Essential Sauces


In my cupboard I always keep a range of sauces for cooking Thai food, especially on those days when I don’t have a lot of time, or I just fancy a quick stir-fry dish. I find most brands similar in taste and quality so the key for me when choosing is the type rather than the make. Saying that, after trying a few sauces and I sometimes favour a particular brand as there is less of a need to tweak my recipes or as I find some can be slightly saltier, sweeter or more concentrated than others. The best example of this is curry paste where I have to add sugar to salty supermarket own brands.

In this post, I have started with five sauces that I keep in my cupboard. In my future posts I will cover cooking oils, chilli sauce and flavoured sauces, such as Maggi Seasoning that I find useful.

I use three types of soy sauce: sweet, thin (or light) and dark. When my friends begin to experiment with Thai cookery and only want to purchase one, I recommend thin soy sauce as this is perfect for the majority of cooking needs. This sauce will season nearly all Thai dishes, salt is rarely used. Typically I will use thin soy sauce when making stir-fries, egg-fried rice, yum dishes (Thai salads) and as a marinade.

Sweet soy sauce is great with Chinese cooking or Thai-Chinese fusions where I need a subtle sweetness. Although if money is tight or I run out, a touch of honey or sugar can sweeten a thin soy sauce instead. I have this slightly gloopier sauce on hand to use as a dip with cooked meat and seafood, Chinese Dim Sum or fresh spring rolls and add spice with a few slices of fresh chilli or dried chilli flakes.

My favourite meat to compliment sweet soy sauce is Char Siu, Chinese roast pork, as the sweet flavour fuses with the barbeque taste of the meat. I stir-fry it in a wok with egg noodles and Chinese cabbage or broccoli.

I use dark soy sauce when I need a stronger flavour for meals. Generally I use this instead of a thin soy sauce if a recipe requires fewer liquid ingredients, for example with a touch of mustard as a glaze on meat or in the filling for dumplings.

I have seen a lot of recipes where dishes are cooked with a lot of sesame or peanut oil. I like to use this in moderation as it has a very strong taste and is quite expensive. For cooking stir-fries I will use vegetable oil to heat the pan but will add a small amount of sesame oil at a later stage. Sesame oil tastes delicious when making crispy chicken bites or wings.

Fish sauce has a very pungent odour. I pour it around the outside edge of the contents in my wok so that the sauce heats and loses intensity. Similar to dark soy sauce, I use fish sauce in smaller quantities as it has a strong taste but will also cook with it if the consistency of the dish is watery, for example a noodle soup or congee (Chinese rice porridge). If used uncooked in a Yum Dish, I find chilli and citrus flavours from lemons or limes help to combat the pungent smell and taste of fish sauce.

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