With summer coming to an end, I’m rushing to use as many in-season vegetables as I can. So we’re eating a lot of salads and quite a few stir-fries. I cook a lot of Asian food, especially Chinese, and I do love the convenience and taste of those bottled sauces. But even a dash of oyster or black bean sauce has an insane amount of sodium. You could always substitute low-sodium broth, which when combined with a little cornstarch, makes a decent sauce, but broth is a little one note. I wanted the complexity you get with the sauce behind a great broccoli beef or cashew nut chicken. So this is a recipe I’ve been thinking about for a while, but it wasn’t until I bought a sack of oyster mushrooms at the farmers market that I started to put some flavors together in my head. Oyster mushrooms are a bit delicate and usually aren’t cooked for very long. It’s also debatable whether or not they taste like oysters, which was what I was going for since fish flavor is at the root of so many great Asian sauces. I cooked the heck out of these, and all I can say is it worked.
This isn’t something you can make in a flash; caramelizing the onions and mushrooms take a while, but is key to developing enough color to keep the sauce from being too pale, and it also helps add some sweetness, sugar being the other thing used to an intense degree in a lot of bottled sauces. But we’re making enough for several meals. Pop the sauce in some ice-cube trays and keep it in the freezer and you’re ready to go whenever you’re in the mood for a healthy but tasty stir-fry.
Most bottled sauces are very thick, and this is thin, but all you have to do is add a little cornstarch to thicken things up as much as you like. The important thing is that the flavor is there without the sodium.
Low Sodium Oyster Sauce (makes about 1-1/3 cups)
2 Tbsps. (30ml) olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
4 oz. (~120g)oyster mushrooms, stems and caps torn into pieces
1/2 teaspoon (2.5ml) salt
1/4 teaspoon (1.25ml) Chinese five-spice powder
4 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
2 oz. (~60g) fresh ginger, peeled or unpeeled, roughly chopped
1 large carrot, roughly chopped
1 large stalk celery, roughly chopped
4 cups (1 liter) water
In a small stock pot over medium heat, cook the onion and mushrooms in the olive oil with a few pinches of salt until caramelized, anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour. Stir them periodically, but not continuously. Watch them to make sure they don’t burn.
When they are nice and brown, add the Chinese five-spice powder, garlic and ginger, and cook for about 1 minute until fragrant.
Add the carrot, celery, water, and a few grinds of black pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for about 45 minutes. If the liquid is reducing too quickly, turn down the heat.
Taste the sauce. You can add additional seasoning at this point, but if you’ve used good quality veg the sauce should be flavorful enough on its own. And remember, the point was to have a low sodium sauce. Allow the sauce to cool.
Puree the cooled sauce–I used an immersion blender. Strain the sauce through cheesecloth or a coffee filter to remove the pulp. I let the sauce strain overnight to make sure I got every last drop.
Use or freeze the sauce. This recipe makes approximately 1-1/3 cups (320ml) or about 14 ice-cubes (1 tray) worth. The amount of sauce you use is up to you. Thicken with a little cornstarch, and remember to add cornstarch to cold water or cold sauce to avoid clumping.