In Chinese cookery, a ‘master sauce’ is less a ‘sauce’ than it is a complex and re-usable, aromatic broth that is used to serially cook various meats and other foods, thus both giving and developing its own new depths flavor. With each use, the stock becomes richer and can be prolonged (as long as certain care is taken to prevent spoilage) for a very long time. Whether strictly true or not, it is claimed that there are master sauces that have been in continual use for generations.
The Chinese word for master sauce is:
The first character, ‘鹵’, is pronounced ‘lǔ’ and means brine, while the second, pronounced ‘shuǐ’, means ‘water’. Together, the two characters are most frequently translated as ‘marinade’. For today’s post, I am simply going to begin a batch but, over the next few months, I shall be using the result to cook a series of meals and will keep you posted as to the development of the sauce over time…
Generally, a master sauce begins with water (although broths, such as chicken stock are often used), to which is added salt, sugar and usually (but not always) soy sauce. Other flavorings, notably ginger, scallion and garlic are added, with star anise, and (in Sichuan especially) cinnamon, clove, sand ginger and black cardamom also being employed. Personally, I am not keen on the flavor of Star Anise and, even though it is almost always included, I am going to omit it in my version. Likewise, although I will be using salt and a number of aromatics, I will be keeping the amounts a little lower than is common as I prefer to maintain a deep richness to the stock yet keep it as versatile as possible. My ingredients are as follows:
- 2 qt. Water;
- 1 qt. Chicken Stock;
- 1 cup Soy Sauce;
- 1 cup Rice Wine (preferably Shaoxing);
- 1 cup Sugar;
- 1 tbsp. Salt;
- 6 -8 thick slices Ginger;
- 1 head Garlic, cloves unpeeled but lightly crushed;
- 3 small Scallions;
- 2 dried Black Mushrooms (Shiitake);
- 1 small Cinnamon stick;
- 1 Black Cardamom Pod;
- 1 tbsp. Fennel Seed;
- 1 small slice Dried Galangal;
- 1 pc. Dried Orange Peel;
- 1 tsp. Sichuan Peppercorns;
- 1 small dried Chili.
Well, there is no magic here (and no picture necessary, really). Simply add all the ingredients to a suitable pot, bring it to a boil and then turn down the heat to simmer for an hour or so. Afterwards, strain the broth, discard the solids, and store it in the fridge until needed. At present, the broth will keep for quite a long time but, once you start cooking meats in it, you will need to either keep frozen between uses, or else bring it to a boil not less than once a week to keep the flavors fresh. As it is used, it will increase in depth of flavor but it will also diminish in volume and, periodically, the liquid and sometimes the flavorings, will need to be replenished.
Since Publishing this post, I used the basic sauce in the following recipes you may wish to look at: