paste. Mix the beans paste with the flour in a suitable bowl. Once combined, press the mixture into a log over a working surface and slice it up into thick pieces.
Wrap the slices in a cling wrap and place in a warm place in your kitchen for 7 days until the slices are covered in mold. When you can see the molds covering the soybeans slices, remove the plastic wraps and arrange the slices on a baking sheet. Place the baking sheet directly in the sunlight to turn the discs brown in color.
After browning, the soybeans slices are turned into Koji.
To make the soy sauce out of these discs, you need to try fermentation. Take a pot and fill with water. Stir in salt and place the soybeans discs in the water. Cover the pot and allow the discs to dissolve in the salty water. Leave this mixture for months and continue stirring it daily until the discs are completely dissolved.
Now strain this mixture through a fine sieve or a cheesecloth and pour the sauce into a bottle or a jar. Cover the sauce and preserve in the refrigerator. This sauce can be used for marination, vegetables, soups, seafood, and any other recipe.
To skip this long process of fermenting soybeans, you can try mixing 1 cup beef broth (can be homemade), 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger and 1 teaspoon salt — and voilà! Your very own soy sauce is ready to use.
Fish Sauce as a Substitute
When you substitute oyster sauce for fish sauce, it has a more seafood-like taste, so it gives a similar intensity and aroma to the food. Grocery stores now offer a variety of fish sauces, especially Asian specialty shops. A fish sauce is made out of fish extracts which are further seasoned and cooked with other ingredients. Here is the list of items you will need to make this sauce at home.
- 6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
- zest from 1 small lemon
- 3 tablespoons finely ground sea salt
- 6 bay leaves
- 2-3 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
- 1 1/2 pounds small whole fish (smelt, herring, etc.)
- 1-2 cups non-chlorinated water, as needed
- 2 tablespoons sauerkraut brine
Add garlic, lemon zest, and sea salt to a small mortar and mix everything using a pestle to get a roughly smooth paste.
Clean the fish fillets and dice them into half-inch pieces. Add the garlic mixture to the fish pieces and mix them with your hands to coat them well with the mixture. Then add bay leaves and peppercorns to the fish. After gently mixing it all, transfer the mixture to a 1-quart glass mason jar. Press this mixture to release the juices of the fish.
Pour the brine or whey into the jar, then fill the remaining space with water with one inch of headspace in the jar. Space allows the mixture to ferment and expand in the processor. Now cover the jar with its lid tightly and leave it at room temperature for about 3 days, then transfer the jar to the refrigerator for 4 to 6 weeks.
Once the mixture is fermented, pass it through a cheesecloth or a fine sieve to remove all the solids. Strain the mixture twice to completely rid it of any solid particles. After that, pour the sauce into the bottles and seal them. Keep the sauce in the refrigerator and use it within 6 months. Use this sauce as a substitute for oyster sauce in stir fry.
The fish sauce option is not suitable for vegetarians, so a vegan substitute might be a better alternative to oyster sauce. It can be made using mushroom broth instead of fish broth. Along with the broth, molasses is used to add the peculiar oyster sauce color and a sweet taste.
Further, the taste is enhanced by using white vinegar, fenugreek seeds, and ginger powder. It’s not too intense and not too fishy in taste, and, unlike soy sauce, this one does not have high sodium content. So, keep your meal healthy, low on sodium, and free from oyster sauce — here is one quick and simple recipe.
- 2 tablespoons mushroom/vegetable bouillon powder
- 2 1/2 tablespoons blackstrap molasses
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar white
- 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
- 3 – 4 fenugreek seeds
- Dash of ground black pepper
- 1 cup of water
- Salt to taste
Start by taking a suitably-sized saucepan and place it over medium-high heat. Start adding all the ingredients except the fenugreek seeds to the pan while stirring them well using a wooden spatula. Stir cook this mixture to boil, then reduce the heat to add the fenugreek seeds. Let this cooking liquid on a simmer until it is reduced to half.
Once the sauce starts thickening, it begins to resemble soy sauce. When such consistency is achieved, place a sieve over a bowl and pass the sauce through this sieve to strain all the solid particles and remove them to get a smooth sauce. Pour the strained sauce into a clean glass jar and seal the jar to store the sauce in the refrigerator for no more than 2 weeks.
Several cuisines and meals from East to West now make use of oyster sauce in one way or another, so sometimes it can’t be avoided. If you want to avoid specific shell-based ingredients, you’ll need oyster sauce substitutes to enjoy the taste with the right nutritional value.
Now you can prepare those substitutes right at home! Remember that none of the alternatives can completely replace soy sauce, but they do serve the purpose when it comes to seasoning stir-fries, soups, sautés, and marinades.