Monday, January 19, 2009

Ingredient of the Day: Fish Sauce and Oyster Sauce

Have you ever walked down the Asian section of the market and seen things like fish sauce or oyster sauce and thought what in the world is that – and more importantly, what can I do with it? Well, you’re not alone.

Recently, my cousin asked me about fish sauce and I drew a blank! It turns out that fish sauce is juice derived from a fish that is covered with salt, and this process takes place over a nine-month period. The resulting juices are bottled as fish sauce. When purchasing fish sauce, be sure to choose bottles with a beautiful, amber brown color that have no cloudiness and no sedimentation on the bottom. Older bottles that may have diminished in quality are often darker in color with more sediment. You don’t have to refrigerate fish sauce, and like so many other condiments, it can keep for a long time.

Oyster sauce is made from boiling large batches of oysters and then removing them, leaving a flavorful broth. The broth is then reduced until it becomes condensed and possesses a strong flavor and a beautiful caramel color. Oysters have a natural salty taste so no additives or thickeners are needed when made fresh. However, thickeners like cornstarch are used for store-bought varieties, along with other additives and preservatives. Oyster sauce is a perfect marinade that can be used in stir-fries and other Asian dishes. It helps give food another dimension.