Hoisin sauce crams big flavor in little bottle

Although “hoisin” comes from the Chinese word for seafood, there are no seafood ingredients in hoisin sauce. Enlarge photo

Matthew Mead/Associated Press

Although “hoisin” comes from the Chinese word for seafood, there are no seafood ingredients in hoisin sauce.

Mmmm. Nothing says good eats like soy residue.

Except that in Chinese cooking, it really can. And you very likely have enjoyed that soy residue, many times and in many ways.

I'm talking about hoisin, a classic ingredient for sauces – both for dipping at the table and basting during cooking – in China. Hoisin is a thick, dark red-to-brown sauce that blends sweet-spicy-savory flavors, a profile not all that different from ketchup.

It is made from the leftover mash of fermented soybeans produced when making traditional soy sauces. That mash is combined with sugar, chilies, garlic, vinegar, salt, sometimes five-spice powder and either flour or cornstarch (to thicken). Though hoisin is widely used on grilled meats (as a barbecue sauce) and in dipping sauces, it's best known for a starring role in Peking duck and moo shu pork.

The trick with hoisin is to use it sparingly. Unlike ketchup (which I firmly believe should be served by the gallon), a little hoisin goes a long way.

To make a dipping sauce, thin a teaspoon or so with sesame oil and soy sauce. Uncut, it can be brushed directly onto meats for grilling.

You'll usually find hoisin in glass jars among the grocer's other Asian ingredients. Refrigerated after opening, it should last months. For more ideas for using hoisin, check out the Off the Beaten Aisle column over on Food Network: http://bit.ly/QTxLLa