Oyster Sauce: Don’t Try This At Home

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With as much cooking experience as I have, most new dishes I try turn out well the first time I make them. And so what you read on this blog is mostly successes. But to allow you to learn from my mistakes, I don’t shy away from sharing my failures as well. Above you see about 80 ml (1/3 cup) of homemade oyster sauce. It took 24 oysters and a lot of work to make, and it was not nearly as good as store-bought oyster sauce. But let me start at the beginning.

Oyster sauce is a condiment used in Chinese cuisine that was originally produced by cooking oysters and reducing until it becomes thick, dark, and flavorful. Nowadays it is a sauce that is mostly made from water, sugar, and salt, thickened with corn starch and colored with caramel, and flavored with often less than 1% oyster extract. Even a premium brand that states on the label it contains 45% oysters, tastes mostly of sugar and salt. And so I’ve been curious to try making it from scratch. I am a big advocate of making everything at home from scratch, as in most cases it just tastes a lot better and in many cases it is even cheaper. The latter is clearly not the case for making oyster sauce from fresh oysters, so I waited until leftover oysters went on sale after the holidays to try this.

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It all started with 24 fresh oysters.

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They were shucked and the oyster liquid was reserved as well. All recipes I found online for making oyster sauce from oysters specified it like that.

With hindsight, I think it would have been better to discard the oyster liquid, which is already too salty before reducing, and use fresh water instead.

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The oysters with their liquid were put in a blender…

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…and blended.

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This mixture was brought to a boil…

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…and reduced.

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The resulting mixture was filtered with a fine sieve…

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…to obtain a very strong oyster stock.

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This was further reduced. The resulting ‘stuff’ didn’t look very appetizing and it didn’t become brown but rather a nasty green. It tasted way too salty.

Although my original plan had been to make oyster sauce using only oysters as ingredient, I knew that the only way to rescue this would be to add other ingredients after all.

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If you add soy sauce to something and it becomes LESS salty, you know that it was very salty! I used dark soy sauce, which is lower in salt than light soy sauce.

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I also added some brown sugar, and some water.

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I then thickened the mixture with a corn starch slurry.

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I brought this to a boil and simmer it briefly until thickened.

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The resulting oyster sauce wasn’t bad and it tasted a hell of a lot more like oysters than store-bought oyster sauce, but I did not prefer it that way. Combined with the fact that it took 24 fresh oysters to make such a small amount of oyster sauce, I decided that oyster sauce is one of the exceptions that is better to buy in a store than to make from scratch.

Flashback

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This delicious carrot and almond cake is flavored with orange juice and five spice.

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13 thoughts on “Oyster Sauce: Don’t Try This At Home

  1. Great posting Stefan. The progression of the oysters from glorious seafood to green ‘stuff’ is not a lot of fun. On looking up oyster sauce ingredients most refer to ‘essence of oyster’ whatever that is.
    I love seeing others fail. I don’t feel so alone that way….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That was bold move, giving up delicious fresh oysters for an experiment, but I do understand your motivation as I too am of the mind if it can be manufactured, it can be made at home. The list of ingredients on my oyster sauce bottle is scary……

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Stefan: you surely are the only cook I know who has tried to make oyster sauce at home! So interesting but certainly not worth it! Well do I know the store-bought one is not a healthy condiment: unfortunately it is one of my real food weaknesses used somehow in whichever cooking [OK, most of mine IS Asian 🙂 !] almost every day. Your oysters are different in shape to any I can buy here: am almost sorry they did not end up on your plate!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Well, Stefan, I have to give you credit. Never have I heard of someone adding soy sauce to cut the saltiness of anything! Such a shame things didn’t work out for you, though. Just shucking those oysters is a loft of work. I know one thing. If you cannot create a sauce worth making again, there’s no way I’m going to attempt it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Crispy Egg with Smoked Eel (Failed Experiment) | Stefan's Gourmet Blog

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