If you’ve ever eaten Thai food, you’ll definitely have had oyster sauce. This wondrous substance is part of the holy trinity of flavours in Thai cuisine (fish sauce and soy sauce make up the top trio) and is a staple in kitchens in Thailand. But what exactly is it? Is it made of pureed oysters? How do you use it in your cooking? Let’s have a quick moment of appreciation for the amazingness that is oyster sauce… and now let’s dive into all your burning questions.
What is oyster sauce?
Oyster sauce is a thick glossy brown sauce with a syrupy consistency and is most often used in Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese dishes. Rich and deeply savoury, it adds so much umami to meat and vegetable dishes… although I’m a big fan of adding it to fusion pasta recipes, too!
What is oyster sauce? A delightfully savoury, glossy and thick condiment that makes up part of the holy trinity of Thai cooking.
How is oyster sauce made? Does it have actual oysters in?
Every hero has its origin story, and oyster sauce is no exception. The story goes that way back when in 1888, Chinese food stall operator Lee Kum Sheung (who founded the Lee Kum Kee brand) accidentally forgot about a pot of oyster soup that he was simmering. When he went back to it, he saw that it had cooked down to a thick paste. When he tried it, eureka! A flavour-packed sauce that he called ‘oyster sauce’ and started serving to his customers.
You might think that since fish sauce is made from fermented fish and soy sauce from fermented soy, that oyster sauce is made from fermented oysters. Wrong! There are no actual oysters, but there ARE ‘oyster extracts’. Just like how it was first discovered all that time ago, those ‘extracts’ are essentially the oyster cooking liquid. Shucked oysters are boiled in big vats before the oysters are removed and the leftover briny liquid goes on to live its best life as oyster sauce.
I love to use this umami bomb in fusion pasta recipes, too.
How to use it
You can use this king of condiments straight from the bottle, so there’s no need to dilute it. As the flavour is intense, you don’t need too much of it though, so start small and add more as you go. It’s most often used as part of a stir-fry sauce, and goes well with all different types of protein and vegetables, such as stir-fried Asian greens.
Is oyster sauce gluten free?
Many brands have a certified gluten-free version of the condiment, so be sure to look out for these. Always check the label for the certification – some varieties can contain soy sauce made from wheat or use wheat flour as a thickener.
What can be used instead of oyster sauce?
Because of its highly unique flavour, finding something that easily replaces it isn’t so simple. However, vegan mushroom sauce is a good substitute for oyster sauce as it will provide a rich umami flavour, plus doesn’t use fish or animal products.