Monday, November 24, 2014

A Thanksgiving gift to you: my secret recipe for seasoned sweet soy sauce

It is almost time for the best holiday of the year: Thanksgiving. And so, I just want to say that you are one of the things I am most grateful for. I couldn't write about the best cuisines in the world without you. Literally. And these Chinese food adventures wouldn't have been turned into a cookbook without you, either.

Also, I wanted to let you know that McSweeney's has delayed publication of ALL UNDER HEAVEN until September 2015. They are restructuring as they turn the company into a nonprofit, and so things have had to be shifted around a bit. In spite of that, I’m terribly grateful to the fine folks at McSweeney’s, too.

This delay has also meant that things are sort of backed up in the recipe testing department, so if you are wondering when that next recipe is coming down the pipeline, I can tell you that this will be taken care of soon, too. Your patience and understanding are two other good reasons for saying thank you.

So please, accept this gift of one of my all-time favorite, most secret, and intensely delicious inventions: Seasoned Sweet Soy Sauce.

Caramelized sugar
This is something that is beloved in Yunnan, and I think that is because of all the indigenous people there. If you love Southeast Asian cuisines, this sauce might even seem rather familiar. The contributions of China's ethnic minorities to the country's majestic cultural tapestry are just now beginning to find appreciation among culinary people, and their way with fermented things is astoundingly good. (We will look at another delicious example next week.)

You can buy this in most Chinese markets, but why bother, when the homemade version is so much tastier? It’s also a snap to make, and you will find yourself using again and again as a topping for braised meats and bean curd, as a quick fix for noodles, and just about anyplace else that could benefit from a touch of truly gorgeous flavor.

Homemade sweet soy sauce is much stronger and saltier than the store-bought kind, so adjust the amounts as needed. A lot of this will depend upon the kind of soy sauce you use. I like Kimlan’s regular soy sauce here. And then again, you can always dilute it as desired with hot water at the end.

The secrets to this amazing creation? Caramelized sugar, fresh aromatics, and warm spices. Your kitchen will smell incredible and even downright seductive.

Sweet soy sauce

Tiánjiàngyóu 甜醬油
Makes about 2 cups
Cook til thick

1½ cups sugar
¾ cup water, divided
1 (500 ml.) bottle regular soy sauce
1 teaspoon whole Sichuan peppercorns
2 slices licorice root
2 whole star anise
2 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed
5 thin slices ginger
Boiling water, as needed

1. Put the sugar in a medium, heavy saucepan, preferably stainless steel so that the caramelization process can be seen clearly. Moisten the sugar with ¼ cup water and place the pan on high heat until the sugar caramelizes. Remove the pan from the heat and wait a minute for it to cool down slightly. While directing the pan away from you, pour the rest of the water into the caramelized sugar — it will sizzle and boil, so keep your face and arms out of the splash zone.

2. As soon as the boiling has subsided, return the pan to high heat. Add the rest of the ingredients up through the ginger, and bring the liquid to a boil, stirring often so that the now hardened caramel melts into the sauce. Stir the sauce occasionally as it cooks, and when it starts to go from large bubbles to a fine foam, do not leave the stove, as it might boil over. Continue to boil the sauce until it has reduced to a molasses-like consistency, about 20 to 25 minutes.

3. Strain the sweet soy sauce into a measuring cup and add boiling water, as needed, to bring the sauce to 2¾ cups. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Cool the sauce completely and pour it into a bottle. Refrigerate it if you not use it often, or else keep it near your stove in a cool spot.

1 comment:

  1. Mary from VancouverNovember 26, 2014 at 8:16 AM

    Sweet soy sauce is a staple in my pantry, as my three-year-old daughter loves it over her fried eggs and steamed rice (myself included). It never occurred to me that I could make it at home so I'm excited to try this!