Stir-Fry Sauces and Cooking Liquids

Five indispensable flavorings, from soy sauce to red wine.

Todd Coleman
  1. Light soy sauce is the most widely used Chinese flavoring. It is made from fermented soybeans and grain, usually wheat, and the best ones are brewed and aged. Its flavors range from salty to earthy and vary greatly depending on the brand. It is thinner and saltier than regular soy sauce and is used to flavor light-colored foods like fish and chicken, as well as stir-fries made with clear sauces.

2. Dark soy sauce is thicker and heavier, with a concentrated and complex flavor and a little sweetness; this sauce is crucial for "red-cooked" dishes like red-cooked pork belly (see ** Red-Cooked Pork Belly**).

3. In addition to soy sauces, cooking wines are used regularly in stir-fries. Liao jiu is a generic term for cooking wine made from grain, usually rice. Light cooking wines are used to add aroma and a subtle aromatic flavor to dishes. Most rice wines sold in supermarkets have added sodium, which renders them undrinkable though still suitable for cooking. Higher-quality huang jiu , or yellow wine, which can be found in Chinese liquor stores, ranges in color from pale golden to amber and can be used for either cooking or drinking; the best comes from Shaoxing.

4. Black rice vinegar has a taste similar to balsamic vinegar's; it's used in braises and as a dipping sauce.

5. Toasted sesame oil is typically added to marinades or toward the end of cooking, for added flavor.