Oyster sauce is a frequently used condiment in Asian and Southeast Asian cooking, but as experience has shown, not all oyster sauces are created equal.
This is not to say that one is better than the other, but rather that they are used for different cuisines and purposes.
Having lived in Thailand and my first experience of oyster sauce being that used in Thai cuisine, I have never been pleased with the taste of any oyster sauce other than Mae Krua, the brand used in every Thai kitchen. From stirfries to marinades, this oyster sauce is supreme in flavour and texture and in Edmonton, the only place it can be found is Vien Dong Oriental 10722 97 Street, telephone 780-426-2230.
However, when I go for Dim Sum with friends and have the stirfried gai lan (Chinese greens) with oyster sauce, I find the dish quite delicious.
A conversation many years ago in Montreal’s Chinatown provided me an education in oyster sauces. Two Chinese ladies and a Vietnamese lady explained that Lee Kum Kee, the brand of oyster sauce readily available in most major supermarkets as well as Chinatown markets, is the one they used in their cooking, specifically the most expensive one with the dragon on the label.
They used it for stirfries, soups and marinades. Now, as an American-made brand I was a bit skeptical and suggested that it was not available in Hong Kong, China or Taiwan, which they agreed was correct, but that it was virtually the same, used in Chinese homes and restaurants. As I enjoyed dim sum dishes made with oyster sauce, I had to believe them.
Chinese oyster sauce, however, is not suitable for Thai cooking. During a short period when I could not locate Thai oyster sauce, I tested several other oyster sauces and found them all wanting, though a few were better than others. There is a flavour and quality of texture of Mae Krua oyster sauce that makes a remarkable difference in Thai stirfries, sauces and marinades. Click here for a recipe for Beef & Greens with Oyster Sauce.
I know there are those who would say “why purchase two different oyster sauces?” To that I reply – it’s like yellow mustard and dijon mustard. They’re both mustards, but with different flavours and textures, they are not interchangable and each provides a distinctly different note to a dish.
If you cannot find Mae Krua in your local Chinatown, contact all the Thai restaurants in your community (or the largest community near you). I guarantee that they will be able to provide you the resource where they buy their sauce.
If you don’t have a Chinatown or Thai restaurant nearby, don’t despair. Visit Thai Supermarket Online at www.importfood.com – they have a wonderful online store where you can buy all the best Thai condiments and tools, and download many delicious recipes.
Or, contact a personal chef in your region and they may be able to point you in the right direction.
Image courtesy of www.importfood.com, used with permission.