Two Essential Chinese Sauces

Cooking Chinese food, I find myself using two sauces above all others: a Szechuan sauce and a Sweet and Sour sauce.

Living in Taiwan, it’s hard for me to find the kind of Chinese food I like: the kind of Chinese we eat in the USA.  American Chinese food is very Cantonese, with thicker sauces, but I’m going to teach you how to really get versatile with your sauces.

First up is the Szechuan sauce.

Szechuan sauce is used in lots of dishes, from Kung Pao Chicken to Orange Chicken to Szechuan Beef, and many more.  The base is simple:

1 cup of water
1 cup of soy sauce
2 cups of wine (I use a cheap rose, but you can use almost anything)
1 tablespoon of ground cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon of ground Szechuan pepper (this can be hard to find outside of Asia)
2 cloves of crushed/minced garlic

From there, you have a few options.  I like to add anywhere from 1-3 tablespoons of corn starch to the sauce when I add in the spices.

More Starch = More Gooey
Less Starch = More Runny

Get an empty water bottle that can handle 4-to-5 cups of liquid.

Add the spices, garlic, and starch, first.

Then add in the liquid.

Shake the bottle until everything is dispersed.

Stir fry whatever you are cooking; once your ingredients are cooked, shake up the sauce and add it to the wok/pan.

The sauce works best when it’s room temperature, but it can be refrigerated for a long time.

That’s all there is to it.

Now, onto the Sweet and Sour Sauce…

Sweet and sour sauce is so easy to make, it makes the Szechuan Sauce seem complicated.  Here’s all you need

3 cups vinegar
1 cup honey
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 cup of tomato sauce
Cayenne to flavor

You get another of those empty water bottles, put in as much cayenne to as spicy as you want (anywhere from a teaspoon to a tablespoon).

You can also adjust your level of vinegar to suit your personal tastes regarding your sweet-to-sour ratio.

As with the Szechuan Sauce, you can add corn starch to the sauce, to make it congeal.  But since I usually fry my pork/chicken/shrimp in a breading made of wheat/corn flour and spices, it’s usually unnecessary, as the sauce will stick to the meat.

That’s it!

Those are my two recipes   You can cook Chinese food at home and it’s much easier than you think.  Pan fry whatever protein you want and then just pour the sauces over it.  It will appear to be liquid at first, but as it heats up, it will quickly congeal and stick to your dish.

If you are cooking Kung Pao Chicken, cook the chicken until it’s brown, then add your vegetables (as long as it’s not broccoli).  Then, when it’s all cooked, add peanuts and sauce and stir/flip the pan to coat the dish in the sauce.  If you are doing broccoli  steam it, and use it to top the dish – if you don’t, you wind up with the “leaves” of the broccoli being over-saturated with sauce.

Anything you cook can be “turned orange” very easily.  Instead of using oil to cook your dish, use orange juice, instead.  It doesn’t work if you have breaded meats, but as long as you’re not breading anything, it works like a charm.  Lemon juice works the exact same way.  Ultimately, it makes a healthier dish, since you’re not using any additional oil.

Making these sauces is enough to do two 4-serving sizes of sauce, per sauce, so it’s a pretty good deal.  Wherever you are, you should be able to make more than enough Kung Pao or Sweet and Sour for four people and have it cost you less than US$10.

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