8 Essential Asian Sauces for Your Pantry
A few months ago a good friend sent me a message that said (approximately):
MY FRIDGE IS OVERRUN WITH ASIAN SAUCES. I HAVE NO IDEA HOW THIS HAPPENED. PLEASE HELP.
I can totally see how that can happen. The above photo is just one of the two sauce aisles at the very large Asian Grocery I go to (Pacific Ocean Marketplace). I’m talking literally hundreds of sauce variations. Delicious? Sure. But also frightening if you’re just getting started in the kitchen.
Even if you just go to a normal grocery store you’ll be faced with decisions. There will be at least a small section dedicated to Asian inspired sauces. I would guess even the barest of groceries would have 15-20 sauces to choose from.
It can be daunting.
So here is my list. It’s possible there is room for debate on some of these, but I think I could hold my own in that debate.
In other words, these are the eight sauces that you will almost always find in my fridge. And they should be in yours!
This is a no brainer. Even my Dad who only orders one thing at Chinese restaurants (sweet and sour pork) knows what soy sauce is. It’s universal and needed.
You can use it during cooking or as a seasoning. There are so many kinds of soy sauce that it could be its own post (which I’m not entirely sure I’d be qualified to write). The point is that you need a bottle of the stuff. Find one you like and keep it handy.
If you are somehow at a loss with what to cook with soy sauce, check out the Soy Sauce recipes!
Some people think they don’t like fish sauce (just like some people think they don’t like anchovies). The truth is that they probably love it in things that they don’t know it’s in.
Fish sauce is such a universal seasoning in Thai food specifically that you’d be hard pressed to find a good sauce that doesn’t have it. I’ve only used in a dozen or so posts over the years, but still manage to go through a bottle every month or two.
Chili garlic sauce was my Asian gateway sauce. I got addicted to the stuff early on and put it on everything from burgers to scrambled eggs. It’s readily available and is Sriracha’s older cousin.
These days, I use it as a condiment mainly, dotting it on noodle bowls, but I recently used it in the sauce for these spicy sticky wings. I did not share them.
This paste (not a sauce technically but so what?) was a recent find for me, but I keep a big jar of it in my fridge now and dip into it regularly. It’s the base paste for most kimchi recipes and is spicy, but also slightly sweet and sour.
You can use it to whip up a quick dipping sauce just by mixing it with a little citrus, fish sauce, and sesame oil.
You’ll also want it if you ever make something like traditional bibimbap, but more importantly I’ve just been marinating grilled meats in it with a little oil and lime juice. It’s perfect.
Essentially a BBQ sauce, but with a slightly different flavor profile. I pretty much use it like BBQ sauce though and marinate with it and use it for glazing and topping.
I checked through the archives and somehow I’ve only used black bean sauce once on Macheesmo (and it was for a Halloween recipe!)
It’s another great fermented sauce that’s spiked with garlic and sugar. So it’s sweet, but also savory. I’ll often add a spoonful of it to a quick weeknight stir-fry. It’s one of my favorite cheater sauces that most Americans don’t know about and don’t use much.
The new darling of Asian sauces. The most common brand these days is the rooster brand but there are actually options for Sriracha. They are all pretty similar honestly.
I love Sriracha and use it on burgers, burritos, and in place of hot sauce and ketchup. No need to buy the sriracha mayo… just mix it with normal mayo in a 4-1 ratio and it’s perfect.
One of my favorite archived Sriracha recipes is my Sriracha bloody mary recipe!
Another paste that I’m calling a sauce because it always becomes a sauce. Even if you don’t use it to make a traditional curry, you can use it to liven up marinades, sauces, and salad dressings. Find a brand you like (I like Mae Ploy) and keep it handy.
Curry pastes have a wide range of spiciness so be sure to start small while adding them to recipes to make sure you don’t blow your tongue off with spice.
While I used curry powder, you could make a cheater version of my homemade chicken tikka masala with a good curry paste!
I had a lot of other sauces in the running to make this sauce like plum sauce, miso paste, and a few others.
What’s on your list for Asian sauces? What are your favorites?!