Devan Grimsrud

Managing Editor at Kitchen Stories

instagram.com/devan.grimsrud/

Flavor—it’s what takes eating from something we must do, to something we want to do. This article is part of “The Flavor Issue” our month dedicated to dialing up every dish and making every day taste better. To follow along, you can check back here for an overview of all our latest stories and recipes from the issue. Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram for behind the scenes, extra community content, and more! We hope to see you around Flavortown!

Whether it’s your door or your shelf or some combination of the two, we all have space dedicated to various sauces and condiments in our fridge. Why? Because these things are important! They add and build on flavor, whether you lean on them as finishing touches (think hot sauce on your eggs), side dips (like Vietnamese nuoc cham), or foundational seasoning elements (just about anything you put in a marinade). While I—unlike the brave editors of NYT Cooking—would most definitely not want to show you the condiment-y chaos inside my fridge, there is one saucy staple that I believe all fridges should have: Hoisin.

What is hoisin sauce and where does it come from?

Hoisin is a dark, thick, sweet, and salty sauce most commonly used in Cantonese cuisine. It’s easy to find in supermarkets, so you shouldn’t have to hunt too far and wide to find it. While the literal meaning of hoisin (shortened from hǎixiānjiàng) is “seafood sauce,” it does not actually contain any seafood or ingredient from the sea and is typically not used in any traditional seafood dishes. It’s not to be confused with the similarly dark, viscous oyster sauce—another popular Cantonese sauce made with flavorful oyster extracts.

Glossy hoisin sauce is naturally vegan, and one of my favorite ways to use it is as a delicious finishing glaze for roasted or grilled vegetables. The sauce offers a savory, rich, downright addictive fragrance to all kinds of veg, and takes what might otherwise be a simple, maybe even boring plate to something you’ll eat (or serve) with gusto.

How to make hoisin sauce from scratch

While there are many great brands of hoisin sauce out there (from popular Lee Kum Kee to Kikkoman [also offering a gluten free version] to Flying Goose), hoisin sauce is super simple and totally worth making at home. The recipe is also fairly flexible, so you should be able to whip up a batch when you need it, as most ingredients are things you probably have on hand.

To make homemade hoisin sauce, add ¼ cup (60 ml) soy sauce, 2 tbsp peanut butter (or tahini), 1 tbsp honey, 2 tsp rice vinegar (or distilled white vinegar), 2 tsp toasted sesame oil, 1 clove grated garlic, and 1 tsp white miso paste (or Sriracha, or gochujang, or spicy fermented bean paste [doubanjiang]) to a bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk well until smooth and combined, tasting and adding more vinegar, honey, or soy sauce as needed. The sauce won’t be as dark as store bought hoisin, but the flavor will be right on point if not better. For an even deeper, caramel flavor and color, you can sizzle the garlic in a bit of oil before mixing in the rest of the ingredients and cooking briefly—as suggested in this recipe.

Once you’re happy with the flavor, transfer to an airtight container and store in the fridge for up to one month. Store-bought hoisin should keep in the fridge for up to 18 months if properly stored. If you notice any mold, the sauce looks dry, or smells fermented or super sour, it should be discarded and replaced.

If you don’t have hoisin sauce, and can’t be bothered to make it from scratch you could use oyster sauce (just note it’s not vegetarian unless you buy a vegetarian version, of which there are options) or Worcestershire sauce as—in my humble opinion subpar but passable—substitutes.

Every which way to use hoisin sauce in your cooking

In Cantonese cuisine, hoisin sauce is most often used as a glaze or marinade for meats or as a dipping or stir-fry sauce. Char siu, or Cantonese barbecued pork, is one of the most common places hoisin appears—adding both a deep burnish and glossy crust to the flavorful pork. Peking duck is another common recipe where hoisin sauce is often featured as a salty, tangy counterpart to crisp-skinned, fatty duck, and sharp scallions (here’s Hanna’s take on the traditional dish, made at home). In Vietnamese cuisine, where hoisin (known as tương đen) is also popular, it’s a staple seasoning for bowls of pho and a classic dip for spring rolls.

Outside of the more commonplace hoisin sauce applications, I can make plenty of other suggestions: drizzle it over a bowl or steamed rice with an egg and some sauteed greens, toss into your seasoning sauce for fried rice, use it in place of barbecue sauce, brush it over your burgers, mix it into a gingery salad dressing, mix it with mayo and swipe onto your sandwiches, add it to your favorite braise, stir into some cooked noodles for a quick lunch, or quickly toss roasted or grilled vegetables with it before serving simply over a bed of rice or noodles—the simplest ticket to flavortown that we highlighted in our latest recipe, these 5-ingredient sticky hoisin-roasted broccoli wedges.

5-ingredient sticky hoisin-roasted broccoli wedges

5-ingredient sticky hoisin-roasted broccoli wedges

→ Go to recipe

More delicious ideas for you