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Soy Sauce, a featured ingredient

by Sharon Goldberg

Sauces, Seasonings, and Spices

Summer Volume: 1995 Issue: 2(2) page(s): 22

I can venture a guess with almost complete certainty that soy sauce, in one form or another, is the most used ingredient in the Chinese pantry. Understanding the differences in the varieties of soy sauce can in some ways be equated to understanding the differences in the wines of the world.

By definition, soy sauce is the extract of fermented soy beans. This liquid can be divided into three basic types: light, dark, and thick. These three types are, in some places, referred to as thin, thick, and heavy. The terms light and dark (or thin and thick) refer to a difference in thickness and flavor and not to any differences in color. Although these classifications may seen vague, the differences in flavor and in the usage between these groups are quite unique.

Light soy is the more common of the three, the differences in brands of light soy sauce are as varied as the difference between a fine Bordeaux wine and a Ripple. The 'over the counter' grocery store brands are usually made from a combination of hydrolyzed vegetable protein, caramel coloring, and salt. They are generally more salty and they lack the delicate flavor and balance of a higher quality product.

There are no standards for color, saltiness, or taste of soy sauce but an inferior sauce can spoil any dish you might use it in. Light soy sauce is usually used as a condiment in dips and dressings and, in conjunction with dark soy sauce, it is used in cooking.

The second group or the dark soy sauces, describes a thicker more robust type which can be distinguished by the way these soy sauces coat the bottle when you turn it upside down and then turn the bottle right side immediately thereafter. Dark soy sauce contains molasses, sugar, and wheat flour. These account for the thicker quality. Because of the depth of flavor, dark soy sauce is used predominantly in cooking. It is far less salty than its light counterpart and is often used in recipes in combination with light soy sauce.

The third type of soy sauce is called thick soy or soy jam. It is also known as heavy soy and once in a while it is referred to as Black Soy. It is not to be confused, however, with dark soy sauce. It has a syrupy consistency similar to that of honey. It is used as a coloring agent and to enrich the depth of color and flavor of a dish.

Quality soy sauces can be found in domestic brands but many of these are non-brewed chemical synthetics that are manufactured in a few days as opposed to the months required to make a high quality soy sauce.

In my opinion, the finest soy sauces are Chinese brands available in Chinese grocery stores. Japanese brands, although tasty, are usually sweeter and lack the depth of flavor necessary for Chinese cuisine.

A well-stocked Chinese pantry has at least one good quality dark soy sauce, one good light soy sauce, and also a thick soy or soy jam.
Stir-fried Beef and Onions
1/2 pound flank steak
1 and a 1/2 Tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 Tablespoon light soy sauce
2 Tablespoons corn starch
1 teaspoon sugar
6 Tablespoons corn oil
2 large onions, cut in eigths as wedges
2 to 4 slices ginger root, minced
1. Cut the beef against the grain into one to one-and-a-half inch by one-eigth of an inch strips.
2. Mix beef with dark and light soy sauces, cornstarch, sugar, and one tablespoon of the oil.
3. Heat two tablespoons of the oil in a wok or fry pan and fry the onions for one minute, then add one cup water. Cover and cook for two minutes, then drain and remove ingredients from the pan.
4. Heat the remaining three tablespoons of oil until very hot, add beef and stir-fry tossing continuously for one minute. Add the onions and stir-fry another minute, not longer; then serve.
Note:For those who like to experiment, make half the above recipe only with one and a half tablespoons of light soy sauce. Then cook it a second time with the same amount of dark soy sauce. Taste the differences and then select your favorite.

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