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What is Oyster Sauce?

Ingredients, flavor, uses, and where to buy.

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Plate of broccoli in oyster sauce
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Oyster sauce is a thick, brown sauce with a sweet, salty, and earthy flavor. Oyster sauce is a popular ingredient in Vietnamese, Thai, and Cantonese cuisine. This thick, flavorful sauce is full of umami, which gives any recipe it's added to extra oomph.

What is in Oyster Sauce?

Traditionally, oyster sauce is made by slowly simmering oysters in water until the juices caramelize into a thick, brown, intensely flavorful sauce. Today, many shortcuts have been made to create a similar flavor more quickly and for less money. Oyster sauces today are usually made with a base of sugar and salt and thickened with corn starch. Oyster extracts or essences are then used to give flavor to the base sauce. Other ingredients, such as soy sauce and MSG may also be added to deepen the flavor and add color. The quality of the oyster sauce will greatly affect the flavor.

A vegetarian version of oyster sauce is available and it is made using mushrooms to provide the deep, earthy flavor. Mushrooms, especially the oyster mushroom, have a high level of umami flavor, similar to that of real oysters.

What Does Oyster Sauce Taste Like?

Oyster sauce has a nice balance between sweet and salty with a rich, earthy undertone, thanks to the oyster reduction or extracts. The quality of oyster sauce will greatly affect the flavor. Lower quality oyster sauces may use artificial oyster flavoring, while top-notch oyster sauces use only real oyster reductions for flavoring.

How is Oyster Sauce Used?

Oyster sauce is used for a variety of applications, including a dressing for noodles, vegetables, and stir fries, or as a base for other sauces and marinades. Oyster sauce is a main ingredient in the popular Chinese dish, Beef and Broccoli. Oyster sauce is also sometimes drizzled over sushi rolls for added flavor and visual appeal.

Where to Buy Oyster Sauce

With the increasing popularity of Asian cuisine in the United States, oyster sauce can be found in many major grocery stores, in the international aisle, with the other Asian sauces and condiments. Shopping at an Ethnic or Asian market will provide a larger selection of oyster sauce brands, varieties, and quality selections.

After opening, oyster sauce should be kept refrigerated in an airtight container. When stored properly, oyster sauce should stay good for three to six months. Oyster sauce purchased in a can or any other non-resealable container should be transferred to a resealable container for storage. If at any time your oyster sauce changes color or develops an off flavor, it should be discarded.

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