The Chinese version of oyster sauce is a thick, brown, salty concoction that is mostly used in the Cantonese region of China, where it is known as ho yau.
Oyster sauce is soy based, and also obviously contains oysters, in the form of oyster extract. The deep colour of oyster sauce comes from the addition of caramel, and the unctuous texture is provided by cornflour.
There is little information regarding the history of oyster sauce in China, but the use of oysters in Chinese cuisine is documented as far back as the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907), so this might be a good period to assume the origins of the condiment.
Although the sauce is manufactured from seafood, its applications move much further than the fruits of the sea. It marries well to pork, poultry and vegetable dishes, as well as being an excellent flavour enhancer to stir fries and soups.
As with most food products, you get what you pay for, and this caveat is highly evident with oyster sauce. Always buy the priciest bottle you can afford. It is said that the best oyster sauce originates from Hong Kong and while this is true, I have found Taiwanese oyster sauce to be fairly reliable as well.
As mentioned above, oyster sauce is a wonderful addition to soups, and it also partners star anise sensationally. Try this delicious soup that combines both these fantastic ingredients.
Star anise broth
1 Quantity of Chinese chicken stock
1/4 cup oyster sauce
4 star anise
1 green onion, sliced
4 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked and sliced
1/2 Chinese roast duck
1 bunch bok choy, washed and sliced
Remove the fat from the cooled chicken stock. Place into a stockpot with the oyster sauce and star anise and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and strain. Ladle into large, warm bowls and garnish with the green onions and mushrooms.
If using the optional ingredients, boil the noodles according to packet direction, adding the bok choy for the last minute. Strain and add to the soup bowls. Top with the chopped duck, then pour over the soup. Scatter with the mushrooms and green onions.
- The ever knowledgeable gn0sis has pointed out that a common, and cheaper variant of oyster sauce is made from mushrooms. I’ve never tried it, but if you are vegetarian, or thrifty, perhaps seek it out.