Restaurant Secret: you know when you go to a packed Asian restaurant or take out during lunch hour and you’re handed a plate of fresh-out-of-the-wok stir fry 5 minutes after ordering? I hate to disappoint you, but the cooks standing over the flames aren’t throwing together 10 ingredient sauce mixes for every single dish…….What they actually use are ready made sauces as a base, then add additional flavours for different dishes.
These all purpose stir fry sauces are closely guarded secrets of restaurants – you won’t uncover them simply by googling, that’s for sure! Today I’m sharing mine. I call him Charlie (as in Charlie Brown….as in “Brown Sauce”, which stir fry sauces are commonly referred to as). Perfected and tweaked over years, I’ve been loyal to Charlie for a decade (and counting).
The brilliant thing about Charlie is that you make him just by combining the ingredients in a jar, them just store him in the fridge where he’ll happily reside for weeks – months even. Then you simply heat some oil in a wok, throw in whatever proteins, vegetables and noodles you want, then throw Charlie in with some water and he’ll magically transform into a thick, glossy sauce that lusciously coats your stir fry. He’s great plain, but so versatile too – add heat, herbs, fruity sweetness or some tang. I’ve provided some of my favourite variations in the recipe below.
I’ll be posting a series of recipes using Charlie, including classics like Chow Mein, Shanghai Noodles, Beef with Broccoli, Classic Chinese Soy Sauce Noodles, and Mongolian Beef. And here is a guide for how to Build Your Own Chinese Stir Fried Noodles. With Charlie on hand, they’re a breeze to make!
This sauce is also perfect to use for the Thai Stir Fried Noodles (Pad See Ew) I posted yesterday, it’s so close to the sauce ingredients of that recipe. I’ve also provided a vegan alternative – it’s as simple as substituting the oyster sauce with hoisin sauce.
Update: At the request of a number of readers, I’ve put together a post with 10 Classic Chinese Takeout Meals using this sauce – meals in a flash!
- ¼ c light soy sauce (Note 1)
- ¼ c all purpose soy sauce (I use Kikkoman) (Note 1)
- ½ c oyster sauce (sub with hoisin for vegan)
- ¼ c Chinese wine (or sherry)
- ¼ c cornstarch / cornflour
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 2 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 - 2 tsp ground white pepper (I sometimes use 1 tbsp, I like the spiciness!)
- Combine ingredients in a jar and shake to combine. Store in fridge and shake before use.
- Stir Fry: I use 3 tbsp Stir Fry Sauce + 6 tbsp water to make a stir frying for 2 people using around 5 cups of uncooked ingredients (proteins + vegetables).
- Noodles: I use 3 tbsp of the Stir Fry sauce + 5 - 6 tbsp water to make a noodle stir fry for 2 people using around 7 cups of the combined stir fry uncooked (vegetables - packed, proteins + noodles - if using).
- By weight (Noodles & Stir Fry): Around 3 tbsp Stir Fry Sauce per 1 lb / 500g of combined ingredients (proteins + vegetables + noodles if using) plus ⅓ cup water.
- Heat 2 tbsp oil in wok over high heat.
- Add your choice of Base Flavourings - fry for 10 seconds or so to infuse oil.
- Add stir fry ingredients in order of time to cook (starting with ingredients that take longest to cook), leaving leafy greens, like the leaves of bok choy, until when you add the sauce (otherwise they will wilt and overcook).
- Add noodles (if using), sauce and water, your choice of Additional Flavourings and any leafy greens.
- Gently toss to combine and to let the sauce cook for around 1 minute. The sauce will become a thick, glossy sauce that coats your stir fry.
- Serve immediately.
- Garlic, minced or finely sliced
- Ginger, minced or finely sliced
- Fresh chillies, minced or finely sliced
- Sriracha, Chilli Bean Paste or other Spicy addition
- Sweet chilli sauce
- Substitute the water with pineapple or orange juice
- Rice vinegar - for a touch of tartness
- Fresh cilantro / coriander leaves, or thai basil - for freshness
- Garlic or ordinary chives, chopped
- Pinch of Chinese five spice powder
I use Lee Kum Kee brand for the light soy sauce and Kikkoman for the ordinary soy sauce.
2. If using dried rather than fresh noodles, add a few extra tablespoons of water. The reason for this is that dried noodles, even after cooking them (usually just by covering them in hot water in a bowl), absorb more liquids than fresh noodles. So you need more liquid to have a saucier finish.
3. To make this sauce vegan, substitute the oyster sauce with hoisin sauce. This gives the sauce a slight Chinese Five Spice Powder flavour which is thoroughly authentic!
4. This will last for weeks and weeks, depending on the expiry date of the ingredients you use. There is nothing in this that will go "off", so just check the expiry date of the ingredients you use in this, at use that as a guide. I usually use mine in about 4 weeks, but it will definitely last longer.
If you have it in the fridge for ages untouched, then you will need a butter knife or something to mix up the cornstarch that will settle and harden in the bottom of the jar.
5. Chinese Cooking Wine substitute - the cooking wine plays an important part in giving this sauce an extra depth of flavour that elevates it from "just a sauce" to a "real Chinese" sauce. However, for those who cannot have alcohol (and please remember, the alcohol cooks out in the stir fry so there is zero alcohol in the finished dish!), apple juice or grape juice is the best substitute. Otherwise, chicken broth/stock, as a second fall back, with 2 teaspoons of white wine vinegar + ½ tsp sugar.
6. These quantities make stir fries that are nicely coated with sauce, but without pools of sauce. The stir fry is saucier than the noodles, so it soaks into the rice. With the noodles, the sauce clings to it really well so you don't need pools of sauce. If you want more sauce, increase the amount of Stir Fry Sauce used with double the amount of water e.g. If you add 1 tbsp Stir Fry Sauce, add 2 tbsp water.